Do Less, Better. Thoughts on Focus and Impact

The conversation about philanthropy and impact is awfully sophisticated these days, with fevered debates about "strategic" vs. "emergent" approaches to grantmaking and best practices for evaluation. 

Less discussed, though, is the simpler question of how much foundations should try to do in the first place. Which is weird, since many big foundations are arguably trying to do way too much and that's one reason they often fall short of having as much impact as they'd like. 

That's certainly the case for the Ford Foundation, and inspired my recent piece calling for Darren Walker to go as far as he can in streamlining the place. 

One could give the same advice to the MacArthur Foundation's next president, since that place is another example of philanthropic sprawl. But there are plenty of other funders who would also do well to embrace the slogan: Do Less, Better. 

The Nathan Cummings Foundation is one place that did recently try to narrow its agenda, casting aside four program areas to focus just on climate change and inequality. Alas, that didn't work out so well, with its president Simon Greer leaving after conflict over implementing the strategic plan, as I discussed here

Doing less, better, is a great idea. But it's not easy to pull off.