Solidarity through Diversity

Solidarity through Diversity

The blog below is based on the acceptance speech of Barrow Cadbury Trust’s CEO, Sara Llewellin, for the prestigious Compass Award at the 2019 European Foundation Centre (EFC) Annual General Assembly in May 2019, in Paris.


“Thank you very much Massimo for those very generous words and for this most astonishing award. I must say I am really stunned, although I am sure as usual I won’t be lost for words.

I am a great believer that awards and honours are symbolic of the achievements of many hands and not of one person alone. In our foundation we work on structural change for social justice ends across a variety of disciplines. Structural change can never be brought about without many hands working together over a sustained period of time augmented with hefty doses of savvy, luck and timing. So an award to me is an award to all those many hands we work with in our own foundation, in other foundations and in civil society and beyond.

As an award though, this also comes at an opportune time, showing solidarity with us in the UK who remain determinedly European in the face of our impending changing status in the European Union. Thank you to the many of you who have extended the hand of friendship to us. And, of course, this is an award for all us women who have contributed to philanthropy over time and to the EFC itself over the past 30 years.

My first EFC board meeting was the 20th anniversary nearly 10 years ago. I was shocked to find only three other women in a roomful of 30 or so men. I want to pay tribute to those women – Ingrid Hamm, first Vice Chair, Suzanne Siskel and Betsy Campbell, who looked after me that week and have been a source of inspiration since.  And to the men who supported us over the intervening years and even at times stood aside.

EFC governance has changed dramatically since then.  Our first woman Chair Ewa Kulik-Bielińska brought a freshness to the role as a central/Eastern European. Many other women colleagues have stepped up and contributed greatly. This diversity is crucial as I passionately believe that no good things flow from poor governance, wherever or whatever we are doing.

We are living in difficult times and facing many challenges. As we have explored over the past couple of days, there are threats to liberté and egalité which we must all play our part in changing.  We started the conference by equating ‘philanthropie’ to fraternité and I will add sisterhood to that and frame them together as solidarity. Sisterhood is powerful!  As Antti Arjarva reminded me we are a broad church working in a wide variety of fields: research, climate change, culture, medicine, education and much more. Yet the key European values of liberté, egalité and solidarity can and must run through them all.

So let us all go back to work next week seeking to work in a spirit of equality and solidarity, using all the assets at our disposal to protect liberty, to increase equality and to keep improving the governance of our own organisations and that of those we support.

Thank you to all my EFC colleagues – Gerry and the staff and governing body – and of course to our own fabulous board and team at the Barrow Cadbury Trust.”

Challenges in managing MAVA’s final chapter

MAVA is reaching the half way point on its final strategy covering 2016-2022. As we enter our final chapter, there are some inherent challenges any foundation in such a situation would face. From some partners who still believe funding will continue, to persistent high levels of partner dependency, MAVA staff are confronted with some tricky situations to manage. This leads to some changes in our standard way of operating some of which are discussed below.

Mid-term check on progress

The MAVA strategy is oriented around action towards 4-8 specific outcomes per programme. These are meant to be measurable and achievable and are mainly about reducing threats to biodiversity. Partners involved collectively defined the action plans to reach the outcomes by 2022. We are soon approaching the mid-point of implementation and will conduct a mid-term evaluation to review progress to date and identify any changes that should be made to the plans.

This means exercising adaptive management for our last phase of funding to ensure that we are investing in ways that will achieve the highest impact. Though plans were set for the full period of the strategy, this is the moment to assess what can be done better and what could be stopped or de-emphasised.

One of the biggest challenges has been delays in implementation. This is sometimes due to problems hiring key staff, difficulties in coordinating amongst partners or simply a lack of urgency.

However, as we get closer to 2022, our ability to tolerate delays diminishes. We are intent on achieving the greatest impact possible. Thus, we will need to consider whether to launch into a new project if it has been delayed in getting off the ground – no matter what the reason. Adaptive management leads us in reviewing our initial expectations, assessing what has been done over the last three years and in being realistic (and rational) concerning what can be accomplished by the end of our strategy, even if this means taking some difficult decisions.

Dynamic fund-allocation management

Our intention is to ensure that all funds at our disposal have been spent effectively before the end of 2022. We would consider it a failure to arrive at the end and discover that we have significant underspending in the projects or large amounts of funding that never made it out the door of MAVA.

To address this, we have implemented some extraordinary measures. These include requesting 6-monthly financial reports to be able to monitor spending and also more stringent rules on reallocating funding that has not been spent or committed. This is all with an aim to maximizing impact of our funding and being able to celebrate major achievements by 2022.

Meanwhile we have also planned for the allocation of all available funding, earmarking funds for specific purposes some of which are still ideas that need shaping. We will work to get these ideas implemented efficiently as early in the cycle as possible to make best use of our funds.

High levels of dependency

Because of the way we have historically funded partners, we have a significant number of partners who are highly dependent on MAVA funding. As of our last analysis 47% of our direct partners rely on MAVA for at least 30% of their total funding. Although high dependence does not always signify a problem, in all cases we are assessing the situation and where needed aiming to reduce levels of dependence. In general, our aim is to have no more than 30% of dependence by 2022.

This means we will be proactively engaging with a number of partners to agree on what the transition plan should look like. We want to ensure that MAVA’s sunsetting does not create issues of survival for our partners.

Partners who still don’t believe

Despite communicating as clearly as we know how, there is still a minority who continue to believe that funding from the Hoffmann family will continue for them after 2022. The family has confirmed that this is not the case and that all partners should prepare for the scenario in which funding from MAVA and the Hoffmann family will cease.

