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Jane Wales

Jane Wales

Posted: December 21, 2009 03:18 PM

'Change Philanthropy' Highlights 10 Funders Engaged in Social Justice Philanthropy

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A new book sponsored by the Center for Community Change and written by nonprofit and foundation consultant Alicia Epstein Korten provides the inside stories of 10 funding organizations that have leveraged grant dollars, and in many cases endowments and influence, to transform systems in all sectors of society. Change Philanthropy: Candid Stories of Foundations Maximizing Results through Social Justice profiles a mix of national, regional and small funders, from the Ford Foundation to the Global Fund for Women to the Jacobs Family Foundation, have moved beyond a focus solely on services, such as homeless shelters and hospitals, to one aimed at helping people influence the context in which they live.

According to the book, these foundations ask why a social problem or need exists, not just how a foundation can help -- and then focus their grantmaking on the answers uncovered. All told, Korten writes, foundations must be particularly strategic in the deployment of their various resources to have greatest impact: analyzing problems effectively, choosing partners and paths wisely and continually evaluating benchmarks along the way to assess progress. Korten writes that many foundation trustees and staff she interviewed shared information and stories publicly for the first time, offering a rare glimpse into the "often soundproof halls" of foundations.

Books like these are valuable resources, offering concrete examples of what it takes for foundations to make significant change. We would all benefit were foundations and donors to share more often their most effective programs and strategies, including reporting the steps, even mistakes, made along the way. Not only can this potentially improve the work of other organizations, it instills hope that no matter how daunting a challenge, change is possible.

So as to practice what we preach, the Global Philanthropy Forum has partnered with foundations such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Humanity United and Fundacion AVINA for just this purpose -- so that these experienced grant-makers will reveal their strategies, successes and failures with principals of family foundations choosing to pursue a similar path.