Seven Principles to Remake Philanthropy Overnight

For foundations to live up to the spirit of repairing the world, we must speak about failure.”

“We have to get somewhere and fix something to be successful with our work… [to accomplish that] we need to talk about failure.”

“Failure is the most universal, and most common, human experience.”

“Philanthropy can take risks others can’t.”

“Apparently everything we do works [as] we don’t talk about failure.”

Grant Oliphant, President and CEO of the Pittsburgh Foundation, addressing the JFN Conference

Last week’s Jewish Funders Network Conference kicked off with an opening plenary titled, “Embracing Risk and Failing Well: Learning for Philanthropic Success.” In TED-style talks, attendees heard from three thinkers with different points view about how funders can open their tolerance for risk and embrace their mistakes, in order to gain the knowledge necessary to create paths to success.

Grant Oliphant got right to the meat discussing how funders must adopt a philosophy of failure and open themselves up to greater risk in order to achieve greater impact. Here, in summary, are his Seven Principles to Remake Philanthropy Overnight:

1. Simply accept that failure matters.

2. Failure matters; even when we “don’t cause it.”

  • We need to take ownership of the challenges we’re trying to solve.

3. Fear of failure is just another way to fail.

  • When we continue to fund programs we don’t think work, we’re complacent in failure.

4. Failure is a tool for improvement.

5. Accepting failure liberates us from the Tyranny of the Safe.

6. Risking failure is great; not risking failure is greater.

7. It’s Not About Us!

  • Funders need to “accept you are not an expert in everything”.