We urge all our partners to take this seriously and plan accordingly to avoid abrupt surprises in 2022.

Despite the challenges involved in managing our final chapter, the MAVA team remains enthusiastic about and inspired by what can be achieved by 2022 by working hand in hand with partners. There are still several years left to make a difference and our intention is not to fade away but to go out with fireworks.


Image courtesy of OCRA Production.

Towards listening and learning

My first concrete contact with the EFC occurred six years ago when I attended their Annual Conference and General Assembly in Copenhagen. At that point, I had been working at Kone Foundation for several years, first as a scientific secretary and for a year as head of cultural affairs. As the international foundation field was new to me, I decided to apply for the EFC’s Next Generation Programme. I am very happy that I did: the Next Gen group helped me navigate new circles among several hundred conference attendees. (Special thanks to Lucia Patuzzi and Wendy Richardson, who back then coordinated the Next Gen activities!)

While considering working in the sector, one of the most important lessons came from the 2013 conference in Copenhagen. The message was nothing new, but it was very important to hear this from highly experienced foundation professionals who had been working in the field for decades – and to hear them to say this also in very serious manner. The message for us Next Gens in the sector was: Remember how privileged you are.

In 2014 I had the chance to take part in the Summer Academy in Rotterdam, organised jointly by EFC and the Erasmus Centre for Strategic Philanthropy. With my colleague, director of research funding Kalle Korhonen, we had a lot to bring home. One of the themes addressed was donor-grantee relations, critical when thinking about the work of grantmaking foundations such as ours. There is a strong connection between that relationship and privileges, too.

Charles Keidan (now Editor of Alliance Magazine) who guided us through these themes, talked about the different worlds that the donor and grantee live in: worlds ranging from abundance and richness to ones of scarce resources. In our case, this means the low-income of our grantees, i.e., artists and art organisations, and academics, too, compared to a wealthy foundation. It also describes the different situation we foundation staff have: a quite safe and fairly paid job, especially compared to many academics and artists facing short-term contracts and insecure futures.

In Rotterdam, we were also introduced to the seven deadly sins of philanthropy (Orosz, 2011), the first of which I remember very well: believing in flattery. Of course, it is great to hear about the good work we are doing – while I don’t think people are only flattering, I don’t think they are lying either. However, getting honest feedback from grantees can be difficult; that’s a fact not to be dismissed. Critical feedback is required to be able to develop our work and understand the needs of our grantees and the field as well. We at the foundation have ample experience acquiring critical feedback, both through anonymous surveys and by organising workshops for grantees (where our staff are not present).

Insights gained from the Summer Academy encouraged us to more systematically begin building a community and help our grantees to network. We also started thinking of diverse possibilities for added value: what else we could offer our grantees beyond financial support. Since then, we have been, little by little, building the Kone Foundation’s Grants+ Programme: we offer work space, advice and consultation, help in building networks, and different kind of capacity-building, from communications support to understanding the nature of creative work. This is also helping us to increase the impact of work done by our grantees. And most importantly, through the Grants+ Programme, we get to know our grantees and their needs to better develop our work and support their field.

The Grants+ Programme offers possibilities for peer learning and is a natural means for using the incredibly important assets of the foundation, i.e., hundreds of bold artists, academics and other creative professionals who can support each other and create new relationships and cooperation and enrich this planet with their work. It is not only the grantees who profit from this; we benefit, too.

A question our grantees have brought up lately is, “How can we move more towards partnerships?” This we considered, among other things, together with art organisations and other funders at the Towards Smart Art Funding event on 25 April. The balance between long-term partnering, while welcoming both newcomers, and experimental initiatives seems to be eternal and shared with many funders across the world.

To get back to the theme of the privileges and asymmetry of power: “How can one build collaborative relationships based on mutual trust when the power relations are unbalanced, as is usually the situation among donors and grantees?” Being aware of and acknowledging our privileges is necessary. Even the long-term nature of foundations doesn’t mean never-ending grants, but at our foundation we’ve decided to move towards grants spanning several years and permanence with, for example, our new premises at Lauttasaari Manor in Helsinki, where we also offer new possibilities for our grantees to network and organise events, for example.

Our new premises and the Grants+ Programme also present us with the possibility to listen – listening being one of the most important skills, both now and in the future, in order to be more inclusive and wiser. That is definitely something we hope to learn as an EFC member.

Beyond membership, impact change

In 1989, when the Berlin wall fell – and the EFC was created – I was 16.

I belong to the first generation of Italian young people who became massively passionate for Europe. Feeling a strong bond of solidarity, we discovered Hungary, Poland, Russia, backpacking with InterRail on a student budget. We were the first Italian generation studying abroad benefitting from the Erasmus programme and coming back to Italy with a profound awareness of the richness and diversity of the European culture and a deep-seated feeling of belonging.

In 1989, there were no “modern” philanthropic foundations in Italy. Using traditional taxonomy, family foundations in Italy developed in the past 20 years, as well as foundations of banking origin and community foundations, while corporate foundations developed in Italy in the last 10 years. Of course, in Italy we have a millennial old culture of giving and examples of five century old institutional philanthropy – with the richest families in towns like Florence, Brescia, Turin, and Naples giving money, real estate, art works, and jewellery to endow philanthropic entities to help the poor. But the concept of private foundations doing “strategic philanthropy” is – for several different reasons – relatively new and emerging in Italy.

It was in this kind of philanthropic context that Assifero was created in 2003 as a national membership association of family, corporate and community foundations in Italy. For the first 10 years of its life, Assifero was a traditional membership association providing legal and fiscal services and some sort of “upon invitation only, low-cost club” in Milan.

It was in 2014-2015 when Assifero, now ready to plan the impact that it wanted to make, that we started making a lot of use of the EFC, DAFNE, WINGS, ARIADNE, the GFCF, ECFI and other support organisations.

Assifero wanted to make a difference by strengthening Italian foundations’ ability to contribute to the common good and by making them more informed, more connected and more effective to better use their private resources to impact change. We wanted to lead Italian foundations beyond grant-making and the linear model of giving a grant to a non-profit, to making them aware of the distinctive role they could play in the complexity of today’s challenges and society. We wanted to move Assifero to the next phase of its development, transforming it from a membership association to a leadership organisation, able to plan and also assess its own impact.

The EFC was key for us over the past five years. The EFC is much more than a network for us; it is a sounding board and a touchstone, a platform to connect with best practices and common concerns, complementing our work at national level with an international one. The EFC has given Assifero and its members an extraordinary added value in terms of backing, power, space for exchange, peer learning, dissemination of innovative solutions, development of new thinking, capacity building, and creation of quality standards.

The EFC’s joint work with DAFNE on the development of a European Philanthropy Manifesto is so timely and valuable in terms of influence and legitimacy for philanthropy in Europe that no individual foundation, not even the biggest one, could ever have any comparable advocacy reach. The Manifesto is the most powerful call ever to policymakers in Europe to work towards “a Single Market for Philanthropy” which would have a major long-term positive impact on our sector by giving philanthropy the recognition it deserves, reducing barriers to cross-border philanthropy and building an enabling environment for philanthropy in Europe.

For 30 years, the EFC – together with other philanthropy support organisations – has played a very important role in Europe in making private foundations understand their distinctive mission vis-à-vis public donors, individual donors and other civil society organisations, to build a common, inclusive and dynamic identity of European funders. This has enabled the sector to speed up the learning process, avoiding starting from scratch every time.

But, in recent years, the world has changed and is continuing to change dramatically and at a rapid pace. Today, humanity faces complex and intersectional challenges and Europe needs us more than ever: threatens to democracy, populism, racism, xenophobia, integralism and violence as well as climate change and growing economic and social inequalities both at domestic and European level are right in front of us. The space for civil society in under attack in many European countries and different European governments are using fiscal and banking regulations to undermine civil society organisations.

At the same time, today we have new, powerful knowledge and skills available and new tools, for example in terms of technology, to achieve impact above and beyond what we ever could have imagined only a few years ago.

Foundations have become more relevant and more visible. There has been a rapid growth in the number and types of foundations and today they are an important stakeholder, even though questions about the legitimacy of using private money (particularly when there is a tax break) for the public good are also raised.

In this new, completely changed context within which philanthropy is operating, what is then today the role of European philanthropy support organisations?  Are we still just networks, membership associations, infrastructure, support organisations to individual foundations? Are we just supporting our members in achieving their individual results? Or, 30 years from now, do we want to be part of a broader impact in terms of social change? Do we want to be part of the solution? Is it not time for us to re-imagine ourselves? How can we move to the next level?

As domestic, regional and global so called “philanthropy support organisations” we have all the power and capacity to do this but have to re-imagine ourselves moving from an input-focus to an outcome /impact-focus.  We can directly contribute to a new model of sustainable development whose cornerstones are local hubs with more local ownership and more collaboration across sectors at domestic and international levels.

We are uniquely placed to make a long-lasting difference[1] by increasing the volume, improving the sustainability, encouraging more strategic philanthropy, facilitating the adoption of professional practices, generating better knowledge, promoting more collaboration and strategic partnerships, improving the ability of philanthropy to influence policy, raising public awareness of the value and impact of philanthropy, and bridging it to influential “system actors”, including governments, private sector actors and the media.

We can make a real difference in unlocking the huge potential that lies in private resources, including strategic non-monetary support.  In a vision of systemic change, we are much more than networks, membership associations, infrastructure, we can be agents of change, developers, enablers, accelerators, multipliers of social change to achieve sustainable development and strengthening civil society and democracy.

It is a terrible mistake to differentiate the “real philanthropic work” of the foundations from the “network work”. It is a mistake to see the system of fees as overheads and costs; they are instead shares in a strategic investment. Even for an issue-focused foundation today, it is essential to consider the wider scenario and participate to build systemic change, investing in the philanthropy developers, enablers, accelerators, multipliers.

In the next 30 years we need more EFC and more European philanthropy developers, accelerators and multipliers to fulfil this new strategic vision.  Last month at the WINGS meeting in Jamaica “Driving Philanthropy for the Future: creating the networks we need”, Barry Knight said that “egos and silos are our enemies”. Coming from a country of prima donna, we know how philanthropic foundations can be aloof, self-contained, solipsistic and how much philanthropy support organisations can sometimes be like an “egosystem”. Today the challenge is to prevent silos and mono-stakeholder bubbles and move from individual institutions to vision, to cross-sector collaboration and multi-stakeholders’ strategic partnerships. We have to take the lead in re-imagining our role, improving our capacity to plan, assess and communicate our impact. We are not competitors competing for the same limited membership fees. Each of us can play a distinctive and unique role as key agent of change.

See #LiftUpPhilanthropy campaign


[1] See WINGS and DAFNE 4Cs -Capacity, Connections, Capability and Credibility: A Framework to Help Your Organization Identify and Demonstrate its Worth.

Capacity building – it’s in the EFC’s DNA

Happy 30th Birthday EFC!

