Colleen O'Grady
AVP, Senior Philanthropic Strategist

Getting Real About Impact

Dawn of a new day for giving?

Is it just us, or is Darren Walker emerging as a standard bearer for outcomes-oriented, well-reasoned, sector-strengthening giving in this era of existential crises?

He’s on 60 Minutes making a persuasive case for investing in “all of the unexciting parts of a nonprofit” (paradoxically, an exciting stance to see a powerful grantmaker take).

He’s on theroot.com acknowledging the power and importance of investing in Black women and girls: “We don’t need to give Black women and girls voices; they already have voices. Rather, we must hear them, heed them, and hold ourselves accountable to them—and then let them lead the way they’ve been doing for decades.”

He’s in the New York Times, opining that “Inequality in America [ . . .] was created by the hands and sustained effort of people who engineered benefits for themselves, to the detriment of everyone else” and that “those of us with power and privilege must grapple with a more profound question: What are we willing to give up?”

On one recent morning, two different clients in two consecutive Zoom meetings quoted him spontaneously: “The way Darren Walker puts it . .  .” In both of these client engagements (as in many of our philanthropy engagements), we were discussing ways to frame tangible possibilities for donors while preserving the flexibility that leads to optimum impact. In recent years, we’ve worked with nonprofits and universities to create materials and storytelling systems that showcase the importance of agility when it comes to creating meaningful outcomes.

Real-world exemplars help. The $600-million unrestricted endowment granted by Gordon and Betty Moore and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation to Caltech in 2002 unleashed a flood of breakthroughs; those breakthroughs, and the thrilling journeys that led to them, inspired others to entrust Caltech with very large philanthropic investments similarly structured. The $6 billion given by Mackenzie Scott to over 500 nonprofits in the space of a year—in many cases without restrictions attached—has already influenced conversations about urgency, responsiveness, and the trust owed to nonprofit grantees. The Black Feminist Fund, seeded by the Ford Foundation, puts decision-making power over its seed funds in the hands of those closest to the work. We’re listening, watching, and learning—energized as these power-sharing approaches finally gain momentum and visibility.

Are you planning for a campaign that might entail greeting donors with varied ways of thinking about impact? Let’s talk!