The added value of a “fully engaged” philanthropic foundation

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MAVA Foundation’s “octopus-like” philosophy.

Credit: MAVA Foundation

MAVA Foundation is a family-owned philanthropic foundation based in Switzerland. It was founded in 1994 with the aim of preserving biodiversity and ecosystem functions, promoting initiatives for a more sustainable economy and supporting actions that contribute to global environmental conservation.

The charity provides funds for conservation projects across three eco-regional areas, but its mission does not stop at financial support. As is well highlighted, those who work within the foundation feel involved in all phases of projects with their partners, espousing their cause and helping them acquire the skills and tools they need. It is from this principle that the booklet Be an Octopus! Reflections from an Engaged donor, a reflection on how a foundation can further optimize its positive impact through the philanthropic funds made available to it.

“MAVA firmly believes that, as a donor, supporting a cause means more than funding projects. Just as an octopus can adapt to the environment, solve problems and use different weapons at the same time, similarly we have additional unique capabilities beyond writing checks. Not taking advantage of these opportunities would reduce our potential impact on our mission. Being able to apply all of these capabilities is what we call being an involved donor.”

MAVA Foundation

The motivations, best practices, and lessons learned from nearly three decades of funded projects are explored in depth within the booklet. Making available the processes and ways of working gained in this long philanthropic experience is a way to share advice and strategies to other foundations that wish to add value in their partners’ projects.

How to become a “fully engaged” philanthropic foundation

For MAVA foundation, an entity is involved when it espouses the cause of its projects and donates its expertise inaddition to the disbursement of funds.

There are three key questions from which to develop an optimization of one’s financial support within disbursed projects:

  • What is the foundation’s position of privilege within the system? By knowing the mechanisms and impact of relationships, funders can identify their position and sphere of influence, the position held by their partners, and what they further need.
  • What are the needs and aspirations of its partners? The foundation, which truly understands the aspirations and challenges they face, can identify actions that facilitate the achievement of their goals.
  • What are the distinctive competencies of the philanthropic foundation? Having identified the needs and aspirations of its partners, the institution can leverage its capabilities (such as context analysis, networking, credibility to a specificaudience ) to be able to streamline the activities to be pursued within the project.

Four types of involvement are concretized in the booklet in order to develop greater impact, which are distinguished by improving project design and implementation, supporting the organization, supporting individuals with great potential, and developing relationships in the system. These actions can coexist or be used individually on funded projects.

The four types of actions identified by MAVA Foundation that can bring added value to partners’ projects Credit: MAVA Foundation

For MAVA Foundation, an involved philanthropic entity stands out from other foundations and is able to use its resources even more efficiently because:

  • It is impact-focused and partner-oriented;
  • It considers itself part of a network of mutual dependence;
  • He has a deep understanding of the projects and challenges to be accomplished;
  • It offers all the tools at its disposal;
  • It extends the scope of its action according to the needs of employees;
  • It shares both responsibility and results together with partners;
  • Supports employees in fulfilling their assignments with pragmatism and flexibility;
  • Manages the unpredictability of the context, learning and adapting together with partners;
  • It builds bonds of trust with its employees through constant support.

Being an involved philanthropic foundation allows you to recognize your position in the system and the tools that can be put in place when funds are dedicated to projects related to your mission.

Putting one’s expertise into play can optimize the funding provided, creating the added value that comes in the form of various actions, such as developing relationships among entities pursuing the same goal, using a tool such as design thinking to develop partner projects effectively and unconventionally, or identifying actors who can contribute to better achievement of the activities to be performed.

To read the booklet and be inspired, you can check it out here.

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