Program Design

Design is central to purpose.  Consider a feather.  Nothing about it is simple or random.  Every part of it is there to turn gravity, wind, resistance, structure and energy into flight.

Once you know where you’re going, it is important to design and align your actions accordingly, and it is essential to take into consideration as many relevant factors as possible.  There are always a number of ways to accomplish something — this is actually the problem and challenge.

There are many ways to get from San Francisco to Manhattan.  The key is determining the most direct, cost-effective, and efficient way to go.  The proverbial crow flies in a straight line.  Maybe we need to fly rather than take a train.  Philanthropy is about using resources as efficiently and effectively as possible. It’s the way nature works, but nature has had millions of years to hone its process.  It’s not clear our current social problems can afford to wait.

While there’s no such thing as bad or incorrect philanthropy, the point is to acknowledge that social investing, which is what grants are, can have varying degrees of return or benefit to the community.  Thinking about grantmaking in this way is important.

EXAMPLE: If you want to feed the hungry, you can give $5,000 to an organization that purchases food for the homeless.  These funds will feed a certain number of people next winter.  If you give the same $5,000 to an organization that brings interested and able-bodied individuals to a community farm where they will live and work, the funds might be considered of greater value as they now both house and feed individuals.   Obviously, other relevant factors are the definition and likelihood of success, the difference in cost to run such a farm, etc.  The first example seeks to feed a certain number of people.  The second example seeks to not only feed but house individuals who are homeless.  Neither is wrong or right.

Philanthropy is always about options and making choices. Sometimes it’s better just to feed the hungry.  Other times, it’s important to resolve two problems at the same time.