As 2016 kicked off, Michael Quinn Patton released an article in The Foundation Review titled: A Foundation’s Theory of Philanthropy: What it is, What it Provides, How to do it. In collaboration with Nathaniel Foote from TruePoint and James Radner of the University of Toronto, the article argues that philanthropic endeavors should be undergirded by a theory of philanthropy.

A theory of philanthropy explicitly articulates how and why a foundation will use its resources to achieve its mission and vision. The article proposes that a theory of philanthropy will help align the foundation’s strategic and operational elements, build commitment among internal and external stakeholders, and achieve greater impact. It also argues that while different from a theory of change and from a foundation’s strategy, they are interrelated; for example, depending on its theory of philanthropy, a foundation may choose to have its own theory of change, support the development of theories of change in its grantees, or forego theories of change altogether.

We are excited to see how this concept supports strategic philanthropy, and also to use it in discussions with our grant making partners. We are piloting a theory of philanthropy with a few foundations and will be talking more about this in the months to come and welcome your thoughts and input at

Want to learn more? Check out the Fast Forward podcast referenced above and these case studies in the same issue of The Foundation Review: