The Atlantic Philanthropies 2020 Hindsights: Top 10 Lessons

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Atlantic Philanthropies 2020 Hindsights: Top 10 Lessons

Many people have asked us what we consider the most important lessons we learned, including mistakes the foundation made. To create our “Top 10” list of hindsights and lessons, we looked back over 35 years of grantmaking, asking ourselves:

  • What worked?
  • What didn’t?
  • If we were to do this work again, what might we do differently, the same, or not at all?

From President and CEO, Christopher Oechsli:

As I began thinking about how to introduce this volume, one of a series of reports we’ve been producing as we prepare to close down by 2020, I remembered a quote I’d read years ago: “You must learn from the mistakes of others. You can’t possibly live long enough to make them all yourself.”

It’s in that spirit — and out of a desire to leave behind a balanced picture of our grantmaking over 35 years — we offer this collection of the Top 10 Lessons that The Atlantic Philanthropies learned in hindsight.

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.

We have limited our list to 10 lessons: the ones that were cited most often and that answer questions other philanthropists and funders — especially those considering limited life philanthropy — have frequently asked us over the years.

The lessons in this document are a summary of individual reflections based on personal observations and experiences that occurred at various stages of the foundation’s lifespan and in different places. Not everyone’s experiences led to the same conclusions. Not everyone agrees with every lesson. Even I found myself at odds with some of the conclusions reached. Still, I believe these diverse perspectives are essential and need to be shared...

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