Thursday, December 19, 2002

Grantmaking in real time

What is the right time frame for foundations and other philanthropists to use when determining the impact of their giving? If its $10 for a meal, the result is immediate. If its $10 million for improving public schools, the result may be...later.

Since most American foundations have "in perpetuity" somewhere in their charters, they are well-positioned to work with very long term horizons. Long term to most foundations seems to be about ten years. Sure, ten years is better than "three years and your out," but why ten? Ten years in school reform is too short - its not even as long as your child will spend in the K-12 system. In medical research, on the other hand, two years can be a lifetime - quite literally, when you consider the pace of research advances regarding some terminal illnesses.

Perhaps philanthropic investments should be made - and results sought - in line with the issue at hand, and not with regard to organizational policy, the ease of collecting evaluation data, or the convenience of the reporting cycle. This is one way to rethink how giving is done - perhaps pooling funds across individuals and organizations to focus on common issues and desired improvements, and jointly setting realistic benchmarks and timeframes for achieving results. Lets put the dollars where the impact is (or can be) and view our work in real time - the time it takes for real change to happen.

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