30 years have passed since the start. Any signs of a 30-year crisis?? You know, doubts about the past, questions about the future, reflections on your identity. Torment over what has been achieved, about what could have been done differently, or better. Wondering if you are too settled. Or feeling like you should focus less upon what has been built and start seeing life as continuous discoveries and achievements, and how they are managed. The start of the 30’s for organisations as well as people are often a time of reflection, challenge and change.

My first contact with the EFC goes back to spring 2007. This means I have experienced the organisation for more than a third of its existence. It may seem like a long time, but in a foundation context it is not that remarkable at all. Many of those I met back then had already at that time experienced 10 years or more of the EFC history. And today, I still meet some of those people from the early days. Maybe working for a foundation strengthens your health!

Long experience in the foundation sector can of course be very important. However fresh ideas, which may mean limited experience, are just as important.  I have felt that the increasing mobility and the inflow of young people over the past decade, and people with diverse backgrounds, have made the EFC more exciting. Without such a development foundations run an obvious risk of becoming inward-looking and complacent. The EFC has already played an important role in enabling the sharing of good practice within the sector, and certainly more should be done.

Foundations seldom have the tradition or aptitude of collaboration with peers, i.e. other foundations.  As representatives of our foundations we often seem to be uncertain whether we would like more collaboration or not: “Other foundations are so different from us, so introvert and complicated.”  On this matter I have a strong opinion, founded on solid, lived experience: everybody wants development, but nobody likes the thought of change!

Now and then I return to the irreverent thought that a good crisis would benefit European foundations! A decade after the last financial crisis, foundations in many European countries once again have plenty of resources. In this situation I can observe a certain appetite for supporting the establishment of new organisations. I admit willingly my inability to see the need of more structures. Less is often more, not only in aesthetic contexts. With fewer resources it would instead have been necessary to prioritise, reorganise and actively seek collaboration. But that Cyril Northcote Parkinson’s law and the principles of so called “comitology” are valid also within the foundation sector shouldn’t be a big surprise to any of us.

The EFC is as an extraordinary meeting place, has been for 30 years, and has the potential to remain so for the coming decades. It was here my interest for modern philanthropy was awakened. It was here many of us learned to respect and to trust each other! I especially appreciate the work carried out in, and by, the many very committed Thematic Networks within the EFC. They represent a grassroots movement and serve as platforms for peer-learning and exchange of experience. They are actively engaged in joining forces and to increasing the visibility of the work carried out. The EFC’s networks are of growing importance and members seem to like doings things together. I’m very pleased to see that the networks are given ample room in the programme for this year’s annual conference.

What particularly impressed me in 2007 was the gentlemen’s agreement between a number of leading foundations to take a special responsibility for the future funding of the EFC; that is say, to guarantee the necessary infrastructure for the European foundation sector. The fulfilment of this commitment has since then proved to be complicated. But back in 2007 one could still feel that the EFC was inspired by the euphoria during the days following the fall of the Berlin wall and Europe started its long journey towards some kind of unity. Unfortunately we see less enthusiasm for the European project nowadays, but we mustn’t despair!

I can’t think of the EFC without the remarkable loyalty demonstrated by US foundations toward European colleagues come to mind. Without the financial support and ideological inspiration from Mott and Ford foundations it would have been very difficult, not to say impossible for the EFC to develop as positively as it has. I sincerely hope that the future leadership of the EFC and its member organisations realise and take seriously this inheritance. This includes the obligation to continue the development of the foundation sector, to support voluntary work for the benefit of the entire society, and to contribute to capacity building in the parts of the world where the foundation sector is less developed. I hope this task will continue to be an important part of the future identity and DNA of the EFC.

The opportunities to meet foundation representatives from outside Europe have been the real reward of my experience with the EFC, whether as my time with its governing bodies or with during the many conferences, assemblies and network meetings.


Philanthropy – past, present and future

A version of this blog was published in the UK in April 2019

It may be a bit of a cliché to suggest that the world moves a lot faster, that the pace of change is greater now than 30 years ago, when EFC was founded. I’m increasingly of the view that it’s a feeling rather than a reality. Yes, technology is having an impact, and the way in which we communicate and hear about change is much quicker than it used to be (remember the days when fax was the biggest innovation in getting information across the globe…) But, in many instances, the changes in society, in people’s circumstances, in improving lives are glacially slow, and it certainly seems today that some of our past progress is actually stalled or reversing.

For me, the predominant characteristic is not so much of change, but of profound uncertainty. And it is in this context that I am considering the role of foundations and of philanthropy, and the need to challenge and improve our own practice.

Questions are being asked of us all – not least in what legitimacy we have to act, how we make sure we are connecting with the very best, most relevant organisations to fund, and whether we are fleet enough and rigorous enough in this environment. And rightly we are being challenged in how we are using all the assets at our disposal to safeguard those organisations against market volatility. I, and my UK peers, recently had a robust conversation with colleagues at the Charity Commission about what role we all play in supporting a resilient civil society. And I have just finished Robert Reich’s ‘Just Giving’, which looks at what he sees as the undemocratic nature of wealth and philanthropy, and argues for considerable changes to make giving more transparent and accountable in service of democratic values.

Darren Walker of the Ford Foundation says that “we must practice a better vision of philanthropy, one that improves itself and the societies of which we are members” and I agree with him. For some time now, at Paul Hamlyn Foundation, we have been exploring just how to make that aspiration authentic and tangible. I believe that the EFC can usefully provide the space and time for all of us to come together, to listen and learn, and it’s in that spirit that I share some of the ways in which we are beginning to do things differently.

