I fund PSOs and umbrella organisations because under the right circumstances the outcome can be enormous. My grantmaking focuses on low-risk, high-return approaches for achieving broad impact. Based on my experience to date, both are possible. Continued exploration and shared learning among funders could help determine how relatively small capacity grants could best yield unexpectedly broad, oversized returns.
In 2015 the foundation I served wrote a grant to Foundation Center to fund activity mapping for SDG Philanthropy Platform’s work in Kenya. Several years ago, we were part of the funding pipeline that later enabled Southern California Grantmakers to build a highly effective database and search engine. Today they have a far greater capacity to engage members based on interest areas, grantmaking strategies, shared learning, and collaboration. The total cost was approximately $130,000.
In 2019, my more recent DAF, Funders 2025 Fund, provided a $33,000 grant to enable SDG Philanthropy Platform to continue by transitioning to WINGS (Worldwide Initiative of Grantmaker Support). In the Spring of 2020, WINGS convened leaders around the COVID-19 pandemic. The group placed top priority on aggregating research demonstrating the value PSOs were playing during the pandemic. My fund helped WINGS absorb the tremendous stress they endured during these most challenging times with additional staffing, including modest support for this research. The grant was $60,000.
TechSoup is undergoing a capital campaign to progress from providing $1.9 billion to 4.8 billion per year in technical resources mobilised for nonprofits globally by 2023. They have raised three-fourths of the capital needed. My fund will enable them to hire a development consultant to fast-track the raising of the additional 2.9 million needed. The cost is $120,000 for a year of full-time assistance.
As a sector we’ve made excellent progress with big philanthropy initiatives, with great credit to MacArthur Foundation, Co-Impact, Ford Foundation, and many others. Thanks to those willing, bold philanthropists have dared to fail forward to accelerate long-term progress. Now we need to focus intensively on achieving a broad impact. While some approaches to attaining far-reaching results may be quite costly, some are not. It is worth betting that 100’s of PSOs, umbrella organisations, coalitions, and networks could experience catalytic growth by bringing on just one or two additional staff members.
Hiring an administrative assistant for a high-powered leader of a PSO will likely cost between $40,000-$75,000 in the U.S. per year. The cost of hiring an additional staffer in M&E, development, strategic planning, marketing, or technical assistance will likely fall into the range of $60,000-$120,000 in the U.S. per year. Strengthening PSOs with relatively low HR funding could be an excellent way to edge into the far less traveled broad impact paradigm; it could also provide opportunities to engage in enriching learning experiences between grantors and grantees. Outcome reports could help inform best practices for achieving low-cost, broad impact grantmaking.
Our future depends in part on leveraging those with the farthest reach. Everything just mentioned is needed: activity mapping to build enabling philanthropic ecosystems; helping PSOs increase their capacity to target and engage members and facilitate collaborations; demonstrating philanthropy’s value during the pandemic; and mobilising resources to serve the needs of nonprofits.
Moving forward, we need to invest in increasing generosity globally, attracting social capital, building multi-sector collaborations, enabling philanthropic ecosystems, empowering advocacy, and growing nonprofits’ capacity – our invaluable frontline agents of change. As we progress, after the most challenging year in some of our lifetimes, we have an opportunity to think differently. We have a chance to think about how we can help more people by leveraging the power, credibility, and reach of those best positioned to achieve broad and lasting impact.
Peter Brach is the Chief Organiser of the Invest in People campaign, and he also manages the Funders 2025 Fund, a future focused DAF dedicated to advancing field building through broad impact philanthropy.