Giving Compass' Take:

• Foundations need to shift from the model of strategic philanthropy that is predictive to an emergent model that can address the complexities of social change in today's world. 

• Emergent philanthropy requires strategic intent from funders, while maintaining that specific outcomes can not be predicted, making it a more flexible model. 

• Read more about how philanthropy will continue to shift. 

To solve today's complex social problems, foundations need to shift from the prevailing model of strategic philanthropy that attempts to predict outcomes to an emergent model that better fits the realities of creating social change in a complex world.

The practice of strategic philanthropy has advanced substantially over the past two decades, yet even its most committed theorists and practitioners—we among them—have often been disappointed by the results. We have helped hundreds of funders and nonprofit organizations commit to clear goals, data-driven strategies, heightened accountability, and rigorous evaluations—all core principles of strategic philanthropy that increase the odds of success.

And yet, as we have watched funders and their grantees struggle and often fail to reach their ambitious goals, we have repeatedly felt a nagging suspicion that the conventional tools of strategic philanthropy just don’t fit the realities of social change in a complex world.

We have now come to the conclusion that if funders are to make greater progress in meeting society’s urgent challenges, they must move beyond today’s rigid and predictive model of strategy to a more nuanced model of emergent strategy that better aligns with the complex nature of social progress.

The more foundations embrace strategic philanthropy, the clearer its limitations become. As practiced today, strategic philanthropy assumes that outcomes arise from a linear chain of causation that can be predicted, attributed, and repeated, even though we know that social change is often unpredictable, multifaceted, and idiosyncratic.

It locks funders into a rigid multi-year agenda, although the probability and desirability of achieving any given outcome waxes and wanes over time. Rigorous evaluations attempt to isolate the impact of solitary interventions without effective models of dissemination. And the forced simplicity of logic models often misleads funders to overlook the complex dynamics and interpersonal relationships among numerous nonprofit, for-profit, and government actors that determine real world events.

Read the full article about strategic philanthropy by John Kania, Mark Kramer, & Patty Russell at Stanford Social Innovation Review.