It’s Not Foundation Money but Culture and Talent That Can Change the World

By Rachel Mosher-Williams, Sara Brenner, and Amy Celep of Community Wealth Partners

As the world’s challenges grow ever deeper — on issues like climate change, inequality, and terrorism — philanthropy faces a tremendous responsibility, and a new opportunity, to advance widespread social change that can help meet those challenges. Grant makers will potentially have at their disposal a lot more of the money needed to achieve that as Americans — especially those from the Silent Generation and the baby boomers — look to transfer their wealth to their children or to philanthropy. But a strong infusion of dollars may not be enough to make a difference unless foundations change their cultures.

At first blush, organizational culture may not sound like a big barrier to large-scale breakthroughs. Solving major social problems would seem to depend primarily on money, influence, and widespread shifts in norms or attitudes.

But when our organization, Community Wealth Partners, conducted extensive research to better understand why some social-change efforts achieve transformational results while others do not, we learned how much culture mattered. When you look at successful efforts to curb smoking or end malaria, for instance, what really made a difference was that organizations seeking change had retooled their organizations’ cultures so that nothing got in the way of promoting change.