Trust is important. Foundations must learn to trust the organizations they fund. Perhaps we need less measurement, fewer checks and balances, and more trust. These were some of the themes emerging from a session at the Council on Foundations annual conference, held in Los Angeles 28 April-1 May.
The session, ‘The Future of Philanthropy and Development in the Pursuit of Human Well-Being: An Update on the Bellagio Initiative’, was part of a daylong pre-conference programme, the first ever at a COF conference, called ‘A Global Engagement: Widening Your Grantmaking Lens’.
Are organizations ready to acknowledge failure? Trust is linked to this: if organizations don’t trust each other, they are not honest about failure. It’s also important to understand that failure is not binary. It’s not about outright failure or outright success – there are many shades. So something that may not be defined as a total success and may be seen as a failure will inevitably have led to something positive. It’s important not to lose sight of this.
Also, failure is only really failure when lessons are not learned from it.
We need to move away from sound bites such as we are a ‘risk-taking organization’ and understand how we embrace risk in grantmaking; to move away from the safe bet and the desire to fund potentially successful projects. We need to understand risk appetite – this requires careful consideration of what risks we are prepared to engage with.
How do we build models that allow grantmakers to consider more than downside risk and to focus on opportunities – recognizing that focusing on value protection can lead to missed opportunities? This is the subject of an article I’ve written for the June issue of Alliance, which will focus on ‘high risk/high gain’ activity by foundations, and foundations’ role in global development.
Pesh Framjee is Head of Non Profits at Crowe Clark Whitehill LLP, London.