Trustees and staff asked that we do more than notice the need on our own doorstep in London’s Kings Cross. Our new Neighbourhood Fund will tether some of our capital locally, committing 1% of our grant funding to forming deep relationships with the charities working within a mile of our office, who really know their local circumstances. It is early days for this approach, but we hope that we can offer our people and our building too, as assets in addressing the hardship which is evident in the streets around the Foundation.

Things are changing inside too. With the appointment of two young people to our advisory panel and staff with lived experience of the fields in which we operate, our assessment and decision- making processes feel even more relevant and informed. Diversity in our organisation is not a matter of ‘nice to have’ – it is a business imperative.  Our grantee and applicant survey last year told us how important the quality of those relationships was to everyone who comes into contact with us, and we are taking steps to improve them. That also means building in time to develop our people and to make sure they have the confidence, time and information to have really excellent, open and honest conversations.

And, with our trustees’ full backing, we are extending our commitment to long term funding and to providing core support, with a suite of funding approaches from support for R&D through to endowments. Our Backbone Fund, underpinning the policy, advocacy and membership services for our sectors, is now well established. And we are experimenting with ten-year grants that free up talented charity leaders to show the way by delivering best practise in the fields we care about. We are also collaborating more with partners because we can see that the problems society faces are complex and need concerted effort.

None of this, in itself, is rocket science. But when taken together, it does represent a response to the challenge, one we first articulated in 2015 when I joined Paul Hamlyn Foundation and we launched a new strategy. Some four years on, the vision for a more effective philanthropy is starting to be realised, one that is, I hope, truly supportive of and useful to the pioneers, leaders and organisations pressing for a more equal and just society.


Moira Sinclair is Chief Executive of the UK’s Paul Hamlyn Foundation, making £30m grants annually in the UK to organisations and individuals working in the arts, in cultural education, in migration and integration, and in giving young people voice. PHF also partners with Esmee Fairbairn Foundation and Step up to Serve on the £4m Act for Change Fund.

Moira is Chair of Clore Leadership, Chair of East London Dance and Vice Chair of the London Mayor’s Cultural Strategy Board. She is also a member of the British Library Advisory Council and of the Arts Impact Fund.


Championing collaboration in an era of isolation

In February, hundreds of diplomats, heads of state, cabinet ministers, parliamentarians, and high-ranking military officers gathered in Germany to discuss the fractured state of geopolitics and the daunting question it poses: Who will pick up the pieces?

This was the theme of the 2019 Munich Security Conference, an annual event I have attended each year for the past decade. As the president of a philanthropic foundation, I’m something of an oddity in this crowd. But the ambassadors, the politicians, and the generals won’t be able to pick up the pieces alone.

A literal and figurative rising tide of global challenges, even civilizational crises, presages a future haunted by destruction and strewn with debris. Conflicts rage in Afghanistan, Yemen, Syria, Venezuela, and elsewhere in the Global South, causing humanitarian crises that have displaced millions of people and created a steady flow of refugees seeking safety. Pervasive anxiety plays into the hands of autocrats and demagogues around the globe who stoke fear to achieve, wield, and consolidate power. And surging temperatures and rising seas may soon leave little to fight over, as the world’s scientists warn that catastrophic consequences of global warming are now nearly unavoidable.

The international order, too, resembles the melting icecaps, with great pieces breaking off and drifting away. Ethnonationalism and authoritarianism are dividing Europe spiritually. Brexit, a looming question at the time of this writing, threatens to divide Europe materially. And a widening Transatlantic rift has already divided Europe diplomatically from its once most trusted ally. According to a recent Pew Research Center poll, citizens of Germany and France have greater confidence in the leaders of China and Russia than they do in the leader of the United States. Division is the reality of our age.

Civil society must step in where conventional politics have failed. The challenges of today require radical new conceptual thinking. Philanthropy can provide for this task the much-needed convening space to nurture shared values, resources for innovative solutions to shared challenges, and commitment to shield against shared risks.

This is why, 30 years after its founding, the European Foundation Centre has never been more important. Its vision of Europe champions collaboration and diversity of voices at a moment when identity is becoming a centripetal force in European politics, threatening to catapult its nations into a future of isolationism.

Cross-border European philanthropy can help realize the vision of a strong and united Europe that the world desperately needs. But, whereas the free movement of people, goods, and capital across borders is foundational to Europe’s modern identity, philanthropy is still largely governed by national, rather than EU, law. Cross-border philanthropy is often fraught with legal peril. The EFC is one of few resources available to help.

The EFC’s substantive work to define and bolster an environment that will enable human progress also reaches beyond the philanthropic sector and beyond continental boundaries. European and US philanthropy have different histories and are governed by different laws, but they are premised on the same Enlightenment and humanist values. Transatlantic philanthropy can help reaffirm those values at a time when they are under assault.

The Rockefeller Brothers Fund shares this commitment to collaborative philanthropy across borders—and across oceans. I am proud that the RBF has supported the European Foundation Centre since its earliest days and that we are one of the few US foundations represented on the EFC’s governing council today. We have gained much from this longstanding relationship: it has been critical to deepening our understanding of global challenges and their manifestations across Europe, to developing constructive partnerships with numerous European foundations, and to guiding our modest resources to where they are most needed and have the greatest impact.

The highlight of this year’s Munich Security Conference was Angela Merkel’s speech. Imploring Europe to take control of its own destiny, the famously reserved and soft-spoken politician delivered a passionate defense of multilateralism and Western values. “Who will pick up the pieces?” she asked.

