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  • “Foundation Center 2020” is the 10-year strategic plan for the Foundation Center, launched in 2011. A continual work in progress, we invite your feedback to help shape, strengthen, and guide our progress in advancing knowledge about philanthropy.

Main | Vision, Mission, Beliefs, Practices »

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Convene, Collaborate and Engage. I am encouraged by the Foundation's support of networking. It is something that has been in short supply and I believe has hobbled the profession.

Congratulations on 55 years of ever evolving good work! I look forward to reading further!

Smallcatandbigdog, thanks for being among the first to comment. 55 years is a real legacy and it requires taking the best of tradition and using it as a platform for creativity and innovation. Partnering, collaborating and networking is essential in today's world. It is a very different way to work than going it alone, and at the Foundation Center we believe that in order to support networking we need to live it and lead by example.

My congratulations to Foundation Center for both the substance of this excellent document and the open process you're using to get feedback.

(My comments are not specific to one section, so I'll offer my general thoughts here.)

1) First, I appreciated the structure of the document itself. There was a clear logic to it: from vision to mission to beliefs to practices to assumptions to strategic priorities to goals. I did find myself wondering if there wasn't a way to streamline it, though. Which of these different categories is most important? Which one do you want your employees to memorize? Which level of analysis best tells the story of Foundation Center, its work, and its impact?

2) The goals and strategic priorities were quite substantive and thoughtful--but I did find myself yearning for some numbers and dates. A really compelling goal is bounded by time and specificity (Kennedy in 1961: "the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to Earth.") If this is a ten-year plan, what will the world look like in ten years because of FC's work--and how will you know? Or, put another way, the "goals" level is pretty tactical now--what are the big, visionary goals (which might operate at the level of "strategic priorities")

3) Reading this, I am reminded that one of FC's strengths is the breadth of its portfolio of products and services. There are simply a lot of them now -- and it has gotten quite confusing. I'd argue that it is time to reorganize FC's brand identity under a small set of brands. For example, one possibility with three sub-brands: (a) Glasspockets: everything having to do with foundation transparency, including grants data; (b) Grantcraft: everything having to do with philanthropic practice; (c) IssueLab: everything having to do with social and environmental issues/data. (Or whatever helps people make sense of your many programs without getting lost.)

4) This document references a set of strategic choices which are worth calling out: (a) global expansion; (b) increased openness; and (c) a growth model driven in large part by partnerships. Each of these will be hard to execute but given the pace of change in the world, I think they're all necessary. I'm glad to see them integrated together here.

Thanks,
Jacob Harold

(Disclosure: I work at the Hewlett Foundation which provides funding to Foundation Center)

[Reposted by request on March 14th, 2011]

Jacob,

Very thoughtful as always. To your comments:

1. Verbal comments have tended to stress how much people appreciated the assumptions and implications; something lacking in most strategic plans. As for length, we thought 11 pages was pretty short compared to a lot of plans on the market, but things can always be shorter. What we want the staff to remember is an elevator pitch: "The Foundation Center is the leading source of information about philanthropy worldwide. Through data, analysis, and training, we connects people who want to change the world to the resources they need to succeed." Beyond that we want everyone to embrace the six strategic priorities.

2. The strategic priorities are big and ambitious as befits a 2020 Vision. There is no man on the moon as you say, but part of what guided us was a healthy respect for how dynamic the environment is today for anyone dealing in information and technology. We started from a point of wondering how realistic it was to develop a highly detailed plan for even three years and ended up creating a much more visionary plan for ten (2020) in an interactive online format that could be adapted as the Foundation Center, philanthropy and the world around us evolve. You perceptively note that the goals are tactical and that was the way we split the difference. The bullet points below the goals ARE tactical--the things we will actually do--and we will keep updating those in the years ahead. I would like to think that those who support the Foundation Center do so because they are inspired by its vision and aspirations while knowing they can count on us to be very reliable in terms of producing knowledge, insight, products and services they can use.

