Philanthropy’s New Fundamental: Aligning for Greater Impact

April 15, 2011

On GPF 2011’s opening day, Jeff Raikes of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation reminded us that successful philanthropy takes not only a strategic focus and leveraging of core competencies, but also great partnerships. This is one of the new fundamentals we are exploring at GPF 2011: aligning philanthropic investments to achieve greater impact. The scale and complexity of the challenges we seek to address exceed the capacity of any one foundation, or sector, alone.

As a result, donors are working together to align their investments in new ways. On Thursday, Brizio Biondi-Morra, President of Fundación AVINA, and Sally Osberg, President and CEO of the Skoll Foundation, shared reflections on the robust partnership formed between their two organizations to address climate change. Together, they focus on deforestation of the Amazon. With this issue, as with so many, collaboration is necessary given the scale and complexity of the problem. Commonality of vision and values, complementarity in skills and expertise, and strong trust between partners can enable them to achieve dramatic results.

With so many institutions and actors comfortable with—and in many cases supportive of—the status quo in the Amazon, Brizio explained that the project felt insolvable. But to do nothing was unthinkable, as huge swaths of the Amazon rainforest are destroyed each day. The collaboration was an intelligent gamble and took advantage of the key strengths of both organizations, such as the Skoll Foundation’s ability to raise the visibility of the issue and Fundación AVINA’s deep local knowledge and networks inLatin America. The partnership between the two organizations took time to build—and even included a shared journey into the Amazon—but the benefits have been worth the time spent. Together they have shifted the conversation inBrazilabout the Amazon and ensured that the negative effects of deforestation are reflected in public discourse and in policy.

“Networked” giving approaches are another way that donors can amplify the impact of their investments. Philanthropists are joining forces with fellow donors and partnering across sectors to achieve greater impact. Work to empower women and girls across the developing world exemplifies this approach. An impressive and growing body of evidence on the subject indicates that such investments have a significant multiplier effect.  Here, there is a real opportunity for philanthropists to achieve impact. The Nike Foundation, for example, is engaged with the NoVo Foundation and the British aid agency, DFID, partnering across sectors and core competencies to empower women and girls.

Last, we were reminded by Ruth Levine, Deputy Assistant Administrator in the Bureau for Policy, Planning and Learning at USAID that philanthropists can and should leverage each others’ resources through alignment on data and evaluation. When donors support the standardization of data, it permits analyses and comparisons across programs, people and geographies, which can foster learning and continuous improvement across the field. Ruth encouraged us to consider supporting adherence to existing data standards instead of developing them anew. This contributes to the common good and gives donors a “free ride” on the investments that supported the development of those standards.

As philanthropists, we must invest in becoming smart users of data that demonstrates program impact. Standardized, rigorous evaluation methods will enable comparisons of results across studies and promote greater confidence in the level of impact.

Over the last decade at GPF, we have built a community of donors that shares a vision and values and is committed to international causes. As we mark our 10th anniversary, I am struck by the degree to which aligning for greater impact has become fundamental to the way GPF members pursue their mission.


Jane Wales

President & Co-founder, Global Philanthropy Forum


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