The Importance of Philanthropy Infrastructure — Guest Post

How One Foundation Invested Deeply in Philanthropy Infrastructure to Deepen Its Learning & Focus

At United Philanthropy Forum we recently highlighted how philanthropists MacKenzie Scott and Dan Jewett provided notable support to philanthropy infrastructure organizations as part of their most recent round of grants, underscoring the value and importance of these groups to our sector and our communities. In fact, a recent analysis by Bloomberg showed that 32 percent of Scott/Jewett grants to date have gone to philanthropy infrastructure organizations. It’s encouraging to see this level of support for groups that are so vital to philanthropy in our country.

There is another funder that has been investing deeply in philanthropy infrastructure for a number of years, but its support has been under the radar—until now. A new report developed by The Giving Practice tells the story of how the Satterberg Foundation in Seattle has made unprecedented investments in four regional philanthropy-serving organizations (PSOs)—all Forum members—over more than half a decade. The foundation has viewed these four philanthropy infrastructure groups—Philanthropy NorthwestNorthern California GrantmakersSoCal Grantmakers, and Catalyst of San Diego and Imperial Counties—as vital partners in the regions where it funds, to help the foundation, in the words of Satterberg Foundation Executive Director Sarah Walczyk, “gain a deeper understanding of the key issues at play in our sector to further hone our foundation funding focus for the future.”

Through its Community Partnerships program, the foundation has provided two rounds of three-year general operating support grants to each of the four PSOs, in amounts ranging from $750,000 to $1,000,000 per year. The grants were open-ended and flexible and came with streamlined grant reporting requirements. A key focus of the funding was on foundation learning, emphasizing “learning together, shared inquiry and sense-making.”

The report makes clear that the foundation went into these partnerships without a lot of expectations or a theory of change. The foundation’s board was not focused on achieving impact or interested in getting progress reports. Instead, it viewed the PSOs as trusted places to connect and learn from partners who “better understood the geographic needs of the regions and states than we do,” according to one foundation representative. Trust and relationship-building were the priority, following principles of trust-based philanthropy.

“We had confidence in those organizations,” a foundation representative said in the report. “We always saw PSOs as a place to connect and learn. More recently, we saw them make sense of their role, align values, respond to diverse perspectives, engage in policy change, build their voice, and speak up. We were inspired to see these organizations build a movement of funders working together on community issues.”

The effects of the Satterberg investments on the organizational capacity of the four PSOs were significant and included adding senior staff positions, investing in more staff learning and professional development, increasing staff salaries, investing in better technology, and much more. The investments led to notable innovations in all four of the regional PSOs, most notably in the areas of advancing equity, shaping public policy, partnering with government, and mobilizing support for communities.

A few examples: SoCal Grantmakers is a key partner and fiscal intermediary for the new Veterans Peer Access Network, a public-private partnership that will use $4.3 million in public-private investment to provide peer-based services to help veterans in L.A. County deal with homelessness, health and other issues. Philanthropy Northwest established the WA Food Fund, in partnership with the state of Washington, which has raised more than $16 million to respond to the growing food crisis as a result of COVID-19. Northern California Grantmakers created the Racial Equity Action Institute, which connects racial equity specialists with leaders in philanthropy, government, business and nonprofits to learn and develop actionable strategies for change in their organizations and fields. Catalyst of San Diego and Imperial Counties is administering the Women’s Empowerment Loan Fund, an impact investing fund providing business loans to women of color entrepreneurs who don’t have access to traditional financing options. The report emphasizes that all of these actions, and many others cited in the report, were made possible because of the PSOs’ increased capacity and expertise resulting from the Satterberg Foundation’s investments.

Support from the Satterberg Foundation also provided the capacity for the three California PSOs to create an alliance that is now Philanthropy California, where the three groups work in operations, programs, public policy, membership and communications. One recent result of this alliance: the creation of the position of Senior Advisor on Social Innovation to the Governor, who works together with Philanthropy California to coordinate public-private partnerships in the state.

The foundation’s support also accelerated important shifts in each of the four PSOs that I’ve been noticing in many regional and national PSOs in recent years, including:

  • Widening the scope of their organization’s vision beyond the boundaries of the philanthropy sector to look at what’s good for their broader communities.
  • A stronger focus on equity, particularly racial equity.
  • Shifting from a member service strategy to a change strategy, which involved the PSO taking on a bigger leadership role.
  • Moving from being responsive to members’ needs to be proactive in advancing critical issues through advocacy and mobilization.

