After joining the Eugene and Agnes E. Meyer Foundation in 2003, I quickly came to understand that the foundation had a mission beyond giving away money.
In a 2009 report, the Center for Effective Philanthropy defined “strategy” as an approach to giving focused on the external context (rather than the foundation itself or its grantees) and the logical connections between use of foundation resources and achievement of goals, with a commitment to measuring progress. This field-wide shift, though not without detractors, has been positive in many ways. Institutions entrusted with significant philanthropic capital have an obligation to be thoughtful and intentional about how that capital is being deployed. And any effective organization should want to know whether it is making progress toward its goals.
But as our field has embraced strategic philanthropy, “checkbook philanthropy” — the term frequently invoked to describe giving that is the opposite of strategic — has gotten a bad name. Just look at the websites of leading philanthropic advisors, who describe checkbook philanthropy as “ad hoc with little further communication or follow up,” or even “giving without thinking.” “Checkbook philanthropist” has become a pejorative, and that’s a shame. Simply writing checks to effective organizations doing important work can be an honorable approach to philanthropy and doesn’t have to be mindless, haphazard, or ineffectual.
While the shift of many foundations toward strategic philanthropy has been a positive trend for the field, there’s no one-size-fits-all, silver bullet approach for maximizing impact. Like for-profit enterprises, healthy and sustainable nonprofit organizations need a variety of investors — some who support innovation and push the envelope on strategy, and some who are willing to “buy shares” in the good work already being done.
Read the full article about checkbook philanthropy by Rick Moyes at the Center for Effective Philanthropy.
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