Advancing Philanthropy

Advancing Philanthropy

Wallace’s “creative philanthropy” is based on the idea that foundations have a unique but often untapped capacity to develop and share innovations. Doing this effectively means a “facts are friendly” approach to our work.
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Our Approach to Philanthropy

The Wallace Foundation strives to improve children’s lives and prospects by tackling large public problems, such as the inadequacy of public education in U.S. cities. We develop ideas for possible solutions and give grants to organizations to help them put the ideas to the test. Equally important, we fund independent research about our work, then share it widely to inform policymakers and others in a position to make beneficial change.

Our approach has two main parts:

  1. Developing “innovation sites. We work closely with our grantees to help them plan and carry out potential solutions to public problems. Their on-the-ground efforts offer insights into what works, and what doesn’t, as well as the conditions that support or impede progress.
  2. Developing and sharing knowledge. We commission research to objectively evaluate the efforts we fund and fill knowledge gaps in our fields of interest. Through our Web site, publications, conferences and other means, we tell decision-makers and the public what we are learning and encourage them to use the most promising ideas.

We introduced this approach in 2000, after a detailed assessment of Wallace’s first decade as a national foundation in the 1990s concluded that although the foundation had achieved some notable successes, it had not spurred as much lasting change as one might have wished. “We decided to take a more systemic view of the areas in which we were working and engage directly with people who had power and authority to make more sustainable, widespread change,” M. Christine DeVita, Wallace’s founding president, has written.

Our signature phrase – “Supporting ideas. Sharing solutions. Expanding opportunities.” – encapsulates how we work today. We support innovative ideas and share lessons from them that can help institutions, governments and nonprofits expand opportunities. This approach is described in Creative Philanthropy, in which scholars Helmut K. Anheier and Diana Leat argue that foundations have a unique but often untapped capacity to develop useful innovations and encourage those ideas to spread. (Wallace is profiled in the book.) The money we have is minuscule compared to the public sectors we are trying to influence; we believe our approach stretches our philanthropic dollar, giving Wallace an impact far greater than the sum of our individual grants – that is, an ability to help many more children than we could reach otherwise.

How This Approach Affects:

Our grant-giving
We generally do not fund “over the transom” requests for grants. Instead, we determine which nonprofits and government agencies might have the interest in and ability to carry out our projects. We invite them to submit proposals for how they would do the work we envision and then choose grantees from that group. The possible solutions our grantees test generally require careful, detailed planning, the cooperation of many institutions, and time to unfold and be properly evaluated. Therefore, Wallace’s grants are generally larger than those issued by similar foundations (a median size of about $1 million compared with $150,000 at 10 “peer” foundations) and last longer (an average 3.5 years, compared with 2.1 years for other large foundations). Read more about how we design our initiatives ›.

Our communications
To disseminate the ideas and information we are gathering, Wallace engages in a number of different types of communications. All our publications are free and downloadable from our Web site. We support professional organizations in our fields of interest, so they can convey our ideas to their members. We also conduct briefings and conferences, hold webinars and make numerous presentations.

Our work with grantees
Because grantees are the linchpin of our efforts, we conduct periodic grantee surveys to see if we are working effectively with them and to make corrections if we are not. We also often provide grantees with support apart from the grant, including the expertise of consultants and membership in a “learning community” where grantees share experiences and learn from one another and guest experts. Read more about how we work with grantees ›

Our responsibility to the public
Our belief in the open exchange of information applies to more than grant-making. We take seriously our responsibility to use philanthropic funds wisely and to let the public know how we are doing this. In 2010, Wallace joined the Glasspockets initiative to encourage “transparency” in philanthropy. Through Glasspockets, Wallace discloses, among other things, whether and how it makes available online information about each of 23 aspects of its operations, from conflict of interest policies to assessments of foundation performance.

Our Grantees

Since 1989, The Wallace Foundation and its predecessors have supported a variety of organizations that serve the foundation and nonprofit sectors. This funding – some $16 million – has gone to efforts to strengthen how philanthropy is carried out in the United States.