In the end, the Satterberg Foundation’s broad and deep support for these four regional PSOs has played a pivotal role in all of them becoming much more dynamic and influential leadership organizations for their regions and the broader field. They are clearly much better positioned to address whatever may come their way in the future. For example, the report notes that all four PSOs “snapped into action” to inform and mobilize their members in addressing the COVID-19 pandemic’s economic effects on nonprofits in their regions, in ways that likely would not have been possible without their added capacity. It’s worth imagining the incredibly positive impact for our sector and our communities if similar types of investments were made in all regional and national PSOs in our country.

In the report, a Satterberg Foundation representative notes that some funders still view regional PSOs as “old school”—i.e. “They do a conference,” but that the foundation views PSOs as places for “power building, movement building, policy work, building funds. They’re the place to invest for funders who really want to move an agenda and provide a regional perspective. We need them in philanthropy.”

David Biemesderfer
President & CEO
United Philanthropy Forum
Follow me @dbiemesderfer

Rhode Island Foundation to Provide $1 Million to Support Public Education

The Rhode Island Foundation announced that it is committing $1 million – above and beyond the Foundation’s annual grantmaking in education – to support improvements to the state’s pre-K to 12th grade public education system.

The funding announcement comes as the Long Term Education Planning committee, convened in late 2018 and led by the Foundation, releases final recommendations for improvements. The Foundation’s investment of $1 million will align with the recommendations in the report. The report includes input provided by more than 300 parents, students, educators, policymakers and leaders from the nonprofit and for-profit sectors at the Make It Happen: A World Class Public Education for RI brainstorming session at the R.I. Convention Center in December.

The Long Term Education Planning Committee, a 26-member group of educators, policymakers and leaders from the nonprofit and for profit sectors convened at the request of the Foundation, developed the 10-year plan for improving education in Rhode Island. Click on a link below to read the plan, “Chart a Course, Stay the Course: Rhode Island’s Path to a World Class Public Education System.”

“Participants at the Make it Happen event were extremely vocal about the need to amplify the role of student and family voice. These voices are fundamental and critical to making improvements in the system,” said Steinberg, who served on the committee. “We encourage all Rhode Islanders to work together on this effort – be ambitious and bold, display strong support for educators and continue to demand more for all students, in every community.”

In addition to a vision for the future of public education in Rhode Island, the final plan includes a set of four priorities and accompanying strategies, including aligning the state funding formula with both state and local needs and sustaining a rigorous, statewide assessment system.

Full report

10 Nonprofit Leaders “Boot Up” Innovation with United Way

For ten local nonprofit leaders, boot camp marks the start of the Nonprofit Innovation Lab — a program that begins on January 13, lasts 23-weeks, and ends with a Shark Tank-like presentation in June where the five remaining finalists compete for three prizes, totaling $90,000.

Hosted by United Way of Rhode Island and the Social Enterprise Greenhouse, the Nonprofit Innovation Lab is designed to spark fresh solutions for existing social problems. Participants were chosen from two dozen applicants during an elevator pitch event in December.

“We’re very impressed with the innovation and quality of their proposals, there are some incredible [ideas] coming out of our state’s nonprofit community,” said Cortney Nicolato, President and CEO of United Way of Rhode Island. “We’re eager to help them hone their ideas to strengthen Rhode Island.”

Nonprofit Innovation Lab components:

  • Boot Camp: For the first 6 weeks, participants receive intensive expert instruction, which includes two, four-hour sessions each week.
  • Milestone Accelerator: During the next 16 weeks, participants work with advisors from the hosting agencies’ networks in preparation for the final event.
  • Innovation Pitch Event: In June, the remaining five participants present their plans, competing for $90,000 in a presentation similar to NBC’S hit television show Shark Tank.

