Frameworks for Private Foundations: A New Model for Impact

Philanthropy is evolving more quickly than ever with new societal challenges, new players, and new strategies. Funders are seeking to increase their effectiveness, and want clear, practical guidance for getting there. This GrantCraft leadership series paper produced in partnership with Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors (RPA), explores the core frameworks that shape private foundations, and offers a roadmap for funders interested in reflecting on these frameworks to better align purpose, public benefit, and action.

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What's in the paper?

  • Introduction to the Theory of the Foundation Framework. A simple overview of the Theory of the Foundation, some of its benefits, and a roadmap for funders interested in exploring their own foundations’ frameworks.
  • Charter. What is a foundation’s form of governance, how will it make decisions—and why? In this chapter, we discuss a foundation’s charter, which describes the foundation’s scope, form of governance, and decision-making protocol at the highest level, based on written and unwritten rules.
  • Social Compact. To whom is a foundation accountable, and how is it making a difference with the special status it has been given? In this chapter we illuminate a foundation’s social compact, which is an agreement, either implicit or explicit, with society and key stakeholders.
  • Operating Capabilities. What must a foundation not just do or obtain but excel at, in order to achieve its mission? In this chapter, we explore a foundation’s operating capabilities, which are the dominant approaches that guide how the foundation carries out its work and the core competencies, resources, skills, and processes that it cultivates in order to achieve results.
  • Takeaways for Funders. In this final section, we make the case for examining foundation frameworks and offer useful tools to help you begin to put these ideas into practice today.
  • Philanthropy Canvas Worksheet. Use this worksheet at the program or foundation-wide level, or both—to help you map current operating models or develop new ones.

This resource provides clear, practical guidance for funders looking to examine their organizational structures and strategize about their capacities and operations through discussion questions, action steps, and lessons from peers. It is intended to provide an accessible and actionable introduction of RPA's Theory of the Foundation to a global funder audience.

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