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European Research Network on Philanthropy (ERNOP)

Session Title: Bold Problems Require Bold Funders, Implementers, and Solutions: Results from Testing a New Philanthropic Model

Presented by: Lisa Frantzen, Associate Director, Evaluation and Learning

Given its relatively small size compared to other sectors, philanthropy must be bold if it is to have any discernable impact during times of social upheaval and crisis.  While there are a variety of obstacles to boldness in the third sector, donor reluctance to make big bets and organizational limitations in scaling programs are two large obstacles.  Together, they create a reinforcing negative loop of small investments to programs that limit their ambitions.

Launched in 2019, Lever for Change (LFC), an affiliate of the MacArthur Foundation, is a bold experiment to try and address these obstacles. They would seek to unlock 1 billion USD in new capital through large open competitions where donors would commit a minimum 10 million USD prize.  While prize philanthropy is not new, an individual organization committed to working with ultra high net worth donors and other philanthropies using the prize mechanism to unlock new capital was novel.

Now in its fifth year, LFC has surpassed the 1 billion USD target through just under a dozen competitions that are addressing climate change, racial and gender inequities, immigrant and refugee hardships, and failing democratic processes.  But did it work?

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