According to Nadya Shmavonian, former executive vice president of Pew Charitable Trusts, large foundations are moving away from broad-based funding efforts and toward specialized areas of giving. The result: It’s more important than ever to do your homework when targeting foundations for technology grants.
In a Dec. 13 special report for the Washington Post titled “The New Philanthropy,” Shmavonian described how the business of philanthropy is changing. Though many foundations have seen their endowments grow to record levels during the 1990s, the increases have been offset by a huge decline in federal support for fields of historic philanthropic interest such as education and the arts.
“Given the magnitude of these cuts, foundations cannot begin to fill all the gaps,” Shmavonian said. As a result, many large, independent foundations–like Pew Charitable Trusts–are strategically focusing their allocation of grants in an effort to “bring about lasting and sometimes systemic change to chosen fields, rather than to support a patchwork of disparate projects.”
The Post report also includes perspectives from other foundation leaders. Jed Emerson, executive director of the Roberts Foundation’s Enterprise Development Fund, which allocates $3 million a year in the San Francisco Bay area, noted a greater emphasis on accountability in today’s giving.
“The main difference between classical philanthropy and the venture philanthropy being pursued [today] is a shift in the understanding of a donar’s gift as being not simply an act of charity, but an investment,” Emerson said. “This means donors are asking recipients to track and document return on investment and viewing their gifts…as part of a philanthropic portfolio being managed to achieve certain stated objectives.”