Smart giving is hard work

While many foundations are much too comfortable, others see that effective philanthropy requires moving beyond the comfort zone.

That insight was clear last week at the annual meeting of the North Carolina Network of Grantmakers.

The meeting, which attracted 130 people, looked at huge challenges like improving high schools, improving delivery of mental-health services and strengthening nonprofit “capacity.”

Reflecting on lessons the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has learned from its massive investment in U.S. high schools, including many in North Carolina, Steve Seleznow, the foundation’s program director, said foundations must understand that change takes time and they “can’t do it alone.”

Making a dent in problems that are big and complicated, he said, requires taking on systemic change; engaging communities that are involved; forming strategic partnerships; supporting those who might be hurt by the changes; working to fix policies that underlie the targeted problems; establishing clear outcomes and metrics to measure progress; and shifting gears when needed.

Many foundations are fat and lazy, and need to shake old habits and focus more on their impact and less on themselves and their power.But the grantmakers network reflects a genuine effort by foundations to work more effectively and collaboratively.

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