Knight Foundation Should Better Articulate Equity Focus, Study Argues

While the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation has supported innovation and has had a notable impact on arts and culture, urban planning, and revitalization efforts in many communities, it lacks well-articulated goals and strategies for advancing equity, a new report from Philamplify, an initiative of the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, argues.

Based on surveys, a document review, and interviews with grantees and other stakeholders, the report, John S. and James L. Knight Foundation: Can It Look Beyond #ShinyBrightOjbects and Do More to Promote Equity? (54 pages, PDF), found that the Miami-based foundation is synonymous with "innovation" and rejects the top-down model associated with strategic philanthropy in favor of collaboration with grantees. However, the foundation does not explicitly state its long-term goals or commitment to equity, leaving its intended impact unclear even as it funds a number of equity-focused initiatives. Indeed, while more than a quarter of the foundation's grant dollars typically have been directed to marginalized communities, that share has been shrinking. And while the foundation is committed to supporting community foundations, engaging a diverse range of nonprofits through challenge grant programs, collaborating with multi-sector stakeholders, increasing the diversity of its investment portfolio, and inviting feedback, without explicit strategies that articulate targeted benefits, the report argues, its long-term impact may be limited.

To address these issues, the report recommends that the foundation continue to embrace innovation while articulating for each program area how innovation will lead to long-term systemic change; explicitly commit to increasing grantmaking for marginalized communities and advancing various forms of equity; make internal changes to improve the quality and consistency of its relationship with community foundations, grantees, and other partners; and communicate more clearly how and when it provides general operating support, capacity-building assistance, and multiyear funding.

"Knight can amplify its impact," the report concludes, "by marrying the best of its innovation ethos with more explicit equity values and larger investments for underserved populations to ensure that the foundation is engaging, informing, and benefiting all of the residents in its target cities, especially the most marginalized, to realize its deeply rooted democratic ideals and achieve lasting change."

Aaron Dorfman. "New Philamplify Report Examines the Knight Foundation." Philamplify Blog Post 12/09/2015.