Academic journal article The Foundation Review

Changemaking: Building Strategic Competence

Academic journal article The Foundation Review

Changemaking: Building Strategic Competence

Article excerpt

Keywords: Changemaking, community change, strategic competence, foundation reputation, staff-board alignment


Philanthropy has a long history of support for efforts to revitalize distressed communities and improve the lives of the children and families who live in them. This history has produced a wealth of knowledge about effective revitalization models, promising program strategies, and lessons learned (Kubisch, Auspos, Brown, & Dewar, 2010). At the same time, foundations have increasingly recognized that how they go about this work is as important as what they support. Here, "best practice" is less well defined.

Clearly no single role, style, or set of practices makes sense for every foundation in every community change effort. Good practice reflects a dynamic match between the opportunities and needs in a community and the foundation's own history, goals, values, operating preferences, and capacities, as well as those of its partners. However, as Patrizi and Thompson suggest, foundations typically spend more time developing their program strategies than clarifying the roles they will play and how they will function as strategy is executed:

For foundations to go beyond the rhetoric of being more than 'bankers,' they need to be far clearer about what they do and the capacities they need that can add value to advance strategy. (2011, p. 57)

This challenge coincides with another trend in philanthropy that urges foundations to utilize their full range of assets - knowledge, networks, credibility, and political capital, as well as their financial resources - to advance their missions (Auspos, Brown, Kubisch, & Sutton, 2009; Ballard, 2007; Crutchfield, Kania, & Kramer, 2011).

Effective place-based funders, especially embedded foundations working in their own hometowns (Karlström, Brown, Chaskin, & Richman, 2009), typically establish rich and trusting networks of relationships that position them to add value through taking on roles besides grantmaker: They draw attention to pressing community needs, convene, collaborate, leverage, solve problems, mobilize, advocate, and build and share knowledge. Few other civic actors have the independence, the patient and flexible resources, and the intellectual and political capital to assume these roles for the public good. Consistently adding real value, however, can be extraordinarily complex, requiring a daunting mix of strategic skills, entrepreneurial stance, and staying power.

This article examines the Skillman Foundation's efforts to add value to its work through what it calls "changemaking." Changemaking refers here to roles and practices beyond grantmaking through which a foundation advances its goals. Skillman staffview grantmaking and changemaking as intimately connected: grant resources are "what give us our standing1" and allow them to "access a portfolio of changemaking tools beyond money for advancing our agenda." Indeed, part of managing a grants program is thinking about "how changemaking practices might increase or extend the impact of the grants." Changemaking is the "connective tissue that helps create more powerful outcomes from heretofore unconnected and unleveraged strategies." It is a tool - like grantmaking, knowledge management, and strategic communications - through which to exert influence, leverage resources and partnerships, and work toward scale.

A foundation aiming to deploy changemaking strategies to add value to its community change work faces at least two tasks. The first is simply reaching clarity - internally and with partners - about how the foundation will do the work and what roles it will play. By specifying the strategic rationale for these roles in the change effort, the foundation in effect defines itself as a player in the larger theory of change or framework guiding the effort. The second task is identifying the skills, expertise, and organizational will it has or will need to develop internally to effectively implement and be accountable for its chosen roles. …

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