Nonprofit Innovation Lab participants

  • Mario Bueno, Progreso Latino
  • Mike Chea, Dorcas International Institute of R.I.
  • Kate Corwin, Smith Hill CDC
  • Janice Falconer, Impact R.I.
  • Raul Figueroa, Fuerza Laboral
  • Dana Ginestet, College Crusade of R.I.
  • Laura Jaworski, House of Hope CDC
  • Jonathan Kabak, Oliver Hazard Perry R.I.
  • Rhonda Price, Man Up, Inc.
  • Joshua Riazi, Genesis Center

LISC RI Celebrates New Neighborhood Health Station

GCRI member LISC RI celebrated the grand opening and ribbon cutting for the new Neighborhood Health Station in Central Falls with members of the Rhode Island Congressional Delegation, project visionaries and leaders, funders, staff and residents. GCRI members Rhode Island Foundation and The Champlin Foundation were also significant partners in the development of the comprehensive new health facility.

LISC Rhode Island provided an investment of $12.2 million for the $15 million project which included an investment of $4.2 million in New Markets Tax Credits through the New Markets Support Company (NMSC), a Chicago-based, wholly-owned subsidiary of LISC and a syndicator of federal New Markets Tax Credits. These credits were part of an $85 million allocation to LISC from the U.S. Treasury Department that are used for transformational community development projects across the LISC footprint. The tax credit equity was combined with low interest loans from LISC and Morgan Stanley through LISC’s Healthy Futures FQHC Financing Fund II, an innovative loan fund to support Federally Qualified Health Centers that provide services designed to address social determinants of health. LISC also provided a pre-development grant of $50,000. At the end of the NMTC compliance period, the Blackstone Valley Neighborhood Health Station will retain nearly $3 million in equity as a result of LISC’s investment.

“LISC heard of the concept through our work leading the Pawtucket and Central Falls Health Equity Zone,” said Jeanne Cola, Executive Director of LISC Rhode Island. “Dr. Fine and Ray Lavoie wanted to change the way that residents thought about their health, and how they accessed health care. It was a new model and targeted one of Rhode Island’s most underserved communities. That kind of mission-driven project deserved our full support.”

Dr. Michael Fine, a member of the LISC PCF HEZ collaborative and the former director of the state health department, brought a particularly ambitious vision to the table. Together with Ray Lavoie, Executive Director of Blackstone Valley Community Health Care (BVCHC), and other members of its Leadership Team, they proposed creating a centralized facility that could provide residents with everything they might need to get and stay healthy, outside of the traditional healthcare system—and all within walking distance of their homes.

“It’s a new concept. It is Dr. Michael Fine’s vision of a Neighborhood Health Station, where 90 percent of the folks in the community can get 90 percent of their health care needs met. And, that is something new,” said Ray Lavoie, executive director of Blackstone Valley Community Health Care, at the Neighborhood Health Station in Central Falls. “It will also sidestep the current structure, where everyone’s medical records are in different doctor’s offices and it is all silo-ed. This is a big step in the right direction.”

The team envisioned a Health Station that would provide comprehensive care, education and recreational opportunities for residents of Central Falls. The new facility will provide family doctors, pediatricians, emergency medicine specialists, nurses, obstetricians, midwives, social workers, behavioral health, dental, physical and occupational therapists, recovery coaches, health coaches, community health workers, translators, and educational programs. The facility provides a dedicated team for taking care of the residents of Central Falls with the goal of making it the healthiest community in Rhode Island.

The goal demands a new way of thinking about health care. Currently, the community is one of Rhode Island’s most underinvested and a third of the residents live in poverty, 27 percent have no health insurance, and per capita income is just more than $14,000. Latinos in this community face particularly high barriers that directly impact health, including poverty, high unemployment, lack of access to educational opportunities, and linguistic and cultural challenges.

“The health station will be a transformational project for this community,” said Cola. “LISC has invested extensively in affordable housing, workforce development, public safety, and childcare and early learning facilities in the Pawtucket and Central Falls communities. And for the past five years, we’ve also worked to improve the social determinants of health for residents. We’re proud to get behind this initiative in such a comprehensive way.”

The Health Station will be a hub for classes in nutrition, diabetes prevention, and financial literacy, as well as recreational opportunities, in addition to providing access to services. More culturally competent and readily-available doctors, dentists, and behavioral health specialists were seen as a critical component to improving the overall health of community members.

The Health Station goal to enroll 90 percent of residents in programs will empower an entire community to strive for optimal health and wellbeing. The facility will create more than 80 permanent full-time jobs, and change the health of thousands.