“Only all of us, together.”

We all have a role to play in reimagining a new future. Philanthropy must stand at the ready to nurture this effort and, together with organizations like the European Foundation Centre, preserve and model the shared commitment it demands.

30 years, three remarks, and one fantastic gift

At the EFC’s Annual General Assembly and Conference 2019, in Paris, Körber-Stiftung announced that they will gift their share of Philanthropy House to the EFC, as part of the celebrations for the EFC’s 30th anniversary.


I would like, in this short anniversary blog, to offer three brief remarks after 19 years of being associated with the EFC in various functions.

Firstly, that it has been a very interesting time with many joint projects, which fed into infrastructure contacts and close friendships. In this way I got to know and appreciate life in Europe and the European idea in a very special way. It is worthwhile to commit oneself to living together in Europe.

Secondly, the achievements of the EFC for its members and for the European foundation system are unfortunately underestimated inside and outside, and are not valued enough.

Thirdly, that perhaps we deal far too much with ourselves in the organisation and not with the challenges. You can judge whether this assertion is correct!

But for the 30th birthday of our EFC, and after nearly 20 years of our own engagement, we shouldn’t end with a critical remark!

Therefore, I am pleased that the Executive Board of Körber-Stiftung is following the suggestion to donate its share in Philanthropy House in Brussels to the EFC – as a sign of trust in this organisation and in the commitment of our common European future.



Körber-Stiftung, as one of the 6 original funders of the building, conceived the building in 2009 to be a hub for institutional philanthropy in Europe, to provide one roof, one home, for the philanthropic support organisations of Europe. The House, backed by 5 other philanthropic organisations, in addition to Körber-Stiftung; the Fritt Ord Foundation, the King Baudouin Foundation, Realdania, Stichting Fonds 1818, and the Van Leer Group Foundation, opened in 2013 and today hosts the EFC and several other philanthropic support organisations.

The gifting of Körber-Stiftung’s share in Philanthropy House to the EFC helps to solidify and support the EFC’s role, both in the present and the future, to champion institutional philanthropy in Europe and safeguards the future of Europe’s philanthropy infrastructure.

A time to go up a level (or change the game itself)?

I was asked to offer some reflections about what the 30th anniversary of the EFC represents. On the one hand, while I have worked in philanthropy for over 25 years, as an American, I am an outsider. On the other hand, the annual conference in Paris this year will represent my 25th EFC conference.  My first was Prague in 1993.  Initially, I worked for the Council on Foundations, and for ten years thereafter I was a Senior Program Officer on Philanthropy at the Ford Foundation.  At Ford, I was responsible for Ford’s grants to the EFC. Since 2010, after I left the Foundation, I attended most often under the aegis of PSJP with which I remain active.  This year is different, as I will attend as a board member of the Friends of the Fondation de France (U.S.), in part to celebrate their 50th anniversary. So, representing a colleague institution, serving on EFC committees and then especially as the EFC’s program officer for a decade, I have had unusual access to its staff, internal decision-making, programming and finances—especially for someone who is not European. It has been a privileged though unusual seat from which to observe the organization.

Personal Impact

Attending EFC meetings over many years has allowed me to get to know a number of foundation leaders across Europe. Three related elements emerged over time from those relationships—friendship, trust and learning.  I have been very fortunate to build some wonderful friendships in Europe over the years.  Real friendship takes time to develop and 25 years allowed several to blossom. The friendships fostered trust that permitted conversations about confidential and sometime delicate problems. These frank and respectful relationships served us as individuals, as well as the institutions that we represented. The third part of this triad is learning.  I owe a debt to several of my EFC colleagues for their patient willingness to tutor me about many particulars of the European Project. I feel strongly about the importance of these connections, so I am worried by what I see as the loss of such relationships especially by my government, but I also regret that not more U.S. foundations have chosen a dynamic engagement with their European counterparts.  In my mind, this limited engagement can result in missed opportunities for learning and joint action, and a greater chance for misunderstanding.

Stages of Growth

There is a substantial body of research about organizational development and one key finding tells us that organizations go through stages of growth as they move through time and, like people, if these developmental stages are fostered properly, the organization may thrive. I think of my 25 years’ experience with the EFC and see three distinct organizational stages—two past and one as a potential future.

First Era: Birth and early years.

The story of the EFC’s genesis is well known including the key role played by Raymond Georis.  That first decade or so was characterized by a pioneering spirit—of claiming and devising a sort of European philanthropy project, while Europe itself was birthing the European Union as the manifestation of the grander Project.  As an organization, the EFC struggled with unreliable finances and “old boy governance.”  Its programs were sometimes thin and the annual conferences, with a few notable exceptions, were often collections of large panels of rather dry academic presentations. I vividly recall years ago sitting in the last row of the European parliamentary hall with the then head of Mama Cash whom I had strongly encouraged to consider joining the EFC, or at least attend this conference.  There were very few women members of the EFC at that time. We looked down on a panel of a dozen white-haired, white men on the subject of “why fund scientific research?” She turned to me and said, “You asked me to come for this?” Despite its several weaknesses, however, an institution now existed that focused on foundations across Europe.  At minimum it provided a new space where foundations leaders from many countries, including my own, could discuss common issues, learn from each other and cooperate where useful. This was no small accomplishment.

Second Era: Organizational and program development.

The next phase of development involved a greater maturation of the institution. In my opinion there was a critical intervention that helped propel the EFC into this second phase — new governance. There was a shift in the membership of the Governing Council, and especially the Management Committee, that reflected a new generation of foundation leaders.  I believe that shift had important effects including: reconfiguring the EFC leadership and staff, providing a more secure financial base, and improving the governance. This intervention and the related effects allowed the next phase to occur — if the right conditions were met.

