25 Philanthropic Bullet Points

By: Bill Somerville

There are certain givens when working in professional philanthropy (foundations). The list of 25 bullet points below is my effort to shed light on them, based on several decades working with and for grantmakers.


Bill on a recent site visit to Second Harvest Food Bank to learn about the “Fresh Produce Program” supporting San Mateo County

  • Trust people – trust yourself.
  • Be willing to venture, to take risks, but don’t gamble.
  • If something fails, it is a learning experience.
  • Give funds when they are needed, move quickly.
  • Consider a letter of transmittal written by you vs. an application by an applicant.
  • Do away with deadlines.
  • Get out of the office, do on-site visits.
  • Hunt for and find outstanding people and fund them.
  • Invest in worthy people and only fund if a talented person/leader is involved.
  • Don’t fund unless there is a talented person/leader involved.
  • Don’t do rescue funding – there is no momentum to it.
  • Don’t do contribution funding, such as “We need a million, would you give us $5,000?”
  • Create priorities – vital, important, desirable.
  • Take the initiative, don’t wait; make things happen.
  • Convene people around an issue.
  • Give discretionary money for use as they see fit.
  • Don’t do quid pro quo funding, i.e. “I’ll buy a dinner table if you’ll fund at my event.”
  • Be careful of loans. They are deferred grants in disguise.
  • Be wary of challenge/matching grants. Donors don’t give the full amount needed.
  • Consider college youth interns at your foundation, full time in summer.
  • Consider public sector funding – teachers, social workers, librarians, juvenile judges
  • Exercise modesty in your work.
  • Treat applicants as colleagues.
  • Be careful of scholarships. They are the most time consuming of grants.
  • Consider designated funds over fiscal sponsorships.
  • Build trust by being transparent about what you do and how you do it.

About venturesfoundation

Founder and CEO of Philanthropic Ventures Foundation
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