Philanthropy should support efforts that help stakeholders understand the performance of key civic systems
As grantmakers, we know the programs and projects we support are often by themselves insufficient to create the level of substantive change we hope for in the communities and issues we care about.
Yes, a well-run tutoring program can indeed change the lives of children. There are so many factors, though, that go into improving high school graduation rates—to use one common measure of systemic educational outcomes—that no one tutoring program alone can drive systems change.
Building the management capacity of local food banks, as another example, is likely to result in more efficient distribution of food, more effective use of volunteers, and better coordination between multiple providers. Again, though, the best-run agencies alone cannot shift fundamental systems change—in this case, ending hunger.
We highlight this reality not to suggest that supporting effective programs is futile, nor to dissuade funders from developing and sustaining a focus in their giving. Rather, we raise these issues as a reminder to explore how at least part of our grantmaking can be channeled to help us and our grantees better understand and influence the civic systems that shape the quality of life in our communities.