Impact Investing Session Follow up

For those interested in additional resources on Mission Related Investments (MRI), here are some resources:

Support Organizations

Global Impact Investing Network  

Initiative for Responsible Investment  

Mission Investors Exchange

US SIF – The Forum for Sustainable and Responsible Investment

Articles and Publications

Bay Area Impact Investing Initiative: “What is Place-Based Impact Investing?”

Center for Effective Philanthropy:  “Investing and Social Impact:  Practices of Private Foundations”

Chronicle of Philanthropy:  “Mission Critical:  Nonprofits and foundations making impact investments believe their dollars are vital to solving tough problems

Council of Development Finance Agencies:  “Urban Revitalization and Impact Investing”

Goldman Sachs: “Right Tools, Right Time:  The Rise of Impact Investing”

Grantmakers in the Arts: “How to Invest in the Arts Without Buying a Picasso”

Invest with Values

The McKnight Foundation:  Statement of Investment Policy

Mission Investors Exchange: Equity Advancing Equity”

National Center for Family Philanthropy: “Getting started with impact investing:  Overcoming resistance from family and board members”

Philanthropy News Digest: “Study calls on impact investors to close educational attainment gaps”

Pacific Community Ventures: What’s New in Impact Investing

Stanford Social Innovation Review:  “Mission Possible:  How Foundations Are Shaping the Future of Impact Investing” – series of mission investment articles

Surdna Foundation: ”Mapping the Journey to Impact Investing”

United Nations: Principles for Responsible Investment

Two New “Marketplaces” for Impact Investments

Impact Us 

Capital Aggregation

  • Minnesota Council of Foundations (GCRI’s sister organization) has established an impact investing collaborative with The McKnight Foundation, Bush Foundation and the Otto Bremer Trust as lead institutions.
  • Washington Area Grantmakers  (GCRI’s sister organization) has a housing investment program.

More Value to Short-Term Investment or Smaller, Long-Term, Endowment Based Giving?

Atlantic Philanthropies has banked its investment decisions on the philosophy that since a foundation’s grants generate a social return, those returns compound at a higher rate than its financial assets would, so more immediate grants will generate more social value than preserving the capital and making more grants later.  This is the premise behind limited life foundations.  Value, Time, and Time-Limited Philanthropy, highlights discussions among philanthropic leaders, advisors, and scholars about the social value a philanthropic initiative can be estimated to generate — taking into account direct outlay, social value, ripple effects, and durability — and whether, considering social utility, rates of return, and the compounding or erosion of value over time, the premise holds true for three Atlantic Philanthropies-funded initiatives.  Initial study is showing that Atlantic’s short-term investments are paying off, in part because other foundations have taken a slower, more sustained approach, so there may be an important role for both approaches to funding to address systemic issues.


Changes to GCRI May Calendar, Upcoming Regional Conferences and GCRI Member Discounts

May’s GCRI schedule has been changed, so please make a note of the new dates and times.

Tuesday, May 9 at 9am — Employee Engagement Catalyst Group Conference Call

Thursday, May 25, 1:00-2:30pm — Financial and Social Returns:  Maximizing Impact Through Mission-Related Investments

The roundtable on Low Income Supports originally scheduled for May 18 has been postponed.

Contact Nancy at with any questions about upcoming events.


There are a number of upcoming conferences and events in the region — many of them offer discounts to GCRI members, so be sure to take advantage of them!

Youth Organizing Funder Roundtable
Aspen Forum for Community Solutions
Boston, May 22
The Aspen Forum has invited GCRI members to a Funder Roundtable on “Radical Possibilities:  The Power of Youth in the Fight for Social Justice.”  The session will take place from 2:30-6:00pm at the Boston Park Plaza Hotel, and is co-sponsored by the Ford Foundation, Grantmakers Concerned with Immigrants and Refugees, Funders Collaborative for Youth Organizing and the Hyams Foundation.  The purpose of the roundtable is to share models of youth-led organizing and examples of authentic youth-adult partnerships in the work for social change.  The session will showcase the possibilities and power of youth voice, leadership and organizing, and the role of philanthropy in supporting these efforts.  For more information, contact Christina Kostuk, or 202-736-5809.

