Inside Philanthropy

A blog on philanthropy and nonprofit news and issues. A publication of Philanthropy Journal.

May 22, 2013

‘Changing the Game’ shows how contemporary foundations can succeed

Edward Skloot

We’re about to begin the second century of philanthropic giving by community foundations. Started in Cleveland in 1914, they now number more than 700 institutions domestically. They are linked and distinguished by a unique, place-based, community-engaged approach to philanthropy. Their targets are local. Their efforts are continuously informed by local developments. At their best, they are involved in a locale’s nearly every important civic venture. 

Several months ago I asked Paul Grogan, the president and CEO of The Boston Foundation, as well as a good friend, to reflect on recent developments in philanthropy and highlight the compelling strengths of community foundations as seen from his perch. Paul’s arrival at TBF more than a decade ago had ushered in a transformation in how the Foundation did its business. TBF now acts in a very different manner than under its predecessor. In research, analysis, policy advocacy, communications, outreach, and numerous other clusters of its work, the changes have been planned, organic, and effective. Today there is universal agreement that TBF is one of the most effective foundations in the country. 

Paul’s story is also a personal one of leadership, both institutional and individual. We can see examples of growth and maturation. He describes a decade of changes and the results the changes produced.

It is a very important story, and not only for Bostonians. Many of the institutional and programmatic strategies devised and encouraged by TBF are available to other funders – adapted, of course, to their local situations. The description shows how contemporary community foundations can become more agile, energized, relevant, and, not least, consequential in their communities. As we enter the second decade of a new century, this essay offers a rough guide for foundations willing to intentionally take up the challenges of staying relevant and forging positive social change.

Changing the Game is the second in a series of occasional essays published by the Center. (The first was titled Disrupting Philanthropy: Technology and the Future of the Social Sector, whose lead author is Lucy Bernholz of Stanford University.) I am the General Editor of the series, along with Barry Varela of the Center’s staff. Please do let us have your feedback on this essay and send along ideas for topics of high import that should be addressed. 

Edward Skloot, who has served since 2007 as Director of the Center for Strategic Philanthropy and Civil Society at the Sanford School of Public Policy, Duke University, is retiring at the end of June. “Changing the Game: Civic Leadership at The Boston Foundation, 2001-2012” may be viewed here.

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