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Wind in the Sails: Grantmaking for General Operating Support at The Atlantic Philanthropies (1982-2016)

December 1, 2019

This case study delves into why and how Atlantic made nearly half of its grants with considerable general operating support contributions. It examines the foundation's decisions at key junctures and responses to challenges. The report also offers mini case studies and lessons that may be useful to funders carrying out this type of grantmaking.

2020 Hindsights: Top 10 Lessons

May 1, 2018

The list that follows is drawn from discussions conducted with Atlantic's former and current staff and board from around the world. Each was asked to give an accounting of Atlantic efforts they believe fell short, why things went wrong, what lessons were learned, and what they'd do differently. For this effort we did not interview any grantees. Keeping our conversations focused internally allowed current and former colleagues to weigh in individually and collectively about how they thought we operated and how they felt in hindsight about decisions they and others made.

Atlantic Insights: Giving While Living

September 1, 2017

Written by journalist and philanthropy expert Heidi Waleson, the book explores Founder Charles "Chuck" Feeney's long-standing belief in "Giving While Living," the idea that people with wealth should use it during their lifetimes to help others. It also features other donors who have decided to devote the majority of their fortunes to philanthropy.For additional information: 

The Atlantic Philanthropies' School Discipline Reform Portfolio

March 17, 2017

This report summarizes findings from a two-year evaluation of The Atlantic Philanthropies' school discipline reform portfolio. The portfolio, which ran from late 2009 to 2016 and invested over $47 million dollars in 57 grants to 38 different grantees, was created to improve educational outcomes for students by reducing the number of zero tolerance suspensions, expulsions, and arrests in schools, particularly for children of color, and enhancing the use of positive disciplinary practices that keep children in school and engaged in learning. Atlantic set a nationwide goal to reduce school suspensions by one half and reduce discipline disparities by one quarter.

What Ambitious Donors Can Learn From The Atlantic Philanthropies' Experience Making Big Bets

October 18, 2016

By the time The Atlantic Philanthropies closes its doors in 2020, it will have distributed more than $8 billion—its entire endowment—to advance opportunity and lasting change for disadvantaged and vulnerable people worldwide. Founded in 1982, it was Founder Chuck Feeney's intention to champion "giving while living" and when the foundation closes, Atlantic will make history by becoming the largest foundation to complete its giving in the donor's lifetime.In its grant making, over 60 percent of Atlantic's overall giving ranks as big bets, investments of $10 million or more. Thirty percent of those bets went to social change causes, including gifts to human services, the environment, and international development. Such big bets have the potential to have big impacts on advancing social change goals. Yet as Bridgespan reported in the December 2015 Stanford Social Innovation Review article, "Making Big Bets for Social Change," investments of this size for social change are rare. Just 20 percent of philanthropic big bets went to social change causes between 2000 and 2012.Why? A number of barriers exist: it's hard to find and structure big bets, "shovel-ready" opportunities are few and far between, personal relationships between donors and nonprofit leaders can take years to nurture, and the long time horizons required for change and often-murky results make it difficult to measure success. In short, big bets on social change can feel risky.The story of Atlantic, however, illustrates what can happen when donors take that risk. This report, What Ambitious Donors Can Learn From The Atlantic Philanthropies' Experience Making Big Bets, looks at a number of big bets Atlantic made and how those achieved significant results. It identified four themes that ran through Atlantic's work and that were particularly evident in its most influential big bets:Pick distinctive investment spots and funding gaps in the landscape.Support organizations and strong leaders, often with unrestricted or capacity-building funding.Pursue advocacy in a complex social, policy and legal environment, and use both traditional grant funding and 501(c)(4) funding as tools.Give with the foundation's end in sight and sustainability in mind.The report also highlights the challenges and failures Atlantic faced along the way. Despite the inherent risk in big bets, Atlantic held the belief that a big bets strategy would be the best way to achieve lasting impact. It is a promising path that is yielding strong results, and Atlantic's experience offers potential strategies for other donors seeking similar goals.

The Campaign for Better Care: Summary Evaluation Findings

September 7, 2016

This evaluation of the Campaign for Better Care -- an Atlantic-funded effort to include the voices and perspectives of vulnerable populations in health care so that it reflected their needs -- found that although the foundation provided needed organizational support, resources are still limited in carrying out this enormous task. Researchers suggest that a compelling, evidence-based case is needed to convince decision-makers that consumer involvement adds value in developing policy. In addition, tools to increase consumer involvement at the local level need to be tailored to site-specific needs and context.The evaluation, which Atlantic commissioned from the Philip R. Lee Institute for Health Policy Studies at the University of California- San Francisco, examined the approaches of key grantees -- Community Catalyst, National Partnership for Women and Families and PICO -- and measured their short and intermediate term outcomes and identified lessons learned. Though their specific approaches varied, these three national organizations served as important catalysts within the communities in which they worked, providing advocacy, policy and organizing experience and connecting with local organizations as partners. Despite the challenging nature of this work, incremental steps were made towards greater consumer input in community health care reform efforts. 