2017 Collective Impact Convening
Collective Impact Forum

Boston, May 23-25
As a local partner, GCRI members are eligible to receive $100 discount on registration.  The Collective Impact Forum is a partnership between FSG and the Aspen Institute, and the convening will attract more than 400 funders, backbone leaders, and other collective impact partners. GCRI members who are currently involved in cross-sector partnerships — or interested in learning more about best practices in collective impact — can use promo code RI100 at the end of registration, which will take $100 off the individual three-day funder registration rate of $1095. Note: if you plan to bring more than one person from your organization, you do * not * need to use this promo code because there is a price break already built in for bringing multiple representatives from the same organization.”

Grantmaking Fundamentals Workshop 2017
Association of Baltimore Area Grantmakers
Baltimore, June 6
A full-day professional development workshop for grantmakers taught by regional experienced practitioners! Topics include:  Your grantmaking within the local and national philanthropic landscape; Developing grant guidelines and communicating with the public; Reviewing proposals and conducting due diligence; Legal and ethical guidelines for grantmaking excellence; Maximizing grant impact; Strategies for continued learning and improvement.  GCRI members are eligible for the ABAG member price, using discount code: 2017RANETWORK.

2017 Conference on Scaling Impact
Social Impact Exchange
New York, NY, June 14-15
The 2017 Conference on Scaling Impact is for foundation officers, philanthropists, corporate executives, trustees, and wealth managers and philanthropy advisors interested in learning about innovative methods to support high-impact nonprofits in education, youth development, poverty alleviation, health and impact investing.  The conference includes presentations from foundation CEOs and nonprofit leaders, as well as knowledge sessions and peer networking opportunities. Members of the Forum are eligible to attend at the discounted rate of $895 (regular price is $1,695).  To receive the discount, visit the registration site and indicate in the drop down menu that you are invited by the Forum. Space is limited so we encourage you to register soon.

Community Foundation Boot Camp
Associated Grantmakers
Boston, August 29-30
The two-day Community Foundation Boot Camp program offers a comprehensive overview of the structure and operations of a community foundation.  The program is an ideal in-depth introduction to community foundations for new community foundation staff, community foundation board members or more experienced community foundation staff looking for a good refresher.  Training is provided by Indiana Philanthropy Alliance.  GCRI members are eligible to participate at the AGM member price of $450/person.

LISC Highlights: HEZ, Financial Opportunity Centers, Early Learning Work

HEZ Work a Model for Upending Health Inequality

Depending on whether you are born in a prosperous or a poor American neighborhood, your life expectancy can vary by as much as 25 years.  In a blog post for Build Healthy Places, Julia Ryan, LISC’s director of health and safety programs explains how Rhode Island’s Health Equity Zones (HEZ) are working to close the longevity gap.  As lead agency for two of those zones, LISC is helping to tackle the deep-rooted problems underlying that gap with a multi-strategy action plan.

LISC Financial Opportunity Center Success Story Featured on NPR

A recent NPR “Hidden Brain” podcast featured Brandi Drew, a client at a Financial Opportunity Center® in Detroit. In this podcast, Drew describes how financial coaching helped her escape the “scarcity trap.”  View the story here.  A five year, federal grant from the Social Innovation Fund (SIF) that was matched by local private and corporate grants, made it possible for Rhode Island LISC to invest over $2.3 million into four Financial Opportunity Centers® located at Amos House, Genesis Center, Providence Housing Authority and Community Care Alliance.  The Social Innovation Fund has not been included in the new federal spending proposal to fund the government through September 30.

 Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge Report Released

In 2015 and 2016, by providing small grants and technical support, the LISC Rhode Island Child Care and Early Learning Facilities Fund (RICCELFF) enabled 83 early learning centers across Rhode Island to dramatically improve the learning environments in their facilities. The grants, which totaled $2.3 million, were made possible by the Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge, a U.S. Department of Education program designed to support high-quality early learning programs as well as increase the number of low-income and disadvantaged children who are enrolled in them. Read the report here.

“2016 By the Numbers” Video

LISC recently released a video highlighting the resources that it invested in Rhode Island in 2016.  LISC provided over 2,000 hours of technical assistance to over 150 groups, awarded over $3.5 million in grants and invested over $21 million in real state statewide.  LISC’s strategies include increasing family income & wealth, stimulating economic development, improving access to quality education and supporting healthy environments and lifestyles.  Watch the video to learn more about their impact!

