Philanthropies around the world face the same question: how to best align their considerable resources—in other words, their operating models—to fulfill not only their missions, but also the promise of philanthropy to provide support to people and communities who need it most.

The answer to this question has become ever more elusive given the seismic shocks caused by the global pandemic, as socio-economic inequities, growing polarization, institutional racism, and climate change challenge the legitimacy and purpose of philanthropy. Also impacting this analysis are the new philanthropic models that are transforming the sector, to some extent in response to these events. Radically flexible and unrestricted giving (exemplified by MacKenzie Scott and Dan Jewett), participatory grantmaking, spend-down philanthropy, crypto donors, decentralized autonomous organizations (DAOs), limited liability companies (LLCs), more funder collaboratives, and increased use of impact investing all contribute to uprooting established norms to achieve transformational change.

This moment challenges philanthropies to review not just what they seek to do, but how they accomplish it, and how they engage with grantees, partners, and communities to create that change. In response, Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors (RPA), along with members of the Theory of the Foundation Learning Collaborative and dozens of funders and thought partners around the world, developed Operating Archetypes. This new instrument is intended to provide funders seeking to optimize their operations and impact with a mirror that serves as a tool for action and alignment. We hope this new analytical framework will enrich the field of philanthropy, benefit a diverse range of funders, and provide additional insight for the broader community of grantees and partners.