25 Creative Philanthropy Practices

Bill Somerville is founder and president of Philanthropic Ventures Foundation. We are pleased to have Bill share his thoughts regularly with the Asian Philanthropy Forum community. There are certain key practices in outstanding professional philanthropy (foundations) and Bill provides us with a list of 25 creative philanthropy practices in an effort to shed light on them.

25 Creative Philanthropy Practices (in no particular order):

1. Trust people – trust yourself

2. Be willing to venture, to take risks, but don’t gamble

3. If something fails, it is a learning experience

4. Give funds when they are needed, move quickly

5. Consider a letter of transmittal written by you vs. an application an applicant

6. Do away with deadlines

7. Get out of the office, do on-site visits

8. Hunt for and find outstanding people and fund them

9. Don’t give money away, invest in worthy people. There should always be a talented leader involved

10. Don’t do rescue funding – there is no momentum to it

11. Don’t do contribution funding: “We need a million, would you give us $5,000?”

12. Don’t do quid pro quo funding. “I’ll buy a dinner table if you’ll fund at my event.”

13. Instead of general support grants, give discretionary money for use as they see fit

14. Be careful of loan; they are deferred grants in disguise

15. Challenge/matching grants; donor didin’t give full amount needed and more

16. Be careful of scholarships; they are the most time consuming of grants

17. Consider designated funds over fiscal sponsorships

18. Consider college youth interns at your foundation, full-time in summer

19. Consider public sector funding – teachers, social workers, librarians, juvenile judges

20. Create priorities – vital, important, desirable

21. Take the initiative, don’t wait; cause things to happen

22. Convene people around an issue

23. Exercise modesty in your work

24. Treat applicants as colleagues

25. Build trust by being transparent about what you do and how you do it.


BillSomervilleBill Somerville is founder and president of Philanthropic Ventures Foundation. PVF was founded in 1991 to try new approaches to creative grantmaking and to maximize the impact of the philanthropic dollar. Under Bill’s leadership, PVF has invested over $87 million in outstanding projects and grassroots organizations in the San Francisco Bay Area and worldwide. Bill is the author (with Fred Setterberg) of Grassroots Philanthropy: Field Notes of a Maverick Grantmaker, a guide to decisive, hands-on grantmaking. The book was translated into Chinese and is available in China.