Leanly staffed family foundations can punch well above their weight, working with other funders and grantees to change systems. Over the past seven years, the Thornburg Foundation has experienced this firsthand.

Given the depth of the challenges facing the state of New Mexico, systemic change is particularly important to our board chair and founder, Garrett Thornburg. He said,

Rather than scattering money on the ground, we want to focus on improving policy.

We continue to make annual operating grants to a multitude of place-based nonprofits, and we have expanded our grantmaking, intentionally addressing the root causes of problems and successfully shaping statewide policy solutions. With assets that have grown to $150 million, the Thornburg Foundation’s policy reform focuses on early childhood education, agriculture and food concerns, and good government reform.

A successful investor, Thornburg built his business by relying on research and facts, a philosophy he extends to philanthropy. A self-described “ardent independent,” he prefers to take on policy issues with a nonpartisan approach—relying on data-driven analysis to bring disparate factions together. In each focus area, a program officer with subject matter expertise works with grantees to:

  • Gather facts
  • Bring together diverse parties
  • Find consensus to move issues forward
  • Evaluate effectiveness
  • Advocate for policy change
  • Support sustainable implementation

Across all of this work, the foundation’s mindset has been relentlessly focused on changing the system. With each grant we consider, we ask this fundamental question:

How likely is this to lead to meaningful change in how things work at a structural level?

Read the full article about advocacy by Allan Oliver and Michael Weinberg at Exponent Philanthropy.