The Ford Foundation has rolled out an excellent new website. The whole design is intuitive and helpful, but I especially appreciate their “grantmaking visualizations.”
The grantmaking visualizations make clear the connections between the Foundation’s grants and their overall strategy. You can start at the Issue level, drill down to Ford’s Initiatives in each issue area, and then drill down to the Goal and Approaches they’re taking within each Initiatives and finally see the Grants they’ve made within each Approach.
This process allows you to understand the connections between Ford’s high level issue areas and the grants they actually make. An example: one of Ford’s issue areas is “Economic Fairness,” within which one of their initiatives is “Ensuring good jobs and access to service.” Their goal for this initiative is “To help low-wage working families achieve economic self-sufficiency.” One of the approaches they take is “Advocacy, litigation and reform.” To that end they make grants to the National Women’s Law Center and the Center for Law and Social Policy.
I think this layout does an excellent job of helping website visitors get a handle on understanding Ford’s grantmaking.
It also helps illustrate the difference between the strategic philanthropy approach of Ford vs the tactical philanthropy approach of New Profit and similar grantmakers. While Ford views their grantees as the final, executable step in their planning process, Issue –> Initiative –> Goal –> Approach –> Grantee, New Profit’s explanation of the grants starts with the grantee. New Profit’s “grantmaking visualization” is their “portfolio,” which they describe as their “current investments.”
The question for grantmakers becomes what do they put at the “center of their universe”? Their initiatives or their grantees? I believe that a tactical approach in which the funder focuses on finding and funding high performing, high impact organizations is more likely to result in impact than a process which starts with the funder planned initiative and views the grantee as the entity which executes the funders strategy.
A frequent critique of my position is that focusing solely on funding grantee, means that funders miss out on deploying the non-grantmaking strategies available to them (advocacy, convening, facilitating collaboration, etc). However, I do think these non-grantmaking activities are important and powerful. In addition to New Profit’s portfolio of grantees, they deploy their “action tank” to improve the ecosystem within which their grantee operate. From New Profit’s website:
“We believe that the impact any single organization can have on education, workforce development, public health, or poverty—while real and meaningful—is limited, and will never be enough to fix our broken systems and truly transform our society. For this reason, in 2004 we began to develop the idea for an "Action Tank"—a group within New Profit that works beyond the bounds of individual organizations to reshape our institutions and more effectively allocate resources for problem solving.”
However, New Profit’s Action Tank is focused on creating and sustaining an environment within which great nonprofit organizations can thrive, while the typical strategic philanthropy funder focuses on developing the initiatives, goals and approaches that they believe are most likely to succeed (a process that a tactical philanthropist believes is best developed by their grantees).
This difference was illustrated extremely well in a Stanford Social Innovation Review post by Amy Sample Ward where she used the difference between gardening and landscaping as an example:
The Gardener creates an ecosystem open to change, available to new groups, and full of fresh opportunities to emerge naturally. The approach is focused on organic collaboration and growth for the entire community. The gardener is simply there to help, cultivate, and clear the weeds if/when they poke up.
The Landscaper creates an ecosystem that matches a preconceived design or pattern. The approach is focused on executing a preconceived environment, regardless of how natural or organic it may be for the larger area. The landscaper is there to ensure that everything stays just as planned.
Regardless of the approach a funder takes, it is important that they fully understand and can describe the reasoning behind their grantmaking. I think the Ford Foundation’s new website does a truly excellent job of explaining their thinking and I would love to see their “grantmaking illustration” become standard for other large strategic foundations.
[Note: My comments regarding New Profit are my interpretation of their activities and New Profit does not use the term “tactical philanthropy” to describe their grantmaking. However, in my conversations with New Profit employees, they have said their are in general agreement with my writings on this subject.]