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There Is a Better Way to Practice Philanthropy

June 22, 2020

Bradford K. Smith, President of Candid, shares how the Solutions Bank has the potential to reshape philanthropy to be more open, efficient, and democratic.

Bradford K. Smith

I repent. After many years working at the Inter-American, Ford, and Oak Foundations, I now realize that the way we went about finding proposals, analyzing them, writing recommendations, securing approval, disbursing funds, and monitoring implementation was too much about us and not enough about the world. Year after year, the “invisible hand” of thousands of foundations individually going about their business drowns grantees in paperwork and guarantees that the social sector consistently functions as less than the sum of its parts.

As the challenges facing the world arise, grow, and intersect, business as usual will no longer suffice.

As the challenges facing the world arise, grow, and intersect, business as usual will no longer suffice. The Solutions Bank shows us that there is a better way to practice philanthropy. Why should nonprofits have to write individual proposals for each and every foundation they approach? In my current incarnation as a nonprofit executive, I am painfully aware of the effort involved in cramming a project into the endless online application formats used by foundations. It takes time for my organization to do and time for the multiple foundations to review my request and reject or approve it, but the world is not getting any better in the process.

At present, the Solutions Bank contains more than 450 proposals that were submitted as part of MacArthur’s 100&Change competition. Each project has been vetted to ensure that it meets the administrative requirements of the competition and is displayed together with links to the organization’s website, its Nonprofit Profile by GuideStar, and information on co-funders of the organization. This puts virtually all the information needed for basic due diligence online and in one place. Lever for Change, a MacArthur affiliate, is managing 100&Change, in addition to several competitions for other donors, and plans to add more proposals to the site. The Solutions Bank,—a collaboration by Lever for Change and Candid—is poised to become an online marketplace for nonprofits to display their proposals and donors to source them.

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