We just can’t work with them anymore. Their political views are repugnant, even if they were with us before…

“…But they’ve been an ally on our issue . We can’t afford to lose them. We should just look past the areas where we disagree…”

I hear this exchange play out again and again, and never more than in the aftermath of the most rancorous election in recent history.

Philanthropists and the nonprofits they fund are asking, Where do we draw the line when it comes to who we will work with?

The endless, destabilizing uncertainty of 2020 that has put all of our lives in turmoil has also brought a gift for forward-thinking philanthropists :

We have the opportunity to look at all of our challenges in a different light.

2020 has forced us to question all of our assumptions, and it has shown us again and again that things we thought were impossible or set in stone were neither.

In the philanthropic world specifically, we have seen a few encouraging developments that our team hopes will endure into 2021 and beyond, even after the COVID crises passes

Funders embraced their…

A few nights ago at dinner, my daughter asked, “What’s a train wreck?” My wife and I had used the expression earlier that day while describing our relief that 2020 was coming to a close.

When I explained the meaning of the phrase, she thought for a moment and said, “But it’s not bad, Daddy; you can things from a train wreck, like maybe drive the train slower!”

My precocious (and optimistic) eight-year-old was right, of course, and got me thinking…what lessons have learned in 2020?

I learned that no matter how savvy your plan is, you can neither fully…

In the face of so much inequality and suffering in our world, many funders wrestle with the magnitude of their impact.

They search for ways to maximize the impact of every dollar contributed in an effort to reach as many people as possible.

But that push to scale up solutions quickly can become an unhealthy obsession with how many people your philanthropic work touches or how much money was spent if it’s not balanced by an equal emphasis on the question of how the work was done, and whether it was effective at fixing the root causes of suffering.


If you feel a deep calling to make the world a better place-as so many of us working in philanthropy and social enterprises do-chances are you are very strong. Mentally and emotionally, you already know that you can carry a lot of weight because you do it every day.

But here’s the thing — as you go through life with that compelling calling, you tend to take on more weight and more burdens and you carry them around until you’re completely exhausted. And then you look around and wonder why your tremendous effort is not creating the impact you want…

Every few months, I get a call from a philanthropist that goes something like this.

“Hey Mike, we know you specialize in policy and advocacy strategy. Could you write a strategic plan for our foundation?”

My response is always the same:

Before we can work together on strategy, we need to understand your landscape in a deeper way.

Fueled by urgency, philanthropists and change agents sometimes jump to solutions before fully understanding the problems they are working to solve, and the context and communities most impacted by those problems.

That approach sacrifices sustainability in the name of expediency, and can…

Forward-thinking philanthropists aren’t the kind of people to set up a scholarship fund and call it a day.

The funders that we work with are interested in driving lasting progress by changing systems, and that often means changing policy.

Right now, we are heading into what may be the most open window for major policy change that I’ve seen in my 20+ year career.

A once-a-century pandemic has shone a spotlight on structural gaps in our health care, education, and childcare systems, as well as weaknesses in our economy.

Elevated consciousness around race and social justice has catalyzed a wide-scale…

Even in the best of times, making change and advancing equity and opportunity at a systemic level is challenging and complicated work.

With a pandemic raging, civil unrest rocking major cities, and a presidential election looming, it would be hard to call these the best of times.

The great social change and uncertainty we’re experiencing has stopped many philanthropists in their tracks. With their six-month or 12-month plans now impossible to execute on, their instinctive response has been to put everything on hold.

Of course, there have been some foundations in education and other fields who have leapt into action…

Amid the protests that have unfolded in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, many philanthropists are asking the question: “Who can I give to?” as they seek to stand in solidarity with the Black community in America.

During a period in which many Americans are focused, rightly, on racial inequities in our society, philanthropists are looking for ways to support the work of organizations and individuals committed to racial justice . That deserves praise. But there is another, more challenging question we think philanthropists need to ask themselves: “What can I give UP?”

Forward-thinking funders committed to doing good increasingly…

George Floyd murdered.
Ahmaud Arbery murdered.
Breonna Taylor murdered.
Christian Cooper threatened.
Countless others. Named and unnamed, known and unknown.

These are not acts that can be understood as anomalies or as the products of bad actors or poor judgment. These are predictable outcomes born of a system delivering that which it was designed to produce.

Inequitable access to healthcare and education. The weaponization of privilege. Income inequality, redlining, and economic disenfranchisement. Undermining the toil of generations who physically built so much of this nation and so many of its institutions. Institutional violence perpetrated against Black people.

We don’t pretend…

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