Blueprint Research + Design, Inc.
“Field building” is an increasingly popular prac-tice in philanthropic work because it offers anopportunity to go beyond funding individualorganizations or projects and to create a coherentstrategy for change on a much larger scale.However, there is little consensus about what weas a profession mean when we speak of fieldbuilding. Our goal in this paper is to inform andprovoke a broad conversation about field buildingin philanthropy. Our hope is that this becomes auseful starting place for foundations, corporations,and other grantmakers who seek results beyondthe impact of individual grants. What does itmean to move beyond individual grants or even aportfolio of grantees? This is a question thatgrantmakers are grappling with in many arenas.We hope this paper accurately captures the chal-lenges, identifies the possibilities, alerts us topotential pitfalls, and nudges the conversation andthe practice forward.Philanthropy and field building share a longhistory. As far back as 1906, the CarnegieFoundation for the Advancement of Teachinghelped standardize and reform the field of med-ical education through its funding of the Flexner Report.
In 1954, the Ford Foundation set out toreform business education in the United Statesthrough its philanthropic donations to educationalinstitutions.
In 1974, the Commonwealth Fundplayed a pivotal role in pioneering hospice care.
Recent field-building initiatives include the SkollFoundation’s support for social entrepreneurship,
the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation’ssupport for open educational resources,
and theRockefeller Foundation’s support for impactinvesting.
Despite this long history,there is no simple answer to the question: how do you build a field? Theareas in which foundations embark on this workare as diverse as the program areas they fund.Sometimes the efforts at field building are delib-erate, strategic, and carefully planned within thefoundation before any external partners areengaged. Other times, the recognition that abroader approach is necessary emerges naturallyfrom a foundation’s long involvement with keyorganizations doing complementary work on aspecific issue. There is no set definition of “field”in the lexicon of philanthropy, nor is there asingular set of strategies for building one, and weare only now starting to see the beginnings of ashared literature on how, why, to what ends, andwith what success or failure foundations and their partners have worked in this endeavor we callfield building.Instead of offering a recipe for success, we offer a number of design principles for philanthropic
Building to Last:Field building as philanthropic strategy
What does it mean to movebeyond individual grants or evena portfolio of grantees?