Review: Grassroots Philanthropy: Field Notes of a Maverick Grantmaker

Grassroots Philanthropy:  Field Notes of a Maverick Grantmaker by Bill Somerville* with Fred Setterberg is a book with a clear message to foundations:  accomplish more through grassroots grantmaking.  Somerville, President and Founder of Philanthropic Ventures Foundation and former longtime Executive Director of the Peninsula Community Foundation, suggests that this can be done by following his five-point program:

  1. Locate outstanding people doing important work.
  2. Move quickly (and shred paper).
  3. Embrace risk.
  4. Focus on ideas instead of problems.
  5. Take initiative.

While these common sense ideas may not seem to be products of a maverick, their widespread implementation certainly would be revolutionary.  Somerville notes that foundations have enormous potential to transform American lives, but asks:  "Why aren’t we – the entire philanthropic sector – doing  a much better job?"

Somerville emphasizes the importance of finding and investing in outstanding leaders.  To do so, foundation executives must spend more time in the communities in which they invest and less time reviewing documents behind their desks, and foundation boards must grant greater discretion to their executive directors and staff.  The book also advocates timely grantmaking in furtherance of innovative solutions and taking calculated risks.  Hear, hear.

Grassroots Philanthropy is just the kind of short, easy-to-read book of valuable insights that an executive might pass out to each of the directors at a board meeting.  A book club-style discussion at a following meeting might be one of the most productive sessions a foundation board can have.