Although philanthropic institutions work in a wide variety of areas, there are common philosophical and structural issues that recur across organizations, fields, and time. Philanthropic practice and strategies have evolved as contexts have changed, yet have also retained some enduring characteristics. From operating programs to grant making, from local to international funding, and from traditional grant support to innovative financial mechanisms, many issues are shared by all who engage in philanthropic work.

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Issues in Philanthropy

“Investment Philanthropy” Investing for Social Good, a Century Ago

When Margaret Olivia Slocum Sage created her general-purpose foundation, her adviser Robert de Forest proposed a new concept: “investment philanthropy.” This meant using the endowment to engage in for-profit projects that also achieved a social goal. The Foundation’s first such investment was the Forest Hills housing development in Queens, New York.

Issues in Philanthropy

The Birth of the Modern MBA

Business education as it exists today came out of a massive mid-century philanthropic effort to transform the field. Why would an American foundation take this on and what was the program’s impact? Ford Foundation leaders were looking for ways to encourage economic growth and stave off the negative aspects of economic cycles, but they saw that a real theory of business practice was absent.

Medicine & Public Health

The “Insulin Gift”

In 1923, a large donation of funds by John D. Rockefeller, Jr., helped ensure the wide distribution of the newly mass-produced treatment for diabetes, insulin. John D. Rockefeller, Jr.’s gift, known as the “Insulin Gift,” also provided funds to train patients, nurses, physicians, and families to administer this new wonder treatment.

Insanity Defense illustration in Harper's Weekly, February 27, 1859. Library of Congress.
Issues in Philanthropy

The Commonwealth Fund and the “Insanity Defense:” Unexpected Outcomes

Lawyers and legal scholars have long relied on a 1933 text by Henry Weihofen, Insanity as a Defense in Criminal Law, to understand the nature of the insanity defense. Perhaps surprising is that Weihofen’s canonical text was an unintended outcome of a Commonwealth Fund grant. Its backstory illuminates the sometimes unpredictable results of grant making.

Issues in Philanthropy

Supporting Economic Justice? Ford’s 1968 PRI Experiment

The Program-Related Investment (PRI), a financial tool invented in the late 1960s, aimed to broaden the scope of recipients that philanthropic funds could help. The Ford Foundation unveiled this new mechanism with $10 million of support to market-based projects in minority enterprise, housing, manufacturing, and community development.

Race & Social Justice

Photo Essay: Supporting Minority Enterprise in the late 1960s

In 1968, the Ford Foundation began to fund minority enterprise and other social investments using a new tool, the Program-Related Investment (PRI). This photo essay shows the breadth of these investments and diversity of activities that PRIs funded in both inner city and rural environments.