A persistent tension in philanthropic work is balancing a long-term commitment toward key programmatic goals with the need to remain sufficiently agile and adaptable in a rapidly changing environment. In our experience at Irvine, striking the right balance between these two potentially conflicting approaches can ensure we are having the greatest impact with the resources we are privileged to steward.
Eight years ago, when Irvine’s Board of Directors adopted our current grantmaking programs, we agreed that the Foundation needed to be committed to these core programs for the long term, which we defined then as at least a decade. In view of the ambitious nature of the goals in our Arts, California Democracyand Youth programs, we knew that a long-term orientation was essential. At the same time, we believed then — and still do today — that, at some point, reflecting on our progress, taking stock of the changing California landscape and considering the implications would be prudent.
As we plan for 2013 and beyond, Irvine’s board and staff are engaged in this important process. We have resisted characterizing our work as a “strategic planning” process because we are not intending a wholesale shift in priorities and focus, nor do we plan to divert significant attention from our current activities. Indeed, as a result of an institutional commitment to ongoing learning and refinement, each of our programs has undergone thoughtful, strategic reviews in recent years, and we have adapted our strategies accordingly. At the same time, approaching a decade of work in these three areas affords us an opportunity to ensure that Irvine remains responsive in the face of rapidly changing opportunities and challenges in California, all with an eye toward maximizing impact.
Our planning process, continuing over the next six to nine months, involves three principal areas of focus as we consider how best to achieve our mission of expanding opportunity for the people of California to participate in a vibrant, successful and inclusive society:
- First, we want to reflect upon our work over the past eight years across the Foundation in order to identify common themes regarding what we have learned. This will help to clarify those values and competencies we bring to our work, as well as to reflect explicitly on what we need to improve upon (or even what new competencies we may need to build) as we look to the future.
- Second, we want to understand more thoroughly, unconstrained by our current program areas, the challenges and opportunities facing California. It was this same approach in 2002-2003 that led us to focus on inland California based on major demographic shifts anticipated in those regions combined with a lack of philanthropic investment. Today, our state faces massive challenges, some of which would not have been anticipated eight years ago. Through our planning process, we can better understand the critical trends now underway that will shape the California of 2025 so that we can determine how Irvine can best play a constructive role to influence a positive future for the state.
- And third, we want to explore what will constitute the most effective foundations of the future. The field of philanthropy has both exploded in size and expanded in scope over the past decade; this offers a rich opportunity to learn from those who have been thinking creatively and expansively about the role of philanthropy as well as those who have been experimenting with new strategies and approaches for impact. Without seeking to emulate the latest philanthropic trend, we can benefit from the rich body of research and thinking that has emerged in recent years in order to discern how this applies to our work at Irvine.
Through this three-pronged exploration, and in close collaboration with engaged board members who bring a range of perspectives and experiences to our discussions, we expect to identify a small number of opportunities, complementing our current strategies, where we believe Irvine can make a positive difference for the future of California. Doing so may lead us to test and prototype some new ideas or it may suggest ways to extend or build upon our current areas of programmatic emphasis. We will remain flexible about the potential outcomes. But wherever it leads, it will be with the goal of ensuring that Irvine’s finite resources are best directed toward our mission of service to the people of California.
In reporting on this activity today, I want to be certain that our partners and stakeholders understand that we are not previewing a major shift in the focus of the Irvine Foundation. Rather, consistent with our commitment to transparency and seeking to benefit from excellent ideas that reside outside of our walls, I share these developments with you to invite you to help us think creatively and expansively about all three of these areas. I intend to use this space in the future to report on what we are learning from this process and what decisions we make as a result. But, as importantly, we genuinely welcome and value your comments, thoughts and ideas, and I invite you to use the comments section following this post to share those observations with us and our readers.
My colleagues and I look forward to hearing from you.