Photo by Leo Reynolds
As mentioned in previous posts, Ricardo Millett was a keynote speaker at the 2010 MESI. In his talk, Millett cited the Center for Effective Philanthropy, and said that most foundations believe that it is important to have an explicit strategy to manage and inform decisions for grantmaking – yet few foundations actually have one.
What does it mean to have an explicit strategy? A foundation who says they fund the “environment” does not have an explicit strategy. This is because that is too broad – what aspect of the environment? Pollution? Global warming? Endangered species? Deforestation? Renewable energy? There are a million programs that could fit under that general area. An example of a foundation that appears to have an explicity strategy is the McKnight Foundation. They fund the “environment” – but a closer look at their funding guidlines and one can see that they don’t fund the “environment” in general – they fund specific strategic focuses like water quality or hurrican protection. Can you see the difference?
Now, one must ask, should foundations be that specific? I don’t know. Personally, it’s hard for me to say how specific I think a foundation’s strategy should be. As foundations get more specific in what they fund, it is inevitable that some programs will get left behind because they don’t fit in the new, specific focus. Additionally, Millett pointed out that the “absence of strategy makes whatever investments in evaluation a foundation makes, scattershot at best,” so without specificity foundations will have a difficult time evaluating their own grantmaking and effectiveness. But, Millett made a great point when he said this made him think of a saying from Yogi Bear – “If you don’t know where you are going, anywhere will get you there.”