A view of the whole

Philanthropic foundations should seek a role more active than mere funders – and more noble than banks.

In a project conducted on behalf of Boeing Corporate Citizenship, we concluded that a foundation’s most important job is serving as the steward of a theory of change.

“One of the things that is most interesting about foundations is the ways in which they can be conscious and systematic about a larger ecosystem,” said Salin Geevarghese, a veteran of several large philanthropies who we consulted as part of the work. “They can see certain gaps in society and make themselves the players to move into those gaps. It’s a role that is not completely in the public realm and it’s not completely in the private realm. There are opportunities for extraordinary contributions to society.”

This unique view of the whole should be what drives strategy at foundations, not some false idea of return on investment. Besides, if every decision they make also gives us all insight into their theory of change, every dollar spent by philanthropies will generate much more value for the common good.