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Operating Archetypes Webinar

September 13, 2022

On June 22, 2022, Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors hosted a webinar focused on the topic of Operating Archetypes, a new resource created by RPA to help philanthropies and other donors better understand and articulate their distinct position in the philanthropy ecosystem. Participants in the webinar included Melissa Berman, CEO of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors; Richard Tate, Executive Vice President of the California Wellness Foundation; and Georgia Pessoa, CEO of Humanize Institute. Renee Karibi-Whyte, Senior Vice President of RPA, moderated the session. Below is a recap of the discussion, edited for clarity.

Renee: I’d like to welcome you all and thank you very much for joining. Melissa, can you start off by telling us about the genesis of the Operating Archetypes?

Melissa: The impetus for this work stemmed from two things. First, we began to notice through our work in philanthropy that, although there was a lot of attention to philanthropic strategy at one end of the process, and a lot of research about evaluation and assessment of grants and programs at the other end, the process in the middle of how you go from the strategy to the actual programs and grants, was often something of a black box.

And the second is that over the last 15 or so years, there has been enormous innovation in philanthropy. This includes shifts in how we think about the power relationship between the funder and the organizations and communities that are being supported. It also covers new tools like impact investing as well as new kinds of legal structures in many parts of the world. And there is an increase in emphasis on partnerships and collaboration.

All those new models were interesting to think about, especially in the context of the last five or ten years, given the challenges that the world is facing, whether it’s from climate change, growing inequality, racism, institutional barriers to success, those have really loomed large. All of that together made it the right time to explore how foundations can align their resources and capabilities. And how they operate as organizations and not just from a pure strategy or impact assessment point of view.

Renee: How did those factors translate to archetypes for organizations engaged in philanthropy?

Melissa: One of the first things we did through our research was have conversations with philanthropies in North America, Latin America, Europe, Asia, and Africa. Through that process, we began to come up with a set of questions that would help us map a landscape of different types of organizations that can appear hard to compare.  As those questions evolved, nine areas rose up as identifying some of the more important attributes of the operations of a philanthropic initiative:

  • Why are you doing what you’re doing?
  • What resources do you lead with?
  • Who’s your primary audience?
  • How do you define the communities you serve?
  • What are the relationships and alliances that you need?
  • How do you include and think about equity in terms of the voices of those who are most effected?
  • How do you share power?
  • And then finally, where do you look for results? Not just how do you assess results, but where do you see them in the world?

Responses varied greatly by organization for these broad categories. As we started mapping answers, we began to see certain commonalities in approach.  We started using in conversations casually as a kind of shorthand, things like Talent Agency or Campaign Manager. And to our surprise those kinds of metaphors really resonated with people because it helped take these ideas from an abstract and made them much more realistic—even though they aren’t meant to be literal. There is no philanthropy that works the way a Talent Agency does, although that would really be fun to see. There is no philanthropy that really is an Underwriter the way an insurance company is an underwriter, although they’re kind of close to it. But we found that these kinds of metaphors really help people catch on, see themselves, and have an easy way to talk about the different models.

I’ll give you some quick insights on the eight archetypes identified to date (then I’m going to and turn it over to Georgia and Richard to talk about how this works in the real world).

A Talent Agency is in the business of spotting emerging leaders, often using open competitions to get new ideas into the field, like how the Skoll Foundation identifies social entrepreneurs.

Think Tanks don’t just fund experts in a field, they hire experts in a field, bring them inside their enterprise, and use them to help develop solutions that they will then get implemented externally. Arnold Ventures, for example, has hired incredible experts and practitioners in the field of reforming the justice system.

A Campaign Manager partners with other organizations and often the public sector to try and tackle a very big, complicated problem that needs a lot of players. Fondazione CRT in Northern Italy worked with other funders, businesses, and the local government in the city of Torino to redevelop an abandoned train station into a center for tourism, social enterprise, and tech innovation.

A different kind of model is a Field Builder, like the Wellcome Trust in the UK, one of the largest funders of medical and health research in the world. They have dedicated themselves to building an ecosystem in the scientific community on a global basis to make sure that there’s a lot of talent and streams of talent to tackle some of the most difficult problems in medical research.

Venture Catalysts are willing to take a lot of risk and look at something that’s in a very early stage. They’re willing to be the first funder to try and see whether there’s a proof of concept.

