For over a decade, our foundation has been placing early philanthropic investments in a broad range of new initiatives in the environment and sustainability fields. Very often they have been the first grant. The majority of them have grown into significant networks, campaigns, or organizational efforts that have moved those fields forward in meaningful and substantial ways. During that time, many have asked how we know how to choose the right grantees, and how we know whether or not their proposed initiatives have real promise.

Whereas part of our ability comes from experience and intuition (as in, does this feel right?), a number of considerations go into our initial assessment of opportunity that allow us to base an intuition upon a solid foundation.

Our hunches, in that sense, are carefully calculated hunches.

Almost all the innovative social entrepreneurs we support with our philanthropic grants come out of the broad network we have developed over the years. It is a network that we have built one relationship at a time. As the director, I have made sure—particularly in the beginning of our development—to meet prospective grantees in person and have lengthy conversations with them about who they are and what they are doing, a necessary prelude to our assessment of the viability of their ideas and intentions. This is a natural form of early vetting, and one that allows me to align what I am seeing and hearing with my intuition.

These offer vantage points that are essential to my holistic view of the world. I enhance these vantage points with constant reading about the areas in which we fund, and an intake of information from various sources that includes books and articles, social media, organizational websites and blogs, documentary films and television journalism, and everyday conversation.

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