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Building to Last

Building to Last

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Published by Lucy Bernholz
A review of field building as a philanthropic strategy
A review of field building as a philanthropic strategy

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Published by: Lucy Bernholz on Feb 11, 2010
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12/04/2011

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Lucy Bernholz, Stephanie Linden Seale, Tony Wang
BLUEPRINT RESEARCH + DESIGN, INC.
Building to Last: Field building as philanthropic strategy
2009
 
This paper was published with the support of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.Blueprint Research + Design, Inc. helps grantmaking foundations, individual and family donors, and philanthropicnetworks achieve their missions. We offer services in strategy and program design, organizational learning, andevaluation, and we think and write about the industry of philanthropy. Since 2004, Blueprint has provided the John D.and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation with research, advice, and documentation of the Digital Media and LearningInitiative. That work includes the writing and distribution of five reports on field building, written for the public, as ameans of informing the field of philanthropy and as a way to strengthen the emerging field of Digital Media andLearning.The MacArthur Foundation’s Digital Media and Learning Initiative aims to determine how digital media are changingthe way young people learn, play, socialize, and participate in civic life. Answers are critical to education and other socialinstitutions that must meet the needs of this and future generations. Through November 2009, the foundation hasawarded 106 grants for a total of $61.5 million to organizations and individuals in support of digital media and learn-ing. The grants have supported research, development of innovative technologies, and new learning environments foryouth — including a school based on game design principles.
research+ design for philanthropy
BLUEPRINT
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+
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Blueprint Research + Design, Inc.
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“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.
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In 1954, the Ford Foundation set out toreform business education in the United Statesthrough its philanthropic donations to educationalinstitutions.
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In 1974, the Commonwealth Fundplayed a pivotal role in pioneering hospice care.
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Recent field-building initiatives include the SkollFoundation’s support for social entrepreneurship,
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the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation’ssupport for open educational resources,
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and theRockefeller Foundation’s support for impactinvesting.
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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?

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