Giving Compass’ Take:
• Arabella Advisors provides a framework for bringing people, partners, and platforms together for strategic implementation of change in philanthropy.
• How can this framework help to advance your philanthropic efforts?
• Stanford Social Innovation Review explores the “theory of change” concept. Learn more.
Long-term, systemic change requires a deep understanding of the complex logistics of impact— of when and how to move the human, financial, and even intellectual resources needed to accomplish the goal. It requires not only a strategy but a well-constructed plan for implementing that strategy, one that anticipates the likely necessity of adapting the implementation plan in response to realities on the ground. Among scenario planners in the military, there’s an old saying: Amateurs debate tactics; professionals study logistics. The implication is clear—if you can’t get the right people with the right resources to the right places at the right times, it doesn’t much matter how good your plan is.
Seem obvious? Unfortunately, it’s not. Long experience shows that the all-important journey from vision to action is often given short shrift in our field. Many a time I have received a call from a colleague who says, “We finished our strategic plan. Now we don’t know what to do.” My first response is, “Before you do, align.” That is to say, spend time identifying and optimizing the partners, approaches, and organizational commitments you will need to successfully implement your strategic plan before you go about the task of designing programs, issuing requests for proposals, and hiring new staff members. Deeply informed implementation planning is crucial if you want to find the right pathway from the theoretical to the actual, the optimal to the feasible, and general ideas about impact to the right measures, accountability, and tactics.
Recognizing this insight (and oversight) after long years of trial (and sometimes error!), Arabella has developed a set of implementation tools that we use to help guide our clients on the journey from idea to impact. We use these tools to analyze, align, amplify, and accelerate the various forces that propel philanthropic efforts.
Fourteen years of continuous practice has taught us to think closely about three forces in particular, each of which we label with a P: People, Partners, and Platforms. As our philanthropic partners begin to advance their goals, we encourage them to assess each of these forces carefully, considering how they will likely interact in implementation contexts and whether—in different combinations and amounts, and over various time frames—they will work to successfully effect the desired social change outcomes. By identifying (and, where necessary, creating) connections between and among these forces, we help our partners make the journey from idea to impact.
On the one hand, our field’s potential for impact has never been greater. Examples of scalable, demonstrably measurable results may still be too rare, but we understand more about what needs to be in place to make progress. On the other hand, philanthropy has become a target both for partisan attacks and for searing critiques that sometimes go too far, as well as an occasional object of regulatory attention.