Inside Innovation Funding Webinar

Foundation Center’s Inside Innovation Funding: Exploring Philanthropy at the Intersection of Problem-Solving, Technology & Design Webinar
THURS, April 13, 1:30-3:00 PM  |  FREE

Increasingly funders are experimenting with innovation funding, but how are they defining innovation, and what can we learn from approaches that are working? Building on Foundation Center’s GrantCraft and Glasspockets blog series, funders will explain how they are applying and adapting strategies from the tech sector to strengthen and scale social sector endeavors. Topics covered will include competition grantmaking, accelerator programs, capacity building, and efforts to create a diverse and inclusive social innovation sector. Register ›

Lessons from Multi-Sector Partnerships in the Health Sector

Report Details Important Lessons for Partnerships in All Issue Areas

ReThink Health, an initiative of Fannie E. Rippel Foundation, recently released a report on multi-sector partnerships to improve health, equity and economic well being.  Based on a nationwide survey of multi sector partnerships, the report details lessons learned from the work plans, finances and organizational development of these groups.

Some excerpted highlights that reinforce the message of GCRI’s Collective Impact panelists:

Challenges Based on Partnership Lifecycle

While most partnerships faced challenges related to collaborative infrastructure, sustainable financing, and data-sharing, other challenges were more prominent at certain phases, as are several distinctive momentum builders.

Earlier partnerships may face barriers in terms of “lack of authority and fragile infrastructure are special barriers in the Earlier phase, as partnerships establish their standing to lead change on chosen priorities. Groups in this phase tend to generate momentum by engaging multi-sector stakeholders and by building a region-wide vision around shared values.”

In the middle phases, partners may encounter “difficulties measuring progress and contending with political resistance…Their longer track record may raise expectations and they may have yet to negotiate all the vested interests that tend to reinforce the status quo. Experimenting and learning from easy wins gains special prominence as a practical way to drive progress.”

In more mature partnerships, their previous successes may actually be a challenge:  “Partnerships may have exhausted strategies that center primarily around win-win solutions or achievements that are perceived as low hanging fruit. They generate momentum more often by exercising influence upward and outward, as well as by taking a longer view of future scenarios.”

The report made several recommendations for successful partnership development:

All partnerships may benefit by having a wider view of the health ecosystem in their region, and by contributing toward a strategy for the region as a whole that will assure all of the vital conditions and services that people need through an organizational structure that best fits the local landscape. In addition, partnerships at each developmental phase may accelerate progress in different ways.

Earlier: Partnerships in the Earlier phase can set themselves up for success when they: (1) Articulate a region-wide vision based on shared values (both moral and economic); (2) Establish authority and expand engagement far as possible; and (3) Strengthen infrastructure through staff capacity, operational capability (e.g. backbone functions), and long-term financial planning.

Middle: Progress in the Middle phase may turn on building enough trust and transparency for more ambitious action as well as more difficult negotiations ahead. Groups may want to:  (1) Develop a compelling picture of the value they are poised to deliver; (2) Engage policymakers to create conditions that better enable regional action; and (3) Adopt a mindset for sustainable financing focused on creating new funding flows, especially ones that move beyond an excessive reliance on short-term grants, which often constrain the very ambitions and abilities that groups in the Middle phase need to succeed.

Later: To propel progress in the Later phase, we recommend that partnerships: (1) Surface vested interests and negotiate tough topics that otherwise threaten to reinforce the status quo; (2) Employ a learning practice that delivers evidence of results and is also tied to continuous learning, adaptation, and renewal; (3) Align with state and federal policy, such as changes in payment or regulatory systems; and (4) Establish new forms of distributed leadership, with a focus on broad-based coordination to avoid placing too much power in the hands of a few key players.

Considerations for Funders, Policymakers, and Other Allies

For funders, policymakers, and other allies who support multi-sector partnerships, we suggest the following activities:

• Learn about and consider developmental phases when crafting initiatives;

• Support long-term planning—extending over decades—so that strategies will persist through inevitable leadership transitions and adapt to change in wider contexts;

• Position grant funding as a bridge to more dependable financial structures.

• Fund core infrastructure and backbone organization, which can be decisive factors in the success of any multi-sector partnership.

Full report