Blog / Grantmakers & Donors

Context Matters

by Teri Behrens
Context Matters
Context matters in philanthropy. The articles in this issue of The Foundation Review touch on the role of context in various ways. Effective grantmaking requires understanding the bigger picture — whether it is the status of overall financial markets, the presence of other actors in the geographic area, or the status of research on an issue.

We hope the articles in Vol. 12, Issue 2 encourage you to consider how you engage in context.

Enjoy exploring!

Front cover of The Foundation Review, vol. 12, issue 2

Inside Volume 12, Issue 2:

A Canary in the Payout-Rate Coal Mine
John C. Alexander, Jr.

One of the contentious topics in philanthropy is the payout rate. During the current time of multiple crises (health, economic, and racial justice), many commentators are advocating for increased payout rates from foundations. In this article, Alexander constructs a metric using equity and bond market yields as a quantitative leading indicator of when a payout-rate change might be important to discuss. The quantitative approach he developed may be useful input to the ongoing debate, which also includes strategic and moral issues.

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Is More Always Better? A Reflection on the Dynamic Nature of Nationally and Regionally Focused Funder Collaboratives
Jo Carcedo, Merry Davis, Megan Folkerth, Lori Grubstein, and Chris Kabel

Another ongoing and contentious issue in the sector is the tension between local and national funders. Too often, local funders see national foundations who want to support work in communities but don’t value the experiences of long-term local funders. Here, the authors explore how The BUILD Health Challenge® was created and how it allows regional philanthropies the opportunity to inform the national agenda and contribute insights as to what works locally. Emerging evidence on benefits include shifts in confidence to take risks and new approaches to grantmaking.

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Turning Changemaking Inward: How One Health Philanthropy Transformed Its Grantmaking Approach to Drive Deeper Impact
Christina Ellis, Laura Pinsoneault, Sarah Deering, Jesse Ehrenfeld, Erin Fabian, and Cheryl Maurana

In this article, the authors describe how the Medical College of Wisconsin’s Advancing a Healthier Wisconsin Endowment shifted to supporting adaptive rather than programmatic solutions to address critical health issues. The endowment’s new approach emphasized engagement with key stakeholders, recognizing the importance of contribution over attribution and requiring a long-term perspective on outcomes. The endowment works to translate new knowledge from national thought leaders and align it with its own experiences to guide the endowment’s work.

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Women’s Grantmaking for Economic Security: The Work of One Coalition
Elizabeth May Gillespie

Gillespie draws our attention to an area that is poorly understood — how foundations are fostering economic security for women. She explores the work of Prosperity Together, a coalition of 30 women’s grantmaking funds dedicated to advancing women’s economic security, and argues that aligning the work with research recommendations is critical.

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Coherent Assistance in Education Improvement: How Foundations Can Help
Ann Jaquith and Rosa Chavez

Jaquith and Chavez share the lessons of the Aligned Partners Project, a three-year study of a foundation-funded interorganizational collaboration to align the work of three technical assistance organizations to meet the needs of one school district. The focus on supporting the technical assistance providers helped to better coordinate services and support greater impact.

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Lessons From the Assessment for Learning Project: Strategies for Building an Authentic Learning Community
Heather Lewis-Charp, Daniela Berman, Sarah Lench, and Tony Siddall

In another article focused on learning, the authors share findings from an evaluation of the Assessment for Learning Project, a grantee engagement strategy led by the Center for Innovation in Education focused on creating a learning community. The project’s model and approach are grounded in the core design elements of a field-facing learning agenda, grantmaking that leads with learning, collective leadership, and peer learning among grantees.

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The Experiences of a Foundation With a Limited Life: Benefits and Challenges
Lynda Mansson

There has been increasing interest in limited-life foundations, with one argument in favor that as context changes, perpetual foundations are limited by the intent of the original donor and unable to be as responsive as needed. Here, Mansson explores this issue and other benefits and challenges of leading a foundation that is nearing the end of its life.

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