3. You are not the first to say that the Foundation Center has become so productive that the array of products and services is a bit confusing. We have always been fighting something of a self-imposed split personality. We are very committed to and well-known for serving non-profits. But we have always struggled to find a way to make foundations, donor advisors, etc. value the kind of data, analysis and knowledge services we can provide. To prove the point, we were recently turned down for funding by a foundation whose rejection letter suggested we contact the Foundation Center to find other sources of grant support! So, in part, the new products and services are to demonstrate that at a time when technology and data have the potential to transform philanthropy, we have a huge amount to offer. They are also a response to a rapidly shifting marketplace, growing demand from donors and a very tough recession. Recessions are a time to innovate not hunker down. Nevertheless, your point is a valid one: if this strategic plan does not bring sufficient clarity to what the Foundation Center offers, we need to do a better job of pruning, deepening, and communicating, along the lines you have suggested.

4. You clearly got the major themes underlying the plan a) global reach, b) openness, c) growth though partnerships.

This is very ambitious plan, but the Foundation Center is good at execution. It is also driven by an enormous sense of service: as an organization founded in 1956 and the largest of its kind, we have a responsibility to do everything we can to help philanthropy shape its future.

Foundation Center 2020 is a very thoughtful but readable document that gives confidence that this anchor institution of the nonprofit sector and philanthropy in the US knows well where it's heading. Some things I really liked about it:

-a little bit of lyricism in "The Landscape" section warmed it up and made it a more interesting read.

-the increasingly global nature of philanthropy was brought to the fore very quickly.

-the intention to not only be high-tech, but high-touch in a world that seems to be having less and less of it.

-extremely sound vision and mission, excellent list of beliefs and practices.

-the public listing of key assumptions which as Brad pointed out above often doesn't get done; but more than that, drawing succinctly the connection to what this means to FC.

And here are some things that I think could be strengthened:

-the need for collaboration is clear in the assumptions and very admirable that it is mentioned. However, it doesn't seem to play out too much in the goals with the exception of the strategic priority of building the global data platform for philanthropy. In particular, I expected to see it play out in the last strategic priority around technology because I believe this especially is an area ripe for collaboration and coopetition.

-I missed seeing another assumption regarding philanthropy's "clients" - i.e. nonprofits, particularly those in the US, regarding the pressures they will face in light of huge government deficits.

-another assumption which could have a place is the affect that "wisdom of the crowds" made possible by social media will have on foundations' accountability, which in turn will shift the way philanthropy approaches not only what it will address but how.

-realizing there's a limit to how many assumptions you list (and maybe this one's not key), just wanted to comment that it isn't just new forms of social investment, but new kinds of social investors (i.e. new players, partly because of changing demographics, partly because of globalization) that will affect how FC operates.


And one more comment. The way the 4th strategic priority is listed, "communicate philanthropy's contribution......" is very proper, I believe. It's a fine line between that and promotion of philanthropy to the outside world - or maybe more accurate to say it's a blurred distinction. I think the the communication is for FC to do, but the promotion of philanthropy is best left to others like philanthropic trade associations.

Bravo once again to FC on this strategy and on all the really great work they're doing.

Nick Deychakiwsky

(Disclosure: My employer the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation is a funder of the Foundation Center and our Senior VP is currently on its board of directors.)

Sounds fantastic. Will you encourage nonprofit partnerships to minimize expenses and maximize benefits? Will you encourage foundations to invest in capacity building for nonprofits? They could really leverage their resources by investing in this important way. Congratulations!

Amy, Thanks for taking the time to read and comment. Nonprofit collaboration is very much on our minds at the Foundation Center; so much so, in fact, that we have created a special database of hundreds of actual experiences together with the Lodestar Foundation http://collaboration.foundationcenter.org/search/searchGenerator.php You raise a good point about capacity building. Different foundations mean different things by the term "capacity building" but most nonprofits feel it is in short supply as is general operating support. Our conversations with our partners at Lodestar, have also alerted us to the fact that "nonprofit collaboration" is also an area which seems to merit greater attention by funders.

Speaking of collaboration - I went back and gave The Landscape a second read. I have to hand it to Foundation Center for the last section, "A Networked Organization" and their leading by example in this area among philanthropy infrastructure organizations. It isn't often that I see other colleague/partner/even sometimes competitor organizations mentioned by name in a nonprofit organization's strategic plan, with a link to the websites to boot. This section shows a lot of foresight in today's networky world, but also courage in today's resource-challenged context. The past couple of years Foundation Center has been a major contributor to bringing a collaborative spirit to the philanthropic infrastructure, looking beyond immediate organizational needs to what's beneficial not only for foundations, but for grantmakers and grantseekers alike. Brad & co - look forward to your continued excellent leadership on this score!

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