The Board and staff of the Howard Gilman Foundation commissioned the GPR in order to assess and improve our grantees’ experiences. The report identified “consistently positive grantee perceptions,” and both CEP and our grantees encouraged us to publicly share the choices, values, and processes that led to these results (with one grantee laying it out in no uncertain terms: “We hope other philanthropic organizations learn from [Howard Gilman’s] process”). We are, of course, thrilled to celebrate these results; but on the other hand, how do we share our practices while also staying open to change and critique, not to mention hang on to our humility?

The key might lie in rereading the recommendation with a different emphasis on one particular point: the Foundation’s culture.

Thinking about this recommendation in terms of culture opens a rich and productive door. It is no secret that institutional culture — at foundations, nonprofits, and corporations — is under scrutiny, and there is a timely and enlightened desire to reexamine the way things have always been done. The Howard Gilman Foundation, in existence for nearly 40 years, recently had the rare opportunity to do this kind of reexamination.

In 2013, our Board of Directors set in motion a plan to “relaunch” the Foundation, which, at that point, had been functioning without a staff for more than a decade. The mission, website, guidelines, application materials, personnel, office space, database, and more were built from the ground up, thereby allowing for the cultivation of an unencumbered culture — one that was willing to dispense with older, more entrenched, and more formal philanthropic practices.

The Board made two key cultural decisions prior to this relaunch. First, it got specific about mission. Though Howard Gilman had many interests during his lifetime, the Board identified just one area of grantmaking for the future: the performing arts in New York City. By honing the mission, the Board created an organization that has the time and capacity to deeply engage in its area of focus. Second, the Board strategically identified an executive director, Laura Aden Packer, with both an established reputation in philanthropy and a professional background in the performing arts.

Read the full article about evaluating a culture by Emily Sproch at The Center for Effective Philanthropy.