Over the past five years, there has been a dramatic increase in the use of alternative philanthropic vehicles. The growth of models such as Donor-Advised Funds and the introduction of Foundations operating as LLCs are significant and lagging indicators of a movement underway in the field. Donors are increasingly seeking innovative – and often nimble – pathways to drive social impact. In my work at Factor Philanthropy, start-up companies, established companies, family and private operating foundations were constantly seeking new ways to create purpose, new ways to drive social change, and new ways to achieve audacious impact.
In this evolving world of philanthropy, a noteworthy model has emerged: Grace Farms Foundation. This private operating foundation serves to advance good in the world through two distinct, but interconnected pathways: its strategic areas of focus and through the platform of space itself. The model is unique, powerful, and unprecedented. It is an honor to both be part of what has been built – and part of the story of this significant philanthropic model as it continues to evolve.
A New Model of Philanthropic Innovation
What sets Grace Farms Foundation apart – what makes it a model of philanthropic innovation – is the intentional, explicit, and invitational use of space. The Foundation leverages its space to serve as both the grounding force of its work – its roots – and its lever for expansion and scalable impact. In other words, the space both anchors and amplifies the mission of the Foundation.
Like most foundations, Grace Farms Foundation has set forth a focus on critical issues – five to be exact – that it sees as the pressing issues of our time to champion. Through these five initiatives, the public, not-for-profit organizations, and government agencies are invited to experience nature, encounter the arts, pursue justice, foster community, and explore faith.
And like most foundations, to advance its work, each of our five initiatives draws upon best-in-class global experts and thought leaders. Each initiative implements its work with an eye toward both immediate change – and sustainable impact. And each of our initiatives is working to achieve a set of outcomes.
The Foundation carries out its work through the publicly available facilities and integrated programs of the space – called Grace Farms, an 80-acre property owned and operated by the Foundation. Grace Farms was established as an essential platform for the Foundation, serving as a welcoming place where individuals and organizations can come together to collaborate for the common good. Here, each initiative both activates and engages the space itself as a foundational element of its strategy.
At its most imaginative, our restorative and hopeful space serves as a source of restoration and possibility. At the grassroots level, not-for-profits at the front lines of service are offered access to space at Grace Farms. On a practical level, grantees are able to utilize the space for professional programs, strategic meetings, trainings, boards retreats, roundtables, and collaborative sessions.
It is also a place that gathers partners from around the globe to not just dream together – but to bring the boldest ideas of our generation to bear on the greatest challenges of our time. It is a place that when the question is asked, “Is this possible?” The only answer is, “Let’s try. And let’s start here. In this space.”
In other words – Grace Farms Foundation has reimagined space as a vehicle for purpose-driven social impact and change. In the way that traditional monetary philanthropic investments catalyze change, encourage collaboration, connect audiences and organizations, and result in sustainable impact – so too does the platform of the space of Grace Farms.
In his recently published book, Just Giving: Why Philanthropy Is Failing Democracy and How It Can Do Better, Rob Reich, Co-Director of the Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society at Stanford University, discusses traditional philanthropic work as taking place behind closed doors, shrouded in secrecy, done by a select few of elite for communities far removed from them. Us; them. Here; there. The privileged; the underserved. He editorializes that philanthropy is often an exercise of power, the conversion of private assets into public influence, without the voices, influence, or input from the larger community.
Most Effective When Partners Gather From Different Perspectives
Through its dual-pronged strategy of both initiative and space – Grace Farms Foundation has turned this model on its head. Old philanthropy does not play out here. Rather, the Foundation is at its most effective, its most fully actualized, and its most effectively activated, with the participation and contribution of all. It is at its most effective when partners gather from different perspectives, different geographies, and different outlooks to come together in an inspiring, restorative, and peaceful space, commanding both grace and excellence – to envision a better world ahead.
It is as if the space itself, both structurally and aesthetically, is an object lesson, telling the story of the very values on which the Foundation is predicated. The building is designed to be porous and transparent, where natural light flows through more than 200 floor-to-ceiling glass panels. Admission requires no fee. It is open to the public. There is, in fact, no front door. We are invited to enter at various places, in various ways, led by our own sense of wonder and discovery. It is one building, comprised of five distinct volumes, mirroring this, a Foundation of coherence, built on the pillars of five distinct initiatives. It is a place that invites more questions than answers. It is a place that invites us to bring our whole selves: lead by our interests and curiosities to the truths that most deeply resonate.
The space says to anyone who enters: You are welcome here. Your voice matters. You are seen.
The work and the space, they are intertwined. They both operate as living and breathing entities. They are shaped by how they are activated – and by whom. They are both informed by the needs of the community – and respond to the needs of the community. They are shaped by all of us, reflect all of us, and seek to advance social good for all of us.
We invite you into the story.
Community Initiative Director