New Report Provides Framework for Going From Big Philanthropic Ideas to Real-World Impact

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​​​​​Arabella Advisors released a new report today authored by one of its senior managing directors, Gwen Walden, who has been a leading thinker and practitioner in the philanthropy field for more than 25 years. Titled “Moving Beyond Theories of Change: A Framework for Strategic Implementation,” the report reflects on the current state of philanthropic practice and points to a gap that frequently exists between lofty philanthropic ideas on the one hand and their implementation outside the board room on the other. It then proposes a framework for crossing over this gap, one that involves paying greater attention to the “implementation phase” in philanthropy and focusing closely on the “People, Partners, and Platforms” that actually power social-impact efforts.

Throughout the paper, Walden draws on her own expertise as well as on the collective experience of an Arabella Advisors team that has now helped to implement more than 1,000 philanthropic efforts across the nation and around the world. All that experience on philanthropy’s front lines and back offices has led to a crucial insight:

Long-term, systemic change requires a deep un­derstanding of the complex logistics of impact— of when and how to move the human, financial, and even intellectual resources needed to ac­complish the goal. It requires not only a strat­egy but a well-constructed plan for implement­ing that strategy, one that anticipates the likely necessity of adapting the implementation plan in response to realities on the ground.

As Walden succinctly puts it, “change takes more than a theory.” It takes an ongoing, strategic implementation effort. With that in mind, she provides insights into how today’s most innovative and effective philanthropists are dealing with the “complex logistics of impact,” moving beyond theories of change to implement effectively in full recognition of the importance of what the Arabella team has come to regard as “the three Ps”: People, Partners, and Platforms.

Building on the Arabella team’s ongoing work, Walden examines diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts as central both to advancing justice and to building stronger relationships through listening and empathy—and thereby connecting with the “People” who power change. She then draws on Arabella’s experience helping to facilitate dozens of donor collaboratives, exploring the increasing importance of deep partnership to achieving meaningful impact. Based on the firm’s innovative work with fiscal intermediaries and impact investors, she also charts the emergence of a new type of “platform agnostic” philanthropy, driven by donors who seek to advance change through a variety of legal entities or “platforms,” including limited liability corporations (LLCs), donor advised funds (DAFs), social welfare organizations (501c4s), and more, in addition to traditional grant-making foundations.

The point, in the end, is that today’s foundations and donors have more potential routes to impact than philanthropy once imagined. Partly as an effect of that increased optionality, they are more likely to reach their impact goals when they plan thoroughly for implementation—thinking carefully about the relationships between and among the people, partners, and platforms that move social-impact efforts forward—and then invest time and resources accordingly. As developed and deployed by the Arabella team, the 3Ps framework provides a means to better understand, support, and work through those relationships, and so move beyond a theory of change and actually make the journey from idea to impact.

To download the report, visit this page:


Arabella Advisors is a social enterprise on a mission to help our clients achieve their philanthropic goals. Comprised of over 200 creative problem solvers who understand the challenges of the social sector and the complex networks of people and institutions that can help our clients address them, the Arabella team guides clients to the most efficient path from their inspiring ideas to life-changing impact.

Media Contact:
​Steve Sampson

Source: Arabella Advisors


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