Skip to main content

When a foundation makes the bold shift from individual, isolated gifts to a long-term commitment, what lessons can be learned? In 1998, the Northwest Area Foundation pledged $200 million toward 10-year partnerships with specific communities with the goal of transforming the way it did philanthropy. As the foundation continues its evolution toward more effective philanthropy, this report serves to share some insights into its successful practices and, as important, the challenges the foundation faced both externally and internally.

Top Takeaways

  1. A bold vision for change is not enough; it is critical for foundations to translate that vision into a clear and actionable strategy, work effectively with grantee partners and communities, and learn and course correct.
  2. Recognizing and acknowledging the inherent power imbalance in the funder-recipient relationship, building a relationship first before setting funding expectations, and providing support beyond grantmaking dollars can all contribute to a more authentic form of partnership.
  3. Fostering a culture of learning does matter, particularly when encouraging staff to feel comfortable identifying missteps and converting those experiences into learning opportunities.
Philanthropy is uniquely positioned to venture into experiments that neither the private sector nor government has the temerity and flexibility to attempt. That spirit of experimentation—of adventure, even—lies at the heart of the social value we can provide. We must never walk away from that role.

kevin f. walker, president and chief executive officer
northwest area foundation