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June 25, 2022
Effective Philanthropy Explores Impact of Charitable Giving
Molly Mead
“Effective philanthropy is philanthropy that has impact. It is philanthropy that succeeds at amassing, managing, then allocating financial and human resources in ways that have the greatest positive impact in the sectors that foundations choose to fund.”

So writes Molly Mead, Lincoln Filene Professor of Service at University College of Citizenship and Public Service at Tufts University, who, with Mary Ellen S. Capek, principal of Capek & Associates, a New Mexico nonprofit research and consultancy, co-authored the newly published Effective Philanthropy (The MIT Press, March 2006).

But achieving the greatest positive impact in the sectors that foundations choose to fund doesn’t just happen.

“The most important findings from our research — and the central theme of this book — are the links between foundation effectiveness and institutionalizing nuanced understandings of diversity, including gender,” the authors write. Which accounts for the book’s subtitle: Organizational Success through Deep Diversity and Gender Equality.

Mead explained further: “While diversity commonly refers to race and ethnicity, more than gender and class, focusing on race or class, distinct from gender, creates false dichotomies. Understanding gender in the context of race, class and culture is essential for developing healthier institutions and more effective grantmaking. We chose the term 'deep diversity’ to key readers to the fuller definition we ascribe to diversity.”

Based on their extensive research on demographics, strategic funding initiatives, theoretical analyses, the authors posit models for building effective foundations that can be applied to institutions of all types, be they large, small, public, private, regional, national, bureaucratic or entrepreneurial. They include colleges, universities, nonprofits, government agencies, and multinational corporations.

The book, which grew out of work done over the course of a dozen years, produced what the authors call good and bad news.

The good news:
  • Many established women’s and girls’ nonprofits are successful.
  • Many funders have developed increasingly sophisticated understandings of gender and deep diversity within their own program areas.
  • The number and size of foundations organized to target support to the specific needs of women and girls have grown exponentially since the early 1970s.

The bad news:
  • Small-budget and grassroots nonprofit organizations still have a hard time functioning.
  • Many funders avoid issues of poverty, violence and other deep-rooted social ills, and miss opportunities to incorporate innovative thinking about funding women into their overall grant-making programs.

Despite the shortcomings which still exist within funding organizations, the authors note that “philanthropic and nonprofit communities are filled with vibrant, creative people working long hours to do important and often unheralded work.”

A major goal of the book, Mead said, is to draw attention to that good work and provide analyses and resources to enable everyone else to do their work better.

This article originally appeared in Educating for Active Citizenship, a bulletin of the University College of Citizenship and Public Service at Tufts University, March 2006.
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