Letter from Steve McCormick
Changing: to make greater change
July 2, 2010
The basic tenet of any philanthropic endeavor is to produce positive impact on important issues. The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation expresses such an aspiration in the first two of what we call our four filters, which ask if a project “is important,” and “makes a difference and has enduring impact.” “Makes a difference” is given an extra turn in our third filter, asking if a project “has measurable outcomes.” Our fourth filter speaks to how we do our work—by asking if the project “contributes to a portfolio effect.”
As we position the Foundation for the next ten years, we are re-examining these fundamental principles in light of our values, the experience we’ve gained during our first ten years, external input, and by examining the current state of play in our program areas. We also have a lot to learn from what other foundations are doing.
Foundations are becoming increasingly sophisticated in their grantmaking: developing theories of change and logic models to support strategies for achieving impact. This is an impressive and admirable evolution in a burgeoning sector.
But funders must remember that grantees have their own strategies and underlying, if unstated, theories of change. In any given field, if funders, grantees, and other key actors are all proceeding from separate, incongruent, or uncommunicated theories of change, the resultant impact is likely to be a lot less than it could be. When I was president of The Nature Conservancy I was often asked by foundation officials why we didn’t actively collaborate with other international conservation organizations. I felt like responding by asking why foundations didn’t work more collaboratively with one another.
To be sure, there are real challenges in trying to collaborate, in any sector. But we now confront issues in a much more rapidly evolving, interconnected, complex world than ever before. “Moore’s law,” coined by our founder to project the exponential change in integrated circuitry, is now used more universally to describe the pace of change in almost everything.
Such a dynamic world compels us to create greater alignment of efforts and resources. As we engage in our own re-examination of how we can be increasingly effective, I want to make sure we keep in mind that our role is to support and enable others to effectuate change. We will seek, therefore, to create shared, or at least complementary, strategies with our grantees and other funders.
Foundations increasingly see themselves as changemakers, not just grantmakers. As Gandhi is quoted: “if you want change, you must be the change.” So, as we face greater urgency of change in civil society, we as funders must think seriously about how we, too, can change to achieve greater positive impacts.
Steven J. McCormick
President, Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation