managemnet company strategy managemanet Aligning Your Philanthropic Operating Model with Your Goals

Aligning Your Philanthropic Operating Model with Your Goals

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Philanthropies — whether they are private foundations, corporate and family funders, LLC’s, or other vehicles for giving — often struggle with the same set of fundamental questions: Can we better use our resources and capabilities to not only fulfill our mission but also bring change to the people and communities that need it most? What kinds of decision-making frameworks can help us have that greater purpose and impact? And how can we make these decisions as quickly and efficiently as possible?

The idea of operating archetypes was born in response. Developed by Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors (RPA) with members of Foundation Learning Collaborative Theory and dozens of funders and thought partners around the world, operating archetypes presents a new analytical tool for reflection, alignment, and action. The idea is that a philanthropy’s operating archetype helps an organization articulate exactly what it wants to achieve and how it will deploy its resources, capacity, talent, and relationships to achieve it. that vision and strategy. This, in turn, can inform better decision-making throughout the organization.

Being an influential and responsive funder is not just about what is done and why. It is equally important to consider how you achieve the change and who you use to implement the work. To that end, one of the most important challenges facing internal funders is aligning talent and capabilities with operational models, missions, and impact.

Operational archetypes help funders better understand where are they (current situation), where they want to go (aspirational state), how do they compare other players and theirs unique position in the ecosystem. They can help funders map out potential gaps. And, they can create a shared language for evaluating an organization’s skills, talents and capabilities.

Each of the operating archetypes is defined by a set of core attributes. It was developed and structured through a multi-year iterative process, including in-depth listening sessions and field testing with funders, grantees, and thought partners; quantitative and qualitative data collection; and client work. They represent the main questions that any funder must answer with clarity and confidence:

  • Reason/Value Proposition. What did you do and why?
  • Resources/What You Lead. What is the primary asset—financial or non-financial—used to accomplish the mission?
  • Key Capabilities/Skills.What are your top skills, areas of expertise, or capabilities?
  • Equity. How do you include the voices most affected and share power to promote equity?
  • Answer/Activities. What will you do to solve the problem and/or advance the solution?
  • Main Audience. Who are you doing it for?
  • Community Served (if different from primary audience). Who are you doing it for?
  • Relationships/Alliances. Who do you do it for?
  • Impact Assessment. Where do you look for results?

Building on these attributes as a foundation, RPA identifies eight distinct operating archetypes:

Talent agencies find, strengthen, and promote the leading individual or organizational change agents closest to the issues they seek to solve, focusing more on their potential than on their program goals or strategies. Talent agencies often use open competitions and talent identification processes to expand the range of innovators and to add unexpected ideas and players from unknown groups. .

Think tanks use in-house expertise and research to design policy or systemic solutions, then introduce, sell, and socialize the approach to others and find implementers for the solutions. Communication is a key function for think tanks, which often focus on disseminating findings on complex issues to diverse audiences.

Campaign managers bringing together a diverse set of players (funders, grantees, the public sector, and other major system actors) to implement complex, time-intensive solutions that often cross sectors and traditional areas in the program. To do this, they often create collaborative funding vehicles. Campaign managers often rely on the intangible capabilities of agility, patience, and trust to build these relationships. Having these qualities visible in their staff and communications enables them to navigate a wide range of perspectives, methods, and theories of change while building consensus around campaigns.

Farm builders launching or strengthening institutions to fill a gap and create a strong, vibrant ecosystem needed to address a major challenge or to improve an area issue. They grow organizations and movements through consistent, largely passive support. To fulfill their mission, field builders rely not only on deep internal expertise specific to the target field but also on a wide external ecosystem of experts, implementing partners, and communities. Like other archetypes, Field Builders rely on a strong communication function.

Venture catalysts providing early, often unrestricted, funding to organizations or interventions that are new or have little proven track record. They often use open competitions to get ideas and rely on extensive networks of outside experts to assess and formulate needs/problems, goals, and strategies. Venture catalysts embrace flexibility, experimentation, and risk to facilitate untested solutions that take root and deliver meaningful social impact. They use a variety of funding tools, including grant and impact investing. This archetype requires a focus on gathering power to unite a diverse group of voices.

Designers using internal expertise to design programs and procedures. Starting with understanding the context based on research and interaction, and with end users in mind, they prototype, iterate, and communicate to engage and influence end users. Designers tend to work in areas where other solutions do not exist. However, even in this context, designers consider how isolated or internally driven interventions affect stakeholders. That makes extensive research and assessment of the landscape – including conversations with affected populations, experts, and other funders – essential to ensure that program design addresses a truly unfilled need. need.

Underwriters institutional or private funders who provide “big bet” support to major institutions (usually cultural, medical, or educational), civic groups, or favored causes based on long-standing interests, values, or personal experience. Their financial support can be provided directly or through a variety of trusted individuals. Underwriters often run lean operations that focus primarily on relationship-building and are driven by the values, interests, or personal experiences of the living founder or founder’s legacy. Effective underwriters periodically review how their long-held personal convictions and values ​​respond to the challenges of the time, such as centering historically marginalized and vulnerable communities through the elite institutions they supported.

Sowers provides many grants to various individual actors and institutions, often using responsive, flexible, and participatory grantmaking. They bet on the cumulative effect of this method of changing seeds. For seeders, flexible financial instruments, reputation, relationship building, collaboration, and leadership ranked among the highest resources and capabilities. This is prioritized by structuring ongoing relationships, including input and feedback loops with grantees. Adept Sowers deliberately focus on changing strategy and developing robust evaluation methods to ensure that their strategy delivers the intended results.

Of course, some funders can – and do – identify themselves with more than one archetype, as many philanthropists use different models to promote their initiatives. However, we have observed that funders using a blurred array of archetypes can also undermine their impact: Different archetypes may require very different skills, capabilities, and activities. Trying to bridge these disparate requirements can place a significant strain on staff, creating misalignments and tensions. It can also disrupt strategic clarity and make it difficult to evaluate impact.

While the use of this instrument is in the early stages and the relevant insights continue to be collected, the funders who experimented with the operating archetypes, experienced many “Aha!” moments. One of the most frequent learnings has to do with the realization that the archetype long recognized by the funder is different from what it actually is (based on skills, capabilities, operations and methods of doing it).

As organizations identify and analyze their desired current or future operating archetypes (or both), funders can use this framework for conducting internal and external conversations about strategic goals. and trajectories, organizational changes, resourcing, talent, and equity. Below are some questions that may serve as a helpful starting point for such discussions:

  • How does our present align with what we dream of?
  • How can we assess and develop the internal capacity of the entire organization?
  • Is there a alignment between the skills and capabilities we currently possess and our desired state?
  • What resources, capabilities, or functions do we need to strengthen to best realize our desired state?
  • How do we make deep listening to grantees, communities, and partners a reality, and how do we incorporate this input into our decision-making, evaluation methods, and investments?
  • How do we evaluate the balance of needs and opportunities to find where we can make the greatest impact?
  • How do we approach impact assessment, and does it fit into our operating archetype?

As philanthropists use it in these frameworks, we look forward to learning more about how it can be used by many different types of philanthropic organizations around the world. Our hope is that those insights will contribute to creating more thoughtful, effective, and equitable philanthropy, promoting best practices and making a stronger impact for our sector as a whole.

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