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Of Data, Impact and Buckyballs in Philanthropy

MFG Archive

In a recent National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy article, Larry McGill, explores how foundations can be more accountable for their actions through strategic philanthropy.


In a recent NCRP article, Larry McGill, Vice President of Research at The Foundation Center talks about the role that data and collaboration play in driving strategic philanthropy.


McGill believes that “no organization, no matter how powerful, can single-handedly bring about true social impact.” Communities are so complex, harboring an entrenched network of inter-locking relationships among individuals, families and organizations, that McGill compares them to buckyballs. The idea of one organization working to tackle one piece in the inter-locking bonds just isn’t enough.


This buckyball analogy from McGill allows him to be blunt about social impact. “Foundations can either compile and share data with their peers about their grantmaking practices in order to work together more strategically or they can continue to operate as lone wolves content to tug compulsively at different spots on the buckyball only to watch it snap back to its original shape once their funding has ended.” 

“No organization, no matter how powerful, can single-handedly bring about true social impact.”

McGill argues for collaboration and not “data, per se; rather, [that foundations] need the philanthropic equivalent of market intelligence so they can design their interventions based upon the best possible understanding of the environment in which they are working.”


McGill’s explanation of what it would take to develop this dynamic presents a compelling case for better collaboration among grantmakers. However, it is clear that his vision of a productive eco-system of collaboration and knowledge sharing is dependent on foundations leading the way with greater accountability, better shared data, and ultimately, life changing social impact.


Head to NCRP for McGill’s full article, and be sure to let them, and us, know what you think of his argument.

Many thanks to the Foundation Center’s Larry McGill for his perspective on foundation accountability, collaboration and market intelligence. Thanks to NCRP for posting the original article.

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