How to unleash the potential of philanthropy to solve problems

Fri, 14 Jun 2024 Estimated reading times: 2 minutes

CEO and Harvard Adjunct Lecturer Jim Bildner has extensive experience leading venture philanthropy at Draper Richards Kaplan Foundation and is on the board of Kresge Foundation, where he chairs its Investment Committee and $4 billion endowment. He also started its Social Investment Practice, which has allocated nearly $400 million in non-traditional grants. Jim, (pictured) shared his invaluable perspectives on supporting high-potential social innovations to scale and the importance of unrestricted, multi-year funding with Philanthropy Australia at an event in May. Here are the highlights from his presentation.

One of Jim’s primary messages was the need for organisations to deeply understand the problems they are trying to solve – this means understanding all the root causes and binding constraints that created the problem to start with.  Too many organisations are treating the symptoms of problems, not the problem itself.

While existing distribution and infrastructure systems maybe imperfect, they are not useless. They can be repurposed to fill critical gaps to solve distribution issues in real time at a fraction of the cost it would take to build new systems; so change-makers should focus first on leveraging what exists. 

Know in the beginning what your end game is – what ultimately do you hope to achieve and who needs to adopt your solution. By staying focused on the endgame, you are less likely to take detours along the way. 

Funders have a range of tools at their disposal – grants are the most precious form of capital, but loans, guarantees and other non-traditional forms of philanthropy are often better tools to use. And for sure, philanthropy needs to be leveraged. Crowd in as much capital as you can.

And organisations need more than money. They need strategic advice, organisation design help, recruiting help, fundraising help and leadership skill building. The most effective funders provide these as well as money.

Some resources mentioned in the session include:

This event was in partnership with Philanthropy Australia and the Social Impact Hub.