Strategic Philanthropy in Two Figures

posted on: February 13, 2013

By Kevin Laskowski

NCRP’s latest report Real Results makes the strategic case for more intentional investment in underserved communities and in social justice:

  • Strategic philanthropy targets those that stand to benefit the most. The benefits of philanthropic investment do not always trickle down to those that may need them the most. Failure to reach those at the margins increases existing disparities, exacerbating the problems the philanthropist works to alleviate. The strategic philanthropist will therefore give with an understanding of whom will benefit or not from her actions and give accordingly. For example, a health grantmaker may wish to focus attention on so-called “dual-eligibles,” those persons eligible for Medicare and Medicaid, because, in the words of the Campaign for Better Care, “if we can make our health system work for them, we can make it work for everyone.”
  • Strategic philanthropy invests in shaping public policy for the better. Like it or not, public policy affects everything we do. NCRP’s Leveraging Limited Dollars documents the significant and dramatic return that advocacy, organizing and civic engagement efforts can have. The strategic philanthropist’s commitment to evidence-based strategy cannot ignore the tangible, positive impact – and often the necessity – of influencing public policy and investing in social justice.

But are foundations engaging in these strategic practices? Not as much as they could be.

In our High Impact Strategies for Philanthropy series, NCRP examined giving in education, health, arts and culture and the environment, citing the benefits of targeting and social justice. In each case, philanthropists could be devoting more to underserved or marginalized communities and to social justice.

While 39 percent of health grant dollars were classified as benefitting the economically disadvantaged, racial and ethnic minorities, the disabled, the elderly, and other marginalized groups, only 10 percent of arts grant dollars and only 15 percent of environment grant dollars were so classified.

Despite the ways in which public policy shapes our world, less than one in six grant dollars were coded as social justice grantmaking.


Grantmakers appear to under-invest in practices that are either important or essential to success. This isn’t strategic.

It’s important to note that this is how giving is classified. Philanthropy may in fact be doing more for marginalized communities with respect to social justice than it would appear. NCRP analysis of Foundation Center data is based on foundations’ reports of their grants and Foundation Center criteria. Foundations that do not seem to be giving significant amounts to benefit marginalized communities may not have given such grants, or they simply might not have provided enough information to code them as such.

Either way, these figures reveal a lack of intentionality around targeted investments and social justice. These kinds of grants either aren’t being made in such a way that they can be tracked as such, or they aren’t being made at all. The more grantmakers can be convinced to make conscious investments in underserved communities and social justice, the more strategic and impactful they will be.

Kevin Laskowski is senior research and policy associate at the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP). He frequently blogs about trends, accountability and effective practices in philanthropy. He thinks Jonathan and Taylor are never, ever, ever getting back together.