Funding vs Mission: Lessons to Learn from Wikipedia Dialogue?

On Friday I read an AP article titled “Wikipedia Questions Paths to More Money.” I was struck by the Wikipedia community’s dialogue about the implications of how Wikipedia chooses to finance its work – mainly because I also have been struck by the lack of a similarly pervasive dialogue in the philanthropic community about how foundations generate the money they grant to nonprofits.

The idea of tying money to mission – of taking a holistic view of an organization so that its funding sources do not run counter to its mission or culture – seems like a no-brainer to me. But the prevailing approach in the foundation world is to look the other way when it comes to investments. Fiduciary responsibility is largely viewed as ensuring the highest possible returns for the sake of earning the 5% that a foundation is required to pay out in grants each year. The likelihood that the other 95% of foundation resources are not being used to advance their missions (which, by the way, totals roughly $600 billion in the U.S.) – or in fact may be working against what their actual grants are trying to achieve – is not often considered in the quest for returns and perpetuity.

I still have hope that mission-related investing might one day become a “best practice.” The LA Times investigative piece in January 2007 about the Gates Foundation’s investments sparked some discussion. The follow-up story in December 2007 shed light on some promising practices among other foundations. And Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors released a monograph this month called Philanthropy’s New Passing Gear: Mission Related Investing, a “practical guide that translates the concepts, ideas and philosophy of Mission-Related Investing into useable policies and practices for foundation trustees” (read press release).

So far, though, a large-scale shift toward mission-related investing doesn’t seem to be happening in the foundation world. Yet. What is it about the Wikipedia culture that makes the funding-versus-mission conversation possible, natural and expected, even? If foundations were more directly in communication with their core stakeholders (or each other), could mission-related investing gain momentum faster?

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1 Response to “Funding vs Mission: Lessons to Learn from Wikipedia Dialogue?”


  1. 1 Allen Taylor March 23, 2008 at 7:00 pm

    Nice writing. You are on my RSS reader now so I can read more from you down the road.

    Allen Taylor


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