One of the things I’ve found most striking about working in philanthropy is how much time we spend focused on what we do wrong, what we could do better, what we’re not achieving, and so on. To be honest, it can be a little deflating, especially in a field like ours that can and ought to be uplifting 24/7. Fortunately, every once in a while, one does get the opportunity to read something really inspiring—the kind of thing that reaffirms one’s pride about working in this sector, with these people.
I’m referring to the letter published today by Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation, on “What’s Next for the Ford Foundation?” I won’t rehearse the letter’s content here—you should just read it. Darren does a wonderful job knitting Ford’s great past together with its present and future aspirations, underscoring the foundation’s continuing commitment to social justice and equality, and sketching out important shifts in how the foundation will do its work going forward. One of the criticisms most often leveled at big foundations is that they can’t or won’t change. Certainly that’s not true here. The sorts of changes Darren describes, particularly in how Ford makes grants, will not be easy to implement. They are, however, the right kinds of change—not just for Ford, but for the whole sector. I was particularly excited to see Ford’s commitment to “a concerted effort to support stronger, more sustainable, and more durable organizations,” including through making “larger, longer-term grants that can be used more flexibly.”
I, for one, am eager to follow “what’s next.” The Ford Foundation’s storied past gives it a special place in American history and U.S. philanthropy. Under Darren’s leadership, its future looks bright to preserve that place. And its success will be everyone’s success.