In 2005 the new Chief Executive, Gerry Salole brought experience from senior positions in two major international foundations at a time when members were raising their expectations for quality services.  While no membership organization that I know can satisfy all of its members’ wishes, the EFC upped its game considerably. The EFC represented the philanthropic community within the EU legal and regulatory bodies, among other initiatives, supporting a sophisticated campaign to enact a philanthropy law.  While ultimately unsuccessful, the multiple year effort engaged a large number of foundations across Europe on a European agenda in an unprecedented way.

Over more than a decade the EFC created or supported numerous issue- or geographically- specific forums where funders could work together—I count at least twenty.  In the early 2000s I recall getting a call from a colleague at the Ford Foundation in New York whose work focused on HIV/AIDS.  Did I know any foundations in Europe working on AIDS with which he could partner?  I called Gerry who had an EFC staff member organize a meeting in Brussels.  That meeting led to a successful multi-foundation partnership whose work had substantial impact. I can cite several other examples where many of us at Ford and other American foundations used our connections through the EFC for critical and trusted partnerships.

The EFC membership grew but also became far more diverse—by geography, gender, ethnicity, and other factors. This diversity reflects both the reality of changing faces across Europe and an intentional outreach and recruitment strategy.  Thankfully the annual conference substantially changed its format and incorporated a variety of more effective learning experiences. These are just some examples of how I watched the EFC mature and become more sophisticated as an institution.

Third Era:  Creative response to new realities?

There is a set of key functions that most membership associations need to provide, and while that list changes only marginally, how they are designed and delivered vary widely.  The past ten years offer impressive examples of how the EFC has improved its many functions.  Membership organizations must also constantly balance the “service demands versus leadership” tension. I believe that there are reasons to celebrate the success of both previous eras.  The EFC has come a very long way from those chilly but heady days in November 1989. At the same time, like many other organizations whose context has massively changed, I believe that the current conditions — some that pose existential threats to European values — both require and provide a chance for a radical new vision for at least part of the EFC.  It seems to me that the EFC’s 30th anniversary offers a moment to step the game up to its next level and perhaps alter parts of the game itself.

So while the EFC may wisely decide to keep many of its current activities, the 30th anniversary could be a time to consider a critical issue (e.g., the threat of the growing power of nationalism to the vision and values of a unified Europe, or growing economic inequality and related taxation inequities, or some other) and explore radical new ways for how to help European philanthropy more effectively address the issue. It could foster the birth of a creative, new, perhaps independent, platform. I am reminded of Raymond Georis’ creativity 40 years ago with the birth of the Network of European Foundations (NEF), what I consider to be a very creative institution that affords members useful flexibility.

It is very difficult in any organization to re-imagine and make radical changes to its work and its ways of working.  The organizational scholar Chris Argyris devised the theory of single- and double-loop learning. It asserts that most of us use the former that solves symptomatic problems, in contrast to the latter, which questions underlying assumptions.  While more powerful, the use of double-loop learning requires a more creative and assertive engagement. Perhaps the EFC could apply such learning for a specific leadership initiative—and design something quite new, creative and more powerful.


I wish the EFC a very Happy 30th Birthday and also hope that it might take this opportunity to experiment and set the stage for its third era. Best wishes!

A call for a transatlantic retreat on the State of Philanthropy

I recently traveled to Brussels to see my long-time friends Gerry Salole and Rien van Gendt at the European Foundation Centre.

As usual, we spoke about the status of philanthropy in Europe and the United States.  A huge topic, indeed. Rien spoke eloquently about two relevant developments in Europe. The first is that the context within which philanthropy is functioning has changed dramatically. Foundations are “increasingly seen as important stakeholders in addressing complex problems” in society, which invites more scrutiny, and in some cases, distrust. With this added public scrutiny, foundations are questioning what value they bring, especially in the face of discussions about the tax benefits (or avoidance, depending on your point of view) of charitable giving for the wealthy. The second development is the new confusion over the landscape of philanthropy. Today, there exist traditional foundations, associations of foundations and affinity groups organized by content, by an approach or style of grantmaking or investing. Has this led to a lack of coherency? Is the foundation field incapable of working together to create a larger ecosystem to tackle big issues in depth and over the long haul; to face growing questions and critiques about the sector’s power and influence? As Rien laid this out, I found myself nodding my head in agreement.

Twentieth-century American philanthropy played an important role in making progress on such issues as laws to protect workers, the environment, and consumers. My daughter, who runs the Benton Foundation, recently sent to me an October 2018 article by David Callahan, “Powerless: How Top Foundations Failed to Defend Their Values – And Now Risk Losing Everything.” The gist of Callahan’s piece, is that “nearly all the gains of modern liberalism – many of which leading foundations helped to engineer over generations – are now at risk.”

I spoke to Rien and Gerry about the coherent, long-term, large-investment strategy of conservatives to spread their ideology and capture power and to use their philanthropy as an alternative to paying taxes, so they could control how their funds were spent. Given our political times, and a confluence of other events, that strategy devised in the 1970’s — to invest in ideas, institutions, and people — has borne fruit. Some, but not all, of their agenda advocates for limiting the role of government, dismantling the “administrative state,” and overturning regulations; for turning the judiciary rightward; and for changing fiscal policy, including the passage of a tax law that will ultimately lead to cuts in domestic spending that will touch nearly every community in the US and impact America’s most needy.

