Thursday, March 26, 2009

Failure Sharing

"Perhaps “failure” is too strong a word to use to describe a grant I made to develop national media stories that would advance the issues that are the priority of Carnegie Corporation of New York... I can say I learned a great deal from this... investment about how working with media can advance ideas foundations care about, and I write this edition of Carnegie Results to share some of those lessons."

Susan King, Media Grantmaking Strategies: When the Impact is the Question, Carnegie Results,Winter 2009.

Many "sharing failure" stories in philanthropy are about long-term inititives or special projects that don't produce hoped-for results. Frequently, these stories derive from formal evaluations. There is another set of failure stories that are about discrete, individual grants or projects that may or may not be integral to an overall grantmaking strategy. These stories are a bit more underground in nature.

This Carnegie Corporation story is remarkable in its candor and reflection. It is a story as much about Carnegie as the grantee and the evolving media environment. The story also captures the tensions and challenges that the new grantmaker faces. No blueprint manuals exist that adequately capture the nuance of making influence-type grants that seek to transform civic ideas, opinions, understanding.

"If you want to play big, philanthropy is about knowledge. Everyone in philanthropy talks about “leverage”. Leverage means to take actions that have a magnified impact relative to the money deployed. The key to leverage in this field is sharing knowledge"

Tactical Philanthropy

And useful knowledge must tap that treasure trove of mistakes and failures that we typically hide in the basement.

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