Invitation to a Conversation

Post by Jerry Chasen, Alliance VP on January 18, 2012

This past November 15th, the Alliance produced the Inaugural Bipartisan Conference on Innovation in Giving and Philanthropy. The one-day meeting at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC featured an Honorary Host Committee including House Maj. Leader Eric Cantor, Senators Kirsten Gillibrand, Susan Collins, Joe Lieberman, and Mark Udall, and U.S. Reps. John Lewis and Pat Tiberi.

Judging from the comments we got around the conference, we weren’t the only ones who thought the content was great, and the level of discourse was very high. Moderated by veteran news analyst Jeff Greenfield, the program included presentations by Dr. Diana Wells of Ashoka, Dennis Whittle, Founder of Global Giving, Meg Garlinghouse of LinkedIn, Jacquelline Fuller of Google, Amy Bell of JPMorgan, and Deanna Castellini, Founder of UGive.

The program closed with the Alliance announcing the establishment of “a new fund to identify and promote breakthrough ideas in philanthropy.” The announcement went on to say that “one likely focus of the fund is innovation in nonprofit financing.” Because we wanted to take into account thoughts and ideas shared at the conference, we held off announcing much detail about the fund, including its scope and operations, and promised those would be would be made public early in 2012.

We are engaged in formulating those details, and as is often the case with money to spend, everyone has their own idea of the best way to do it. One idea under consideration would be a focus on existing medium-sized nonprofits. The goal would be to support them in developing innovative strategies, plans, or experiments to diversify their revenue streams on a sustainable basis, by accessing new types of social finance pools, collaborative funding mechanisms, or social enterprise capital or markets increasingly available. One of the conference panels focused on this subject with presentations by Ellen Spear of Heritage Museum and Gardens, and Brenda Palms-Barber of Sweet Beginnings, LLC.

Another idea suggests that the fund’s best use is as the anchor of a larger fund that would be available to complement the Alliance’s proposed “Collaboratory” work with its partners, Hunt Alternatives Fund, Ashoka, Synergos Institute, BenGurion University, Reut Institute, and the Council on Foreign Relations. Assuming that initial exploration of our partners’ activity reveals gaps in current collective efforts that need to be addressed to achieve lasting impact on a set of agreed upon core issues, the fund could be used to source new solutions to fill gaps and amplify that impact.

We’re aware, as one of our team said, that donors generally feel that their contributions further innovation – the media is full of stories about the next best donor and approach. But true innovation is rare. The Alliance is very much about leverage – about using resources for maximum impact and without waste. It would be a shame to make less than the best use of this opportunity. Over the next few months, our team will be reaching out to many of the conference attendees to ask their advice about what structure and criteria for the fund would best further innovation in philanthropy.

We’re also interested in comments from the field. To be very clear, this is NOT a request for proposals – that may come depending upon the nature of the fund as finally conceived. And as with any source request to the crowd, there’s no promise to adopt. But we’re interested in hearing what people have to say.

So friends, what do you think? Consistent with the Alliance’s core criteria and areas of interest, what do you think would be the best use of this new, yet modestly sized Innovation Fund? Please comment below, post on our FaceBook page, or send us a Tweet!



  1. Thanks for continuing this conversation in this public forum!

    I have a lot of ideas; too many for a blog comment. But, there are a couple parameters that I would share and welcome feedback on:

    – Flexibile: I don’t think that a fund to support “innovation” can be anything but flexible on the kinds of projects, teams, and goals it supporters.

    – Responsive: Some of the most prominent and adopted technologies have come out of times of crisis when the turn around time was crucial, take Ushahidi for example. I think it’s imperative that the funding process be nimble enough to respond quickly when there’s an opportunity.

    – Transparent: Whether you decide to fund “mulligans” or not, the more that the Alliance can support projects and organizations receiving funds in being transparent about their impact, success, and lessons learned, the better every future grantee could be and the wider sector.

    I’m really excited to see this take shape!

  2. I also want to thank AFGG for inviting us to participate in the conversation as it relates to the Innovation Fund.

    Representing Ben-Gurion University, we have learned that site visits with the researchers and program officers on the ground are instrumental in fully understanding the project being funded or being considered for funding. Meet the researchers and see the needs so you can see, feel and touch what your funding will provide.

    Thanks again,
    Keren Waranch

    Director, Washington/Baltimore Region
    American Associates, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev

Proud to announce our newest partner


Leonard Kaplan’s creation of the Alliance for Global Good was the expression of his passionate philanthropy.  It’s also the logical outgrowth of all that came before it.  Together with his wife and philanthropic partner Tobee, and through a family foundation later renamed TOLEO, they gave unselfishly of resources and time to improve their community and the world for more than twenty-five years.

Tobee & Leonard Kaplan

Tobee & Leonard Kaplan

The Alliance’s focus on five areas of giving—health, education, environment, poverty, and world relations—is mirrored in Leonard’s past.  He has made major gifts to Duke University Medical Center and the Duke Comprehensive Cancer and Heart Centers, to the Lineberger Cancer Center at UNC Chapel Hill, to the Cardiac Rehabilitation program at Moses Cone Hospital, and had a leadership position at the Greensboro Cardiac Rehabilitation Program.  In 2004, Leonard and Tobee built the new building for the Women’s Resource Center in Greensboro. He created scholarships for residents of Guilford County to attend North Carolina colleges and universities, and was a founding donor of Elon University Law School.  Critically, in partnership with the Kellogg Foundation, Leonard helped create the Center for Organizational Leadership, a philanthropic studies program (which was one of first nationally to educate non-profit executives).

“Everyone wants to leave something to their grandchildren.”

“The money won’t matter if the world they live in is so far gone,” Kaplan says. “The opportunity now is to take some of what might become their inheritance, and use it soon to make the world a better place.”

Addressing poverty, Leonard made possible the building of two houses for Habitat for Humanity, and by providing food for hungry people both close to home in Greensboro, and as far abroad as the former Soviet Union.   The Kaplans were staunch supporters of Trickle Up, which provides grant financing to women in the developing world who want to start their own microenterprise.

Leonard gave not only of his wealth, but also of his time and expertise, taking on leadership positions in many organizations and campaigns such as the Greater Greensboro United Way DeToqueville Society, and as a Core Member of ACTION Greensboro, a nonprofit dedicated to improving public education, revitalization of downtown Greensboro, and leveraging economic development.

Active in their community of faith, the Kaplans built a new building for the Greensboro Jewish Federation, and for the Hillel youth organization at U.N.C., Chapel Hill.  He served on the board of the Jewish Foundation of Greensboro, and on that of the national Hillel organization, and was a founder of Camp Ramah Darom.

Viewing giving as a responsibility of affluence, Leonard led by example, and encouraged others to do the same.  He created Wealth & Giving, an educational program designed to inspire the largest wealth holders in this country to be more generous.  The Alliance continues that work by promoting and providing donors with opportunities for effective and efficient giving.

Read more about the Five Guiding Principles.