Foundations – ‘black holes’ vs ‘supernovas’

Sunday 23 December 2018

The last couple of years have seen substantial developments around learning, information management and sharing of knowledge in philanthropy. Today’s image of philanthropy accentuates the potential and importance of knowledge use and management in the foundation world:

“When it comes to knowledge and information, foundations are like black holes, and they need to become supernovas.

So what do I mean by that? The average foundation receives hundreds, if not thousands of proposals from nonprofit organizations – different kinds of social sector organizations filled with ideas about how to make the neighborhood, the community, the city, and the world a better place. Some portion of those get approved. As part of the process, the groups that get the grants provide written reports periodically – progress reports – full of information also. Then there’s also the foundation staff themselves. When you’re sitting in a foundation, let’s say you’re working on early childhood issues. On any given day, you probably talk to four or five different people who are the best in their field… who have fantastic ideas about how to solve all the issues around early childhood learning. And you accumulate all that knowledge; that knowledge is in your head; it’s in your notes; it’s on your hard drive…this is a tremendous source of potential knowledge about how we can make this world a far better place. And I think the next frontier for philanthropy is going to be managing information, and producing and sharing knowledge…”

Brad Smith, CEO of the Foundation Center quoted in Frederick, D (2016), Podcast: Building a Philanthropic World of Data and ‘Glass Pockets’, 30th September, The Chronicle of Philanthropy,


Drawing on some of the findings from our ‘Images of Philanthropy’ Initiative, each entry in this accompanying blog series introduces one image that has been put forward in an academic or non-academic context to depict or characterise an aspect of philanthropy in its different forms and expressions.

For further information about the ‘Images of Philanthropy’ Initiative, please contact Dr Tobias Jung.

Posted in

Share this story