Maximizing the Value of Philanthropic Efforts through Planned Partnerships between the U.S. Government and Private Foundations. Examples of Innovations in Philanthropy

To optimize resource use, it is important for both government and foundations to use the tools that best support effectiveness. Given the dynamic and evolving nature of philanthropic practice, a potential benefit of interactions and partnerships between the federal government and foundations is the opportunity they create for sharing emerging innovations. Funders from one sector can emulate practices they observe among their counterparts in the other or simply benefit from practices deployed by their counterparts during their interactions.


Key Findings from This Chapter

The study identified three main areas of innovation in public and private sector philanthropy showing potential for adaptation or adoption across organizations or sectors:

  • Metrics and Measurement: Innovative use of metrics and measurement can support decision making and findings from such efforts can inform future philanthropy. Examples from the Hewlett Foundation (the expected return metric), the Millennium Challenge Corporation (17 independently developed indicators of governance, social investment, and economic freedom), and the Gates Foundation (Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation) illustrate new approaches. The usefulness of such methods in different settings appears to depend on contextual factors, such as organizational constraints and the nature of the problem being addressed.
  • Funding Mechanisms: Two cases highlighted innovations in funding approaches. The Rockefeller Foundations Accelerating Innovation for Development program employs forms of prize philanthropy that seek to incentivize the development of solutions to social problems. The federal government could adopt such approaches, although they appear most applicable to narrowly defined problems that are amenable to technological solutions. The Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI) developed the International Finance Facility for Immunization in order to leverage greater funds and to ensure reliable access to them for recipient countries. The approach appears be most advantageous in health or other sectors where accelerating near-term investments can potentially eradicate a disease.
  • Administration and Governance: Three examples from the case studies illustrate innovative approaches to the administration and governance of USG-foundation interactions and collaborative activities. The Presidents Malaria Initiative and the Presidents Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief are led and supported by a single, centralized Coordinators office within the federal government. GAVI was established with both public and private funding and has created its own Secretariat, whose growth underscores the substantial effort and resources needed for administering ongoing collaboration.


Through the case studies, we identified three main areas in which innovations in philanthropy are arising: metrics and measurement; funding mechanisms; and administration and governance. Descriptions of examples of these innovations suggest ways in which they might be applied in other settings.

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