Letter from Steve McCormick
Building Our Future
July 8, 2009
Since joining the Foundation in early 2008, I’ve been increasingly impressed with how rapidly the foundation sector is evolving. While all donors – individual or institutional – want to have impact with their philanthropy, there are varying points of view on how to optimize impact. This divergence of opinion is leading to the development and exploration of different approaches to philanthropy.
As the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation approaches its tenth anniversary, we’re taking the opportunity to position the Foundation for the next ten years to increase our impact. Realizing that the decline in our endowment means we won’t accomplish greater impact simply by expanded grant-making, we are challenging ourselves to think expansively about how we can catalyze results. We’ve therefore launched a comprehensive initiative called “Building Our Future.”
We started this initiative by conducting a Grantee Perception Survey and a Staff Perception Survey, through the Center for Effective Philanthropy. A conclusion of both surveys was a perceived “lack of commonly held set of beliefs and values.” This spring we engaged our staff and Board in shaping a set of values that reflect the beliefs and character of Gordon and Betty Moore. Our new values are now posted on this website.
While the programmatic pillars of the Foundation—Environmental Conservation, Science, and the San Francisco Bay Area—will remain unchanged, the values provide a touchstone for improving other dimensions of our organization: operational issues, such as processes and systems; and strategic considerations, like how we work with and support organizations beyond grant-making and how we partner with other foundations.
The unique character of foundations separates them from the normal feedback loops that inform and influence change: customers in for-profits, donors in NGOs, and legislators in public agencies. For foundations, excellence and continuous improvement must be self-imposed. And, given the responsibility of foundations to enrich and advance the public good, they must be committed to a vigilant, disciplined “outside-in” perspective to ensure that they remain well-informed of the rapidly changing environments in which they engage. We are, after all, intermediaries, not direct actors.
One of our new values, therefore, speaks to taking an evidence-based, disciplined approach, “staying well informed and making decisions on the basis of knowledge, analysis, external input, and objective information.” Another of our values commits us to collaboration, “gathering and incorporating the best thinking into our work,” with respect and purpose—so we will reach out to our grantees and others to provide input on elements of “Building Our Future.” Integrity should pervade our work, as we hold ourselves accountable to our founders’ ideals and aspirations. And, finally, in everything we do, we strive to achieve large-scale, enduring impact.
We are proud of the results we have helped our grantees achieve so far, and of the platform our short history provides for having even greater impact in the years to come. We invite you to share your thoughts and suggestions with us as we celebrate our grantees’ many successes and look to Building Our Future.
Steven J. McCormick
President, Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation