By Todd Cohen
In the face of rapid philanthropic change driven by entrepreneurs and technology, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation has quietly emerged as a champion to strengthen donors, volunteers and nonprofits, and help change the way they do business.
Kellogg-backed ventures range from boosting philanthropic assets for ethnic groups and women to hatching an incubator for startup foundations and a startup kit for small foundations
Through its philanthropy and volunteerism program, one of four at the $5 billion-asset foundation in Battle Creek, Mich., Kellogg hands out about $12 million a year to strengthen and connect key underserved and emerging philanthropic and nonprofit constituencies.
The philanthropic-sector strategy, which has evolved over several years, is rooted in Kellogg’s belief that change depends on taking chances, learning from experience and helping people and groups get access to the resources they need.
“We’re an action-tank, not a think-tank,” says Tom Reis, a program director in the foundation’s philanthropy and volunteerism division.
Action at Kellogg takes the form of initiatives that mix support for mainstream programs such as continuing education in nonprofit management with more innovative efforts to identify, support and connect new donors and risk-taking nonprofits.
Kellogg focuses its philanthropy and volunteerism energy on six groups it believes are critical to philanthropy’s future – young people, ethnic groups, women, creators of wealth, social entrepreneurs and corporate social innovators.
Kellogg works to team those groups with one another and with established organizations, build their leadership, equip them internally to be effective organizations and help them develop and manage their philanthropic know-how.
Since 1996, for example, Kellogg has backed a series of projects focusing on blacks, Latinos and Hispanics, Native Americans and Asian Americans. It has funded:
* Two national conferences — plus a third this May in Detroit – sponsored by the National Center for Black Philanthropy.
* A new national coalition of six Latino funds spearheaded by the Hispanic Fund of New York City.
* A new Coalition for New Philanthropy, a collaborative effort to build ethnic philanthropy in New York City that includes the Hispanic Fund, Asian American Fund, 21st Century Foundation, N.Y. Regional Association of Grantmakers and City University of New York.
Also in the works is $1 million in funding for Women and Philanthropy in Washington, D.C., and the Women’s Funding Network in San Francisco, to help local women’s funds, corporations and individual women increase their assets and their support of women and girls.
In addition to equipping emerging philanthropic groups to be effective, Kellogg aims to connect them to one another.
“Philanthropy can benefit by having these groups talk more together, learn from each other and do more together,” Reis says.
Venture philanthropists, he said, have tended to focus on improving education and on equipping the next generation to succeed in the digital economy.
So Kellogg wants to broaden the philanthropic horizon for emerging philanthropists, hooking them up with young people, minorities and women – and helping to bridge some of the cultural gaps that separate groups from one other.
In partnership with 15 other foundations, Kellogg is helping to create the Philanthropy Incubator, which will support emerging philanthropists and connect them with one another and with traditional foundations.
The foundation also has teamed up with the David and Lucile Packard Foundation in Los Altos, Calif., to help the Association for Small Foundations in Bethesda, Md., create a one-stop online shop. To be launched in January 2002, “Foundation in a Box” will feature tools for setting up and running a foundation.
Helping emerging groups better manage and make sense of their philanthropic know-how is a critical challenge, says Reis, who tracks venture philanthropy and e-philanthropy for Kellogg.
“Infrastructure is not just technology,” he said. “We need new infrastructure for these audiences.”
Kellogg, for example, has given $1 million to Business for Social Responsibility in San Francisco to develop a Web-based knowledge resource focusing on effective practices for businesses that want to be socially responsible.
At its core, Reis says, Kellogg has a “bias for action” that is rooted in making sense of, expanding and sharing knowledge about philanthropic innovation – and then putting it into practice by helping nonprofits and donors do deals and work together.
“Nonprofits, including foundations, aren’t the academy,” Reis says. “We are doers.”