The real impact of foundations’ work will be seen only in the long term, but this makes attribution difficult. That was the general conclusion of this year’s EFC Summer Academy on impact-driven philanthropy, held in collaboration with the Centre for Social Investment (CSI) at Heidelberg University on 3-5 September, which drew some 40 participants and 10 speakers.
Helmut Anheier and Volker Then from CSI listed four ways in which foundations achieve social impact: influencing public policy and advocacy, mobilizing civil society, use of market forces, and developing and disseminating knowledge. These were illustrated by case studies: Sukhvinder Stubbs (Barrow Cadbury Trust, UK) explained their work on influencing public policy on migration in the UK, while Pavol Demes (German Marshall Fund) talked of the role of emerging civil societies in Eastern Europe in removing new forms of authoritarianism. Klara Kletzka (Dialogmuseum, Germany) described its ‘Dialogue in the Dark’ initiative, where sighted visitors become ‘temporarily blind’ and trust a blind guide, which has run in 20 countries thanks to the application of franchising; while Simon Sommer explained how the Jacobs Foundation develops and disseminates knowledge by means that include supporting independent academic research and creating the private Jacobs University in Bremen.
David Emerson (Association of Charitable Foundations, UK) suggested that intuition is crucial in determining impact; he also worried that overuse of management techniques could stifle effectiveness. My response was that both customer-oriented creativity and excellent management are necessary for impact. Jan Martin Witte (Global Public Policy Institute) argued that foundations should overcome their tendency to predetermine outcomes and instead help their grantees to become more efficient, while at the same time benefiting from their creativity. Gerry Salole (EFC) regretted the slowness of foundations in learning from failure and from unintended consequences of programmes. All these points met with general agreement, as did the proposition that foundations should be ready to learn both from each other and from the public and private sectors.