The COF conference: a few thoughts not related to impact investing


Timothy Ogden


A few closing thoughts from the 2015 Council of Foundations’ annual conference not related to impact investing:

  • I came across a couple of intriguing ideas to solve vexing human capital problems in philanthropy and the non-profit sector. RippleWorks links non-profits with highly skilled technologists to help non-profits effectively deploy technology. DonorPath is launching a similar (funded) experiment to link very small non-profits with vetted fundraising professionals who can help those organizations make a leap forward in raising funds. In both domains –technology and fundraising – non-profits and foundations rarely have the expertise to assess the quality of candidates (how does a non-expert effectively determine who is an expert?) and as a result the human capital gap persists in expensive ways.
  • The Foundation Center was also debuting a solution to a long-standing problem: identifying what other funders are investing in an issue and where (geographically) they are deploying their resources. I remember talking about this problem and how to realistically solve it with Lucy Bernholz (more evidence of her visionary status) back in 2008. Lucy and I concluded it would be very, very difficult to gather and code the data necessary, so kudos to the Foundation Center for doing that work and producing what looks to be a very valuable new tool for funders around the world.
  • I didn’t notice it until the last day, but the theme of this year’s conference was ‘leading in a destabilized world’. The theme echoes what I heard emerging from the Global Philanthropy Forum last week. It’s a puzzling way to frame the current moment: the world is actually the most peaceful it’s ever been, global inequality has declined dramatically over the last century, and as Charles Kenny and Angus Deaton have unequivocally demonstrated in two excellent books from the last few years, the world is getting much better in nearly every measure but CO2 in the atmosphere. That’s a big ‘but’. I wonder, though, what would be the harm, if not the benefit, if we framed philanthropy conferences around how much progress has been made, and used that progress as a platform for making further gains and tackling the massive problem of climate change.

Timothy Ogden is executive partner of Sona Partners and a contributing editor to Alliance. Email

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