Blog / Grantmakers & Donors

Fewer Traditional Infrastructure Funders

by Kyle Caldwell and Jason Franklin
Fewer Traditional Infrastructure Funders
Drawing on our local, national, and international research, tool development, training, and data work, leaders from the Johnson Center have identified 11 key trends that will impact the work of both grantmakers or nonprofit leaders in the months and years to come. In this piece, we explore one of those trends in depth.

Download and read the full report, featuring all 11 trends, here.

Front cover of the “11 Trends in Philanthropy for 2017” reportElizabeth Boris (2009), former director of the Urban Institute Center on Nonprofits & Philanthropy, said that we should think of infrastructure as a network that “connects civil-society organizations through its hubs, which create opportunities for peer-to-peer learning and shared experiences as well as for improving practices, conducting and using research, and developing ethical standards” rather than just the collection of organizations needed to support the philanthropic ecosystem (p. 7). Many might describe the constellation of trade organizations, affiliation groups, and learning circles the field’s “infrastructure” and perhaps that description fits what infrastructure was, but it falls well short of today’s reality.

Today’s philanthropic infrastructure has the great burden of ensuring that the sector has all the items listed above in addition to opportunities to develop supportive public policy, a strong sense of the sector’s role in society, better use of data and digital tools in an evolving field, and a crystal clear series of messages and brands that convey the very need for philanthropy. This is critically needed today because the philanthropic sector (nonprofits and funders) is being challenged to justify its existence in ways not seen since the last great policy reforms enacted in 1969. At the same time, long-time infrastructure funders have shifted their priorities, and dollars, toward new ways of advancing social change that are challenging traditional infrastructure organizations to adapt or shrink.

The infrastructure of tomorrow needs to align with these changing dynamics. It will no longer be enough to just network, develop standards, and collaborate. Future infrastructure needs to advance innovation, increase the effectiveness of the sector’s voice, and continually demonstrate value to community.

Kyle Caldwell
Executive Director
Kyle Caldwell served as executive director of the Dorothy A. Johnson Center for Philanthropy from 2015–2018.
Jason Franklin, Ph.D.
W.K. Kellogg Community Philanthropy Chair
Dr. Franklin served as the W.K. Kellogg Community Philanthropy Chair at the Dorothy A. Johnson Center for Philanthropy from 2015–2020.


Boris, E. T., Renz, D., Cohen, R, Light, P. (May 7, 2009). The Nonprofit Quarterly Study on Nonprofit and Philanthropic Infrastructure.