Designers look to figure out where in the system things are missing and solutions are absent. And so they start to fill in gaps where things don’t even exist.

Meanwhile, Underwriters are organizations that choose a cluster of organizations and relationships that they want to nurture over a long period of time, usually with generous, long term, general operating support.

And Sowers provide flexible, unrestricted support in a network type approach, typically with a broad base of organizations that they’re working with. The Ford Foundation’s Build Initiative is a great example of that. Ford is giving 10 years of unrestricted funding to organizations that are working on very difficult issues, and they’re going to see what happens after these 10 years of support.

Renee: Now that we have an overview of the Archetypes, I’ll turn to Georgia and Richard. Both of you participated in a workshop where Operating Archetypes were a central component of the discussion. Based on that discussion, how do you see the Operating Archetypes model benefiting philanthropists?

Richard: The power of archetypes and frameworks from my perspective is really the power of shared language. It helps us understand across organizations what we’re doing. For me, it’s been a helpful way as an executive leader to organize my thinking as I talk to my team about what our goals are, how we work, and how we do our jobs.

At the California Wellness Foundation, it’s apparent to me that we are a Sower. We provide about $48 million in grants each year. We make about 200 to 250 grants each year. And we have a broad coalition of folks underneath our mission to support health and wellness across the state of California. The archetype has been a helpful way to understand both the breadth of that work and strategic impact of providing flexible, unrestricted support to a variety of organizations. It’s a helpful way to understand what we’re doing, why we’re doing it, and then ultimately to assess impact.

Renee: Georgia, how about your organization?

Georgia: Humanize works with sustainability and income generation of vulnerable populations in target geographies in Brazil. And for us, I’m super enthusiastic about the Operating Archetypes because it’s a way to bring alignment internally. But it’s also a way to better coordinate among other funders on basic content and level of understanding to reach alignment on what we are trying to build in Brazil and in Latin America in this community of venture philanthropists.

We have been using the Operating Archetypes not only to seek this sort of alignment on content, but also to help our team internally to work on those things to revisit our main objectives, vision, and mission. It’s a great way to test a new concept, a more open-minded way of seeing things. In our work here with my team and my board, I would say that Humanize’s top three out Operating Archetypes are Campaign Manager, Field Builder, and Venture Catalyst; these are really connected to our heart in terms of mission, our value proposition, and the way that we are trying to work in Brazil in a more robust and creative way.

Renee: Georgia, you raised a good point. A lot of organizations may have trouble identifying as one archetype, and instead see themselves, or various programs, reflected in several of the archetypes. Richard, you settled on one category. Was that a difficult challenge for you?

Richard: Georgia has touched on the power of the archetypes, because although I said we are a Sower, I quickly realized there are parts of our grantmaking work in which we are operating in a slightly different archetype. Within our broad portfolio of work, we have a set of grant making efforts that we framed as a women’s initiative around women’s health. And that’s a place in which we have operated more as a Designer: we’ve gone deep in research and context investigation, to understand some points of leverage to advance women’s health here in California. And we’ve developed a multi-year investment strategy around reentry for women who’ve been incarcerated to support them, and then women who are suffering from HIV AIDS and STIs.

And so it’s an example of us really going deep, understanding context, and then leveraging that expertise to design a portfolio of grant making to address a very particular need. There’s another part of our portfolio in which we’ve operated more as Field Builders, where we have committed million-dollar grants to core institutions in California. These are organizations that we found ourselves funding year over year, cycle after cycle, and we’ve decided to invest in them as key institutions in our ecosystem.

I think the power of the archetypes is it really helps you understand both your intention and what it is that you’re doing. It’s not that you have to be one or the other. It really helps surface and illuminate the intentionality and then helps you think about the resources and the impact that you’re aiming for as you operate in that mode.

Georgia: I think that’s a great point, because it’s a combination of things, and all the archetypes bring some angle that you’ve never thought about as a donor in the ecosystem, some way that you can play a different role.

Richard: I have a practical question for you Georgia, about translating this sort of abstract idea of archetypes into the way that you’re doing the work. We talked a little bit about this at the symposium and whether our respective teams are equipped with the right skills to operate in the archetypal mode. It’s one thing to be operating as a Sower and to be a grant maker in an organization that is operating as a Sower, but if you ask that grant maker to then become a Designer, are you optimized in terms of your staffing to operate in that particular archetype? How do you think about building the skills and the capabilities that are going to make you successful?

