Great Partners & Handcrafted Work
From the outside, we may look like a typical foundation; in fact, we operate in a manner often associated with advocacy organizations. With a foot in both worlds, we’re not tethered to any one approach. We tend to approach new issues by hosting open-ended conversations, with an eye to finding the most effective partners and the most efficient solutions. Our approach varies to meet the needs of each project.
To many observers, we appear to be a typical grant-making organization. In fact, we are a hybrid of two very distinct models:
- We act as a foundation, and award grants to nonprofit organizations. We were founded with this intent, and this is the institutional form that is most recognizable to the nonprofit community.
- We act as an advocacy organization, running programs and projects to help address key societal challenges. We assemble teams and build staffs, but tend to do so without drawing attention to ourselves.
This blend of approaches has significant benefits. We work with the foundation community as partners, allowing us to learn from, and collaborate openly with, a wide range of current and potential funding partners. We take these relationships seriously, and are recognized as a trusted, and willing partner.
At the same time, we retain flexibility that is unavailable to many foundations. When the right nonprofit organizations exist to help address a specific need, we support them with grants. If no such group exists, we use a combination of convening skills, consulting help, and staff expertise to tailor a solution to a specific need. Once the need is addressed, we move forward. If a gap remains, we may help create a new group or project to address the issue. We get results, often with greater speed and less expense.
We are a lean organization, with a modest-sized core staff, all of whom have distinguished backgrounds in the advocacy and philanthropic arenas. Our staff has a substantial impact on the issues we tackle through engagement with our vital network of partners.
At times, we think of this work as handcrafted. We tend toward projects that require attention to detail, and the use of high-quality advocates and strategies. Before we decide how to proceed, we take time to understand the field: knowing who does what well, which decision-makers must be convinced, the formal and informal institutional channels to pursue, where the best opportunities might lie.
We are often the first funder to help an innovative strategy or project get off the ground. We get things started. Our ability to stay nimble and find new and effective ways to work is part of our DNA. We’ve repeatedly found ways to focus on points of great programmatic leverage. We’ve worked closely with funders of all sizes. It’s important for potential partners to know that we’ll find ways to meet the demands of a project no matter how big or complex. We are not opposed to growth on principle, but we are careful to ensure that our programs are scaled to maintain flexibility and efficiency.
We tend to engage directly. Our staff is often on the ground, either in the community or at project sites. If not there physically, we find ways to make personal connections.
We host conversations. We bring interesting mixes of people together, often in an informal setting, to get things done. We consider unusual pairings, and one thing can lead to another. A climate scientist and a military officer, a deputy state comptroller and an Episcopalian bishop – these pairings, and many others like them, have led to stellar results.
We don’t think of partnerships in terms of transactions, we think in terms of relationships. We like to engage for the long-term. Our best work comes about when we enter into partnerships with people we know and trust.
We try to find the most effective organizations, but we are even more interested in finding the most talented individuals. At a time when many organizations are changing so quickly, this practice has served us well.