About This Blog

Welcome! So why did I decide to create one more blog on philanthropy? Trust me when I say that I was not interested in taking on a writing project; but after a decade of working for private foundations and now writing a dissertation on private foundation effectiveness, I felt compelled to share my perspectives and what I am encountering in my studies. Here are my objectives for this blog, in no particular order:

  • I want to infuse frankness and openness into the world of private foundations. There are many places where you can find insight and information on philanthropy in general, but I can appreciate how mysterious the private foundation world is. Foundation professionals pretty much stick together, so it’s hard to ‘get in’. They have their own conferences and have their own inside jokes. When they venture out to other conferences, it’s usually to sit on a panel with a bunch of their colleagues to share their grantmaking perspectives. That, to any outsider, can be pretty frustrating. My perspective is honed by having worked for both a family foundation and a large operating foundation. My portfolios gave me regional, national, and international funding perspectives. Although I’ve primarily been an arts funder, I’ve been involved in other grantmaking sectors, particularly when I was director of programs at my local regional association of grantmakers. I also have a perspective gained from national conversations of funders having served on the board of Grantmakers in the Arts. When I write, I think of my foundation colleagues as my readers, but I dare say that there will be those outside this field interested in a peek inside this world.
  • I want to weigh in with a perspective that seems to be overlooked. There are a number of professional associations, trade journals, and forums for private foundation professionals to air their perspectives, but I’ve often found myself wondering, “hmm…am I the only one here with a different point of view?” Maybe I am, but I’m most likely not. Anyone who knows me knows that I can be politely bald about what I’m thinking, and people have thanked me for asking the questions no one felt comfortable enough to ask. So, I trust that what I write here will result in some head nodding. Relatively speaking, my perspective may also be somewhat unique due to a conflation of personal characteristics: a love of empirical research and an avid consumer of lots of different kinds of information; being Generation X, which makes me suspicious of institution building, “truths,” “the way things are,” and anything that smacks of power; and being most comfortable thinking about 30,000’-level questions. I love designing grant programs, but I’ve also often grappled with questions that don’t immediately matter to my job description, like: Even if this helps the immediate population we serve, am I complicit in reifying power structures and inequities? This blog allows me a unique opportunity to voice my questions outside the constraints of immediate job performance!
  • I also want to share the important and interesting research, thinkers, and ideas that I am coming across during my dissertation research. One of the main reasons I wanted to go back to school was because my practice of grantmaking too often relied on my intuition and not enough on scholarly knowledge. This combination may not be for everyone, but there’s something to be said about being well read so as to know about other models, avoiding replicating failed attempts that have been tried before, and contextualizing grantmaking practice in larger questions of power dynamics, ideologies around redistribution of opportunities, and the hegemony of capitalism that remains a dominant force in philanthropy. It may come as no surprise that I’m launching this blog while working on my literature review, which is starting to look like the longest chapter of my dissertation (at least it better be lest I will have a 400+ page dissertation on my hands).
  • And, finally, I hope to contribute to advancing the field of private foundations. The “plus” in the title of my blog is meant to convey the diversity of topics that I may touch on. Talking about private foundations shouldn’t be just about grants management, due diligence, or how to protect this sector from change. I may share qualitative evaluation tools, innovations in other sectors, and questions about what the major trade associations for foundations are actually promoting on behalf of the field. Also, the “plus” implies what might be next for private foundations. I’m also an advisor for American Alliance of Museums's (AAM) program Center for the Future of Museums and have benefited from forecasting methodology. There, I learned that any innovation (like private foundations as a field) starts at some point, experiences a period of rapid growth, and then experiences a long period of slow, incremental changes. I suspect the sector is in the period of slow changes, unless there is a ‘black swan’ event like new government regulations. If that’s the case, I realize that for improvements to happen in this field, it’s important to build up enough energy and momentum to turn the direction of the tanker, even if it’s just a few degrees. Hence, as humble as my opinions may be, I was finally energized to put my thoughts out there to mingle with and encourage others who, like me, want private foundation practices and culture to achieve something new, something better. Isn’t this what we all want?

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