Strategic Grantmaking – a conversation

I recently led a conversation about strategic grantmaking for Philanthropy New Zealand’s  excellent professional development programme, Great Grantmaking.   The session covered what strategic grantmaking means, why it isn’t necessarily easy and the pros and cons of some of the tools and approaches often used for strategic grantmaking.   Here is a summary of key points, and the presentation can be viewed below.

  • Most of us in philanthropy worry about whether we are doing things as well as we could.  There are so many buzzwords, there’s so much saying no, it’s so hard to know whether we have made the best choices.  But – this uncertainty is a good thing, because it it keeps us searching for how to do things better and stops us succumbing to complacency.
  • Strategic grantmaking basically means clearly defining the change(s) in the world which your organisation will contribute to, and being clear on where you focus, how you do things and how you measure progress
  • But this isn’t necessarily easy.   One reason is the constraints, both explicit or unspoken, which most foundations operate under.  Another is that our philanthropic archetypes are somewhat flawed:
    • The benefactor: Acts of charity from the upper class
    • The market: social change can be purchased from the lowest bidder
    • Neither of the above are quite right, and we need new ways of thinking about our work
  • The are lots of different approaches to strategic philanthropy, all of which have their pluses and minuses.  Here are some examples :
    • Advocacy – great for changing our systems and our world view but we need to test assumptions carefully to ensure that we support only the advocacy that truly benefits the community
    • Collective impact and collaboration – the best way to change the world is by working together – but this doesn’t happen quickly and requires trust to be built first
    • Venture Philanthropy – provides multi-dimensional and long-term support but prone to funder capture – stay humble and follow the lead of the community
    • Piloting innovative approaches – a useful approach for philanthropy, but provide long enough support to pilot things properly and view initiatives which don’t work well as learning
    • Participatory Philanthropy – having decisions made by the communities served democratises philanthropy, but we need to be willing to share or even cede power.
  • There’s no one-right way to do philanthropy and no-one has all the answers.

There’s more detail and further thoughts in the presentation below:


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