A year ago I wrote a blog post for the Stanford Social Innovation Review titled “Paul Brest Needs a Blog” (Paul is the president of the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation). So you can imagine my pleasure when I sat down to lunch with Paul recently, and he told me he had just that morning written his first blog post!
“I’ve just participated in a vigorous debate about at a meeting of the Philanthropy Roundtable. My critic was William Schambra, a distinguished thought leader in philanthropy, who directs the Bradley Center on Philanthropy and Civic Renewal at the Hudson Institute, a conservative think tank in Washington, D.C….
…Mr. Schambra’s second objection is that a strategic philanthropist requires an applicant to describe his or her own goals and strategies before funding the organization — a process he sees as inconsistent with what might be called the “wisdom of communities” (my term, not his). In his view, community organizations are close to the ground and know how to meet the needs of their constituents better than any philanthropist does. He regards a funder’s requirement that an applicant describe goals, strategies, and the like as meddlesome.
Sure, most applicants would prefer to take the money with no questions asked. But among organizations doing the same kinds of work, some are more effective than others. Achieving social change requires philanthropists to direct money to the organizations that use it most effectively. Whether an organization is housing and feeding the poor or improving educational outcomes or advocating for or against gay marriage, a philanthropist has every reason to ask whether it has a sound strategy and a good track record as well as good leadership. The alternative is to sow hundreds of seeds without ever finding out which take root and flourish.”
I’ve left a comment on the post. If you care about foundations engaging in the online conversation, I hope you go leave Paul a comment and keep reading his blog.
Sean Stannard-Stockton is a principal and director of Tactical Philanthropy at Ensemble Capital Management. Ensemble Capital provides families both traditional investment management and philanthropic planning. He is the author of the blog Tactical Philanthropy and writes the column On Philanthropy for the Financial Times.