It happens with surprising frequency. A foundation CEO retires and the trustees replace her with a Very Important Person who knows precious little about grantmaking.
“Why do they think that people, who last week were in business or in government service, do not need preparation as they seek to tackle some of the toughest social problems of our times?” asks Joel Orosz in a recent Chronicle of Philanthropy op-ed.* According to Orosz,
[F]ar too many newcomers to philanthropy behave as if philanthropic history began the moment they stepped across the threshold of their foundation. They are certain that past foundation efforts have been mediocre at best and have little of value to teach them.
That seems especially true of donors who have come directly from great success in the business world and who are determined to use exactly the same methods in the world of philanthropy. Thus old mistakes are repeated, and worse, old successes ignored.
There’s a clear difference between good and bad grantmaking, Orosz argues, and it takes significant experience and/or training to master the art.
Where facts are few, experts are many, says the sage. But while grantmaking is a relatively young discipline, we’ve accumulated enough facts of the matter to celebrate the work of many and condemn not a few.
* “Good Grantmaking Requires Expertise” in the September 25, 2007 edition.