Theory of the Foundation

At RPA, we actively work to understand the future of giving. As we build knowledge and collaboration in our field, our expertise grows, allowing us to place our client work within a deep understanding of the broader context in which we’re working. Our Theory of the Foundation initiative represents a key example of how our research shapes the sector and informs our partnerships.

As philanthropy evolves, foundations continue to face profound changes, ranging from new entities to new approaches to new pressures. Informed by our long history of foundation work, alongside the constantly expanding insight gained from our more recent clients, RPA launched our Theory of the Foundation initiative in 2013 in order to explore how foundation leaders might think about their organizations beyond their programs. Inspired by Peter Drucker’s seminal article “The Theory of the Business,” we wanted to study and share how foundations could identify and act as institutions.

With our Theory of the Foundation initiative, we hope to enhance the capacity of foundations to effectively align their resources for the impact they envision. Our work identifies promising overarching conceptual models, as well as operating procedures, organizational structures, and leadership practices.

Foundation leaders are clearly on the same page. More than 60 foundations in the U.S. and Europe have joined our effort to develop shared ideas, frameworks, and tools. Together, we’re working to extend and encourage the development of the field of knowledge about foundations as institutions. With this continually growing understanding, we seek to create more effective collaboration between foundations and across sectors.

Resource Highlights