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Philanthropy’s New Tool for Action and Impact: Operating Archetypes Launched by Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors

April 27, 2022
Theory of the Foundation

New analytical framework, developed based on input from dozens of foundations and nonprofit partners worldwide, enables funders to optimize how they achieve and evaluate impact

 Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors (RPA) published Operating Archetypes: Philanthropy’s New Tool for Strategic Clarity, a new analytical framework designed to support more thoughtful and effective philanthropy by helping funders better understand and articulate their distinct position in the philanthropy ecosystem.

“This unique tool is designed to strengthen philanthropy,” said Melissa A. Berman, CEO of RPA. “Assessing an operating archetype, or pivoting to a different model, gives funders an analytical way to align the right resources and capabilities for enhanced impact.”

“Every philanthropic organization wants to know how to be more effective and create transformative change,” said Olga Tarasov, Director, Knowledge Development at RPA. “Engaging in Operating Archetypes analysis provides funders with a useful framework for answering some of these acute questions.”

The archetypes were developed based on input from dozens of foundations and nonprofit partners worldwide as a result of RPA’s multi-year Theory of the Foundation® initiative, which seeks to enhance the capacity of philanthropies to effectively align their resources for the impact they envision. It flows out of The Philanthropy Framework, which was developed by RPA in 2019 as an instrument to guide emerging and established philanthropies to better align resources for maximum impact.

The release of the archetypes is timely. The seismic shocks caused by the global pandemic, socio-economic inequities, growing polarization, institutional racism, and climate change, are challenging the legitimacy and purpose of philanthropy. Additionally, new philanthropic models are emerging, transforming the sector. This moment challenges philanthropies to strategize how they engage with grantees, partners, and communities to create that change. Applying an analysis of operating archetypes will enable funders to think about how they achieve and evaluate impact, and better center and embed equity in their work.

The eight distinct operating archetypes distilled by RPA include: Talent Agency, Think Tank, Campaign Manager, Field Builder, Venture Catalyst, Designer, Underwriter and Sower. Each is defined by several core attributes that range from the philanthropy’s value proposition to its skills to its advancing equity, relationships, and more. The archetypes in action are illustrated by funder case studies:

  • Skoll Foundation, US Talent Agency
  • Arnold Ventures, US Think Tank
  • Officine Grandi Reparazioni (OGR), Fondazione CRT, Italy Campaign Manager
  • Wellcome Trust, UK Field Builder
  • Boticário Group Foundation, Brazil Venture Catalyst
  • The William G. McGowan Charitable Fund’s NEPA Readiness In Skilled Employment (RISE) Program, US Designer
  • The Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund Arts in Health Program US Underwriter
  • Building Institutions and Networks (BUILD) Initiative, Ford Foundation, US Sower

As philanthropies apply this instrument, their insights will contribute to more powerful impact for the sector as a whole.

To learn more about each archetype and how they can be used as a tool for action and alignment, download the Operating Archetypes publication.

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