Foundation Life: Beyond Money and Grantmaking

Foundations have a great deal more potential for impact, influence, and leverage than simply their grantmaking. As we at the Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies rapidly approach our sunset date, we have been reflecting on those many examples of achieving our foundation’s objectives that go well beyond the grant.

Among the broad areas of impact are:

  1. Field building;
  2. Leveraging individual board members’ time and talents to support objectives;
  3. Creating intellectual capital;
  4. Encouraging others through convening, teaching, and influencing;
  5. Building infrastructure for social entrepreneurs;
  6. Mentoring and encouraging professional staff to provide field leadership;
  7. Use of the corpus of the Foundation for program-related investments.

A wonderful example of the use of living donors is the Gift of New York; an initiative launched on September 13, 2001 to assist families who lost a loved one during the tragedy of September 11th by using the tri-states cultural, sports and entertainment venues as a component of their healing. An interesting dynamic in launching the Gift of New York was that the Foundation’s financial support, while critical to beginning the program, was far less important than its willingness to use its collective board and staff rolodexes to open the doors of these major institutions to the families for the 18-month life of the program. Every one of the hundreds of organizations and institutions said yes. From major league baseball to basketball, hockey to football, and large and small museums to theaters, participating venues felt the power of this idea and were grateful for the community organizing led by the Foundation. Each had wanted to help, but didn’t know how to plug into an organized effort. The value we could offer as organizers was equally evident in the creation of the Green Environment Fund in Israel, which was instrumental in building the field of environmental justice. Here again, no less important than the grantmaking was the ability to construct a bottom-up, top-down approach, which supported infrastructure development as well as small grants for grassroots efforts. This approach to building a field and coalescing with partner funders in changing the status quo worked well over a twelve year period. 

One of our failures was a campaign that we couldn’t get leverage on when we called upon grantmakers to set aside 1% for field building. The broad field of philanthropy and the third sector suffer from an obsession for lowering overhead. We believed and continue to believe that field building is an important component in achieving the noble objectives of the third sector and, yet, we could get no traction for this kind of campaign. Still, we held this as a value for ACBP, and hopefully influenced a few other foundations along the way.

Finally, in the area of creating intellectual capital, we saw enormous leverage in the time and energy that our chair, Charles Bronfman, and I placed in our writing and publication of two volumes: The Art of Giving: Where the Soul Meets a Business Plan and The Art of Doing Good: Where Passion Meets Action. We are constantly reminded by strangers how The Art of Giving changed their views of philanthropy, how it made them more thoughtful and strategic in their giving and how it continues to be a gift to others in the position of considering philanthropy as a more major part of their lives. 

We are regularly consulted by other foundations that seek to replicate our approach to investments. In attempting to apply best practices to their governance, financial management, and planning, we have helped to create sustainable entities that will be fulfilling the mandate of the Foundation for many years after the Foundation closes. Ultimately, each of these non-grantmaking steps are components of the power of private philanthropy and its ability for influence and impact. To us, they weren’t optional; they were a crucial piece of how we approached and defined our legacy.

This is the twenty-first post in the "Making Change by Spending Down" series, produced in partnership by The Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies and GrantCraft. Please contribute your comments on each post and discuss the series on twitter using #spenddown. See related content below for more posts in this series.