A New Direction in Philanthropy

Last Friday (September 26), I attended the Convening on Community Philanthropy organized by the Minnesota Council on Foundations . The theme of the conference was "Leadership: Evolving Roles in Your Community." There were several interesting and thought-provoking speakers and sessions during the conference. I particularly enjoyed an afternoon session entitled "Inclusivity: Your Role in the Community" that included presentations from Sandy Vargas from The Minneapolis Foundation, Steve Joul from Central Minnesota Community Foundation and George Thompson from Blandin Foundation.

Sandy Vargas spoke about how The Minneapolis Foundation has made "a shift to changing systems and policies in order to make lasting change." Last year, The Minneapolis Foundation successfully advocated to reduce predatory lending practices in Minnesota. The Minneapolis Foundation is taking a leadership role in investing in the Minneapolis Public Schools and supporting the upcoming school referendum; advocating for increased funding for early childhood education and all-day kindergarten; and supporting policies that reduce the achievement gap between students of color and white students in the Minneapolis Public Schools.

I look forward to learning more about the public policy engagement work of The Minneapolis Foundation (and others) as I research the intersection between philanthropy and public policy. Tracy Gary (2007) calls this type of philanthropy "systemic philanthropy" or philanthropy that "develops systemic solutions to collective problems." While potentially risky and polarizing, this new direction in philanthropy may offer the best chance to solve long-standing public problems.


Ryan -- Why do you call "systemic philanthropy" potentially risky and polarizing? What can be done to overcome the risks?

Barbara Crosby


Thanks for your comments. I think that "systemic philanthropy" is seen as risky in the philanthropy field because it doesn't always have clear, measureable outcomes. Also, as you well know, policy or social change is often a slow process that may take many years to achieve results. Foundations involved in this type of philanthropy cannot be afraid of failure and must be patient and persistent in their efforts. There is also risk associated with taking a public position on an issue. By doing so, foundations risk alienating donors and peers. Each foundation must decide if these risks are worth the potential reward of making lasting social change.

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