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Theory of the Foundation

ɫ’ Theory of the Foundation initiative, which came to an end in May 2022, worked to enhance the capacity of philanthropies to effectively align their resources for the impact they envision. A multiCyear project, it included learning cohorts, publications, and convenings with leading philanthropies from Europe, the United States, Africa, South America and Asia.

Key Resources

Key resources developed for funders as part of this initiative are summarized and linked below. Please click the tabs to the left for additional insights about those resources.

  • Philanthropys New Tool for Action and Impact: Operating Archetypes?is an analytical framework that helps funders better understand their distinct position in the philanthropy ecosystem, and what that position means for how they approach their Philanthropy Framework.
  • The Philanthropy Framework focuses on how emerging and established philanthropies can better align resources for maximum impact, with a focus on charter, social compact, and operating approaches. Also available in?ƿ (Chinese).
  • The Philanthropy Framework Funder Self-Assessment Tool provides a customized analysis based on answers to twenty questions on philanthropic approaches and operations.
  • Social Compact in a Changing World is an in-depth publication that explores strategies foundations have adopted to become more responsive and accountable as a result of increasing public scrutiny.

The Genesis of the Theory of the Foundation

At ɫ, we actively work to understand the future of giving. As we build knowledge and collaboration in our field, our expertise grows, allowing us to place our client work within a deep understanding of the broader context in which were working. Our Theory of the Foundation initiative represents a key example of how our research shapes the sector and informs our partnerships.

As philanthropy evolves, foundations continue to face profound changes, ranging from new entities to new approaches to new pressures. Informed by our long history of foundation work, alongside the constantly expanding insight gained from our more recent clients, Theory of the Foundation was launched in 2013 in order to explore how foundation leaders might think about their organizations beyond their programs. Inspired by Peter Druckers seminal article The Theory of the Business, we wanted to study and share how foundations could identify and act as institutions.

We hoped to enhance the capacity of foundations to effectively align their resources for the impact they envision by identifying promising overarching conceptual models, as well as effective operating procedures, organizational structures, and leadership practices.

Over the years of its existence, we had 100+ foundation leaders foundations and other philanthropists across the globe join our effort to develop shared ideas, frameworks, and tools. Together, we encouraged the development of the field of knowledge about foundations as institutions that in turn enables more effective collaboration between foundations and across sectors.

Photo by Andrew Ridley on Unsplash.

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