Driving Change at the Ford Foundation

Last week, the Ford Foundation announced a “sweeping overhaul” of its grant making, to focus entirely on fighting inequality. As Alex Daniels wrote in the Chronicle of Philanthropy:

“Not only will Ford direct all of its money and influence to curbing financial, racial, gender, and other inequities, but it will give lots more money in a way grantees have been clamoring for: It hopes to double the total it gives in the form of unrestricted grants for operating support.”

There are many things we like about the new approach: a desire to give larger, mission-moving grants, a plan to focus on granting core support in the form of operating funds, rather than focusing on project support, and a goal to double the total it grants for operational support. “Over the next five years — from 2016 to 2020 — trustees have authorized up to $1 billion for a concerted effort to create stronger, more sustainable organizations,” said The Detroit News.

Darren Walker, Ford Foundation’s President said “in some cases the change may mean larger, longer-term grants that have more flexibility. In other cases it could mean support for wrap-around services that help an organization develop or merge with another.”

Setting aside what it means, and what potential it holds, we see a valuable communications message in his message as well; one that was especially pronounced in Mr. Walker’s description of the future: “The way we work a year from now should look different than the way we work now.”

Many well-intended organizations have shared plans of sweeping change before, but then get into implementation and find that it’s easy to fall back into the same comfortable rhythm of the work. But in this case, the approach feels different. The Foundation has publicly stated that this is somewhat experimental, and that they are willing to explore new ways of working: a message that we find promising.

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