Committing to Better Philanthropy

Committing to Better Philanthropy Giving Compass
Giving Compass' Take:
  •  Hilary Pennington shares how the BUILD program transformed the Ford Foundation's impact, offering learnings that other giving individuals and entities should take to heart.
  • Could your philanthropic strategy benefit from an overhaul? What practices can you commit to in order to increase your impact?
  • Learn more about best practices in philanthropy.

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Our hypothesis that nonprofits would thrive with longer, larger, and more flexible grants had not only been proven—it defied our expectations. What started as an experiment to reimagine philanthropy has become our most impactful grantmaking to date. In BUILD’s first five years, more than 85 percent of BUILD grantees surveyed have strengthened their work to become more effective, and two thirds report that they have leveraged their grants into other funding.

We realized we couldn’t return to our old ways. That’s why we have committed $1 billion to continue this landmark initiative and support up to 300 organizations for the next six years. This continued effort builds on the foundation of trust and true partnership we’ve developed with them, and it comes at a critical juncture for social justice organizations—and for philanthropy.

When we initially rolled out BUILD, Ford was an 80-year-old philanthropy admittedly set in its ways. We needed to reassess how we operated as a funder—and we heard it often from our grantees. I’ll never forget what Jawole Willa Jo Zollar, the founder of Urban Bush Women, told our board, expressing her frustration with funders and their restrictions: “You [funders] starve us to death and we’re not able to do our best work.”

Having spent 20 years of my career leading a nonprofit, I shared her frustration because I experienced firsthand the power dynamics between organizations and their donors. I knew we at Ford had a responsibility to shift that power, putting the agency back into the hands of nonprofits, and establish a circle of trust grounded in listening and understanding. It wasn’t always easy, but we knew it was a risk worth taking because the returns had enormous potential: a meaningful, enduring impact on vital organizations—and society as a whole.

Read the full article about BUILD by Hilary Pennington at Ford Foundation.