Philanthropy Working With Government : A Case Study of The Atlantic Philanthropies' Partnership with the Irish Government

September 1, 2016

This study examines the extent to which The Atlantic Philanthropies' approach of working with government to influence policy and practice, with a particular focus on public service reform, can be considered innovative and successful. The study focuses on the period from 2003 to 2014.

Aging and Economic Security Evaluation: Crosscutting Lessons Learned

June 27, 2016

This evaluation of Atlantic's grantmaking to support the economic security of low-income elders identifies elements most likely to help advance a policy agenda when working in a politically charged environment: Use a state-by-state approach and target multiple levels of government to show incremental progress for national resultsInvest in research to create the foundation for effective advocacy and communications strategiesUse strategic communications to change the narrativeEnsure the voices of the grassroots are heard in policy debatesSupport for capacity building should focus on filling gaps needed to achieve a goal rather than trying to bolster weak organizationsWork still needs to be done after winning a change in policy to help ensure implementation of a "new normal"The evaluation examined five projects that comprised a multi-pronged effort to improve the financial resources of retired adults. Goals included boosting enrollment in an array of social safety net programs and protecting and strengthening retirement policies. To achieve their goals, grantees used a mix of research and data, advocacy, communications, grassroots training and mobilization.Over the course of their work, grantees connected elders to available benefits, promoted state-level reforms to retirement programs, changed the narrative on social security, and exposed the gap between the cost of living and actual elder incomes.

Creating Momentum: The Atlantic Philanthropies' Investments to Repeal the Death Penalty in the United States

May 1, 2016

The Atlantic Philanthropies invested about $60 million between 2004 and 2016 to support efforts to repeal the death penalty in the United States. To assess the effectiveness of this work and to generate lessons for human rights activists and other funders involved in the repeal movement, the foundation commissioned this evaluation. The findings contained in this report are the result of extensive documentation review as well as interviews with foundation and grantee board and staff.

Protecting Human Rights in Ireland

January 1, 2016

From 2004 to 2014, Atlantic focused resources on protecting and expanding the rights of immigrants, people with disabilities and LGBT people in the Republic of Ireland. The work of these human rights grantees enabled several important and lasting achievements, including:New rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender peopleImproved police accountabilityNew rights for childrenBetter conditions for prisonersImproved treatment of rape victims in the criminal justice system

Economic Evaluation of Palliative Care in Ireland

December 7, 2015

This report examines the cost of providing palliative care in Ireland for individuals facing life-threatening illnesses, outcomes for patients and families resulting from that care, and the patterns and variations among the measures studied. Focusing their examination on three regional areas, researchers found:Wide variations in the availability of palliative care services across the regions.Significant differences in how those services are resourced and models of care.Despite the variation in availability and models of care, costs remain broadly the same across regions.Among the conclusions from examination of key outcomes for the patients:High patient satisfaction with palliative care services across all regions.Where available, hospice care is easier to access and rated more highly on every quality measure than in-hospital care.The ability to access in-hospice services in the last three months of life would be preferable for patients and may provide savings within hospitals.

Tilling the Field: Lessons about Philanthropy's Role in School Discipline Reform

July 15, 2015

Anyone concerned about how the futures of millions of children are jeopardized because of discipline practices that unfairly exclude students from U.S. public schools will be heartened by this story about how transformative change can happen.It's a story of how students and parents, civil rights advocates, academics, policymakers and government came together -- with help from philanthropy -- to advance reform.The linchpin was a four-year, $47 million school discipline reform initiative that Atlantic launched in 2010 to promote policies and practices that would keep vulnerable children in school and on track to graduate and go on to college, rather than on the path to prison.We hope this report will be useful to all who might benefit from our experience:For funders -- to inform strategic choices going forward, to anticipate future challenges, and to consider potentially powerful responses.For grantee and government partners -- to celebrate successes as well as to consider options for refining strategies and tactics going forward.For students of movements that protect the vulnerable -- to understand the complex arc of advocacy as shaped by intentional strategies and tactics as well as history and on-the-ground realities.KEY INSIGHTS1. When philanthropy and the public sector work together, a foundation's role should be more than just paying for a government-initiated project. Philanthropic leaders can add value by helping to define a shared goal and develop a structure for ongoing dialogue and decision making. 2. Philanthropy can help create opportunities for policy change through a strategic combination of investments designed to (re)frame the problem, identify and lift up viable policy alternatives, and apply pressure for change. 3. Grassroots organizing by parents and young people can play a major role in advancing changes to local and national educational policy -- and that impact is amplified when grassroots movements receive philanthropic support.