Georgia: I am lucky enough to have a very enthusiastic team that is highly engaged in thinking about a lot of these issues. We get to look at a lot of different philanthropic models—something that is very important as the world is changing so rapidly—and my team is always a part of this interrogation. As we look at our strengths and approaches, we also work to connect as much as we can with outside partners, friends, and colleagues who also have a systematic approach. Internally we call this net weaving. This broad inclusion helps us to discuss and evolve as a group of systematic thinkers on how to do philanthropy in these tough times and helps to balance out all the different considerations. So we believe that you can build those minds when you don’t have the natural talent and work together to figure that out.

Renee:  Based on a quick poll we did of today’s attendees, it looks like Field Builder is one of the biggest areas that people see themselves falling into, as well as Sower. Melissa, does this align with the sector as a whole?

Melissa: Absolutely. For many organizations in philanthropy, when they think about how they want to make change in the world, they are moving to a systems approach. They want to influence the whole field, they want to move or shift a system in a certain direction, and to do that, they often feel that rather than a series of one-offs, they need to really build a field, that they need to invest in core organizations to build up their capacity and have ripple waves go from that.

Many of the people that we spoke to in developing this work talked about transitioning from one kind of archetype to another, as the field they’re working in changes. So, if you’ve been successful in building a field and you have a strong network of organizations with a lot of capacity, then you can try and sort of shift to working on a campaign with them. Or then you can shift to trying to develop some solutions in a Think Tank like model, because you have a group of organizations outside your walls that could implement these ideas deep into communities. So that’s often a reflection of how funders want to be able to have impact on a system and not just on a set of organizations.

Renee: As we talk about moving from one archetype to another, Richard, I know that you are planning on using the archetypes more extensively with your team. How are you thinking about using it to possibly shift archetypes?

Richard: Well, we are moving into a period at Cal Wellness where we’re examining our current strategic framework. We are moving into a strategic planning period, in which we’re looking at the way that we’re operating and the issue areas that we’re hoping to address. And the opportunity before us is to really investigate where we are in the evolution of our organization, and based on those contextual cues, what we want for our future. So that’s an opportunity to bring in a framework like the archetypes to talk to board and staff about, “Okay, what are we doing? What are we trying to achieve?” And as we think about the future, “What mode might serve this vision best?” It’s a strategic planning tool that I find to be really valuable.

Renee: One of the questions we’ve had is around how do you go about assessing and developing the internal capacity you have identified as important based on the archetype analysis? What guidance do you have on how philanthropies should  think about those criteria?

Richard: We’ve done some fairly practical things. We’ve participated in grantee perception surveys for many years. We surveyed our own grantees to understand how they perceive us and how they are experiencing the impact of the work that we’re doing. And we’ve asked that on multiple dimensions, not just in terms of what our dollars have done, but how they see us showing up as an institution around certain issues. And it has informed how we’ve built out different capacities within the organization, including communications.

Doing those kinds of perception surveys, or analysis of grantees, or other partners, to really understand how they’re experiencing our work, to then calibrate around, again, are we achieving what we’d intended? If not, what’s actually happening in response to the way that we’re behaving in the world and what does that tell us about where we need to shift or adapt? And what capacities we need to build out.

Melissa: Thinking about how you assess your internal capacity is a great opportunity for funders for many reasons. If you’ve made a commitment, for example, to have those people who are most closely affected by the issue to have a meaningful voice in what you’re doing, how is it that you’re able to honestly answer internally as well as externally? I think that in terms of assessing results at the strategic level, it’s always hard for any organization to separate the outcomes of their action from the real impact on the whole issue that they are trying to shift, because the world is a big, complicated place and we’re not as big as we would like to be.

If you think about where you’re trying to see an impact in different kinds of Operating Archetypes, it can help you be more thoughtful and focused about some of these efforts.

Just as one final comment, I think that one of the innovations that we’ve seen in the last 10 years in the philanthropic sector is recognizing what Georgia called soft power: influence, convening capacity, voice. Richard talked about standing with grantees rather than just behind them. Those require a different set of muscles, the skills may be there, or the capacity may be there, but you may need to work inside your organization to develop some of those muscles and ways to use influence in a very thoughtful, strategic way. And so that’s not so surprising to me, that’s one of the trends that we’ve seen in philanthropy globally around the world.

Renee:  Thank you all so much for your time and insights.

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