The Callahan article reminded me of a 1997 report from The National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, authored by Sally Covington that talked about the strategic philanthropy of conservative foundations. At the time, this piece made waves in the US legacy foundation world and I wanted to review it again given my discussions in Brussels.

Covington’s report concluded that upon reviewing the $210 million three-year grantmaking of 12 conservative foundations (think Bradley, Olin, Scaife, and the Koch Brothers) “there were some valuable lessons for grant makers interested in influencing current policy trends and the tenor of public policy debates:

  1. Understanding the importance of ideology and overarching frameworks,
  2. Building strong institutions by providing ample general operating support and awarding large, multi-year grants,
  3. Maintaining a national policy focus and concentrating resources,
  4. Recognizing the importance of marketing, media and persuasive communications,
  5. Creating and cultivating public intellectuals and policy leaders,
  6. Funding comprehensively for social transformation and policy change by awarding grants across sectors, blending research and advocacy, supporting litigation, and encouraging the public participation of core constituencies,
  7. Taking a long-haul approach.”

Covington concludes: “While each lesson has its own power and significance, it is the combination of all seven that has made conservative philanthropy especially consequential [my emphasis]. The demonstrated willingness of these foundations to act in such political and strategic terms serves as a sharp reminder of how much can be accomplished given clarity of vision and steadiness of purpose.”

The benefits of this conservative philanthropy movement to the Trump administration are now being realized. Think tanks like the Federalist Society, the Heritage Foundation, Cato, and the American Enterprise Institute, with strong on-going financial support, according to Callahan, have “played a central role in pulling together the right’s narrative and translating its values into policy ideas and blue prints for governance. They’ve provided a home to the movement’s top public intellectuals, trained successive waves of young conservatives, and cultivated pathways into Congress and the executive branch.”

In a 1998 article, “Why do Progressive Foundations Give Too Little to Too Many?” Michael Shuman documented in detail how conservative funders were badly outgunned financially by Progressive behemoths, yet they wielded far greater influence by leveraging their resources in ideas, policy, and movement building, and a willingness to bankroll the darker arts of politics.

Have Progressives been sitting on their heels? In the early to mid-2000s donors did step up to build such groups as the Democracy Alliance, the Center for American Progress, Media Matters for America, and The American Constitution Society for Law and Policy — but these remain modest compared to what the right fields. Callahan states “organizations that operate across issues and can quarterback a movement to win power more broadly have a much harder time raising money.” Instead, project support for single issue organizations who wish to solve problems one at a time and who work in a siloed fashion, remain popular Progressive funding targets. And anything that smacks of ideology or partisanship remains, mostly, off the table.

When I asked a friend, Marvin R. Cohen, Ph.D., what he thought, I received this answer: “Those who have toiled in the philanthropic vineyards are privileged to have labored at the intersection of ideas and resources.  We have been associated with institutions that claim to devote their assets to advancing the common good, particularly on behalf of the most vulnerable members of our nation, and in the process holding themselves and their grantees to the highest levels of accountability.  These institutions pride themselves on being risk-takers, whose decisions are ‘evidence-based.’  At first blush these are praiseworthy characteristics, particularly if they were to hold up under serious scrutiny.  There are, however, good reasons to be skeptical.  The bulk of the nation’s philanthropic dollars are not placed in the service of advancing social justice, nor for that matter in strengthening democratic practice, which constitutes the bulwark of our civic culture.  The current obsession with evidence-based funding, encourages foundations to cleave to programs that can produce readily quantifiable, short-term results, which in turn discriminates against initiatives that target intractable concerns requiring sustained investments…”

Cohen goes on to say that “modern American philanthropy has acquired the characteristics of institutional attention deficit disorder.  It becomes enamored of ideas that compel its attention for a number of years, only to move on to another obsession in order to remain on the “cutting edge” of innovation.  The fact that the nation requires sustained attention to challenging problems seems to be lost on the field.”

Are there exceptions and current experiments that might bear fruit? Yes. I am following the Ford Foundation’s Building Institutions and Networks (BUILD) project, entering its second of six years. This $1 billion initiative aims to help organizations worldwide that move the needle on inequality become stronger, more sustainable, and more durable. Kathy Reich, Director, emphasizes some early lessons, to help other grant makers who are interested in changing entrenched systems and supporting non-profit sustainability of which I pick out three: “1. Non-profits thrive with larger, longer, more flexible grants; 2. Long-term flexible grants work best when they closely align with strategy; and 3. Supporting institutions is critical, but so is catalyzing and supporting networks.”

American foundations are not facing up to and acting on a central reality of our time…if you can’t win and hold power within our country’s key institutions, we risk losing on just about every issue we care about. Covington wrote: “…mainstream foundations increasingly operate within the larger policy assumptions and parameters that conservative funders help shape.”

There is a sense that we don’t know how to operate in the present, nastier, environment. Shuman warned: “If progressive philanthropists insist we play whiffle ball while our opponents play hardball, we’re destined to lose.”   I believe this fight is about equity and trust. But it is also about power, values, ideology. We see this play out even as we debate the nature of philanthropy itself:

It seems to me that there is much to discuss amongst European and American philanthropies, so much that resonates with situations developing in each of our regions. So, I welcome Gerry and Rien’s idea to provide a safe space for a continuing discussion with concerned peers in a transatlantic retreat on the State of Philanthropy. We each have a lot to learn, from each other and about the new world in which we all operate.


Marjorie Craig Benton has been both a fundraiser and a grantor for organizations whose missions focus on women and children’s issues, and peace and disarmament.

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