Our Approach

We take an inquiry-driven approach to grantmaking, rooted in the scientific method and driven by our core values
Philosophy

Society’s Risk Capital 

At Siegel Family Endowment, we believe that philanthropy is society’s risk capital — R&D investment for the social sector that can fund, test, and prove out the new and emerging solutions capable of bringing about systems change at all levels and scales. As such, philanthropy is uniquely positioned to address thorny questions, take big chances, and fund cutting-edge, community-driven ideas that push the boundaries of innovation. 

Our approach builds on the scholarship of Arnold J. Zurcher and Rob Reich, who argue that unlike governments and private companies that often can’t risk investing in programs without proven metrics or short term results, foundations are relatively unencumbered. This makes them well-suited to “de-risk” solutions for public and private entities and help actualize the transformative social change our society needs.

We strive to inspire the philanthropic sector to increase its willingness to take calculated risks on innovative ideas, embrace a learning and growth mindset, fund innovators and social entrepreneurs from non-majority backgrounds, and expand beyond short-term metrics to measure comprehensive impact. As a result, our work sets examples for how out-of the-box thinking can transform lives in a real, tangible way. 

Approach

Inquiry-Driven Grantmaking

A Grounding in the Scientific Method

We know that philanthropy doesn’t hold all the answers to addressing tough societal challenges. However, we believe that philanthropy is uniquely positioned to ask big questions of our society, and to bring together the right stakeholders to answer those questions. Our inquiry-driven approach to grantmaking is an iterative process of asking questions, systematically interrogating them, and applying our learnings to subsequents rounds of questioning.

Our approach is grounded in the scientific method, and is inspired by our chairman and founder David Siegel’s approach to his life’s work. We ask questions that help us develop an informed hypothesis, support academic and field-work that uncovers evidence, track and interpret outcomes thoughtfully, and apply our findings in order to inform the next phase of inquiry.

Apply knowledge and learning

to refining subsequent rounds of inquiry questions

Develop and refine inquiry questions

that help guide the development of our relationships

Perform landscape analysis

to better understand the context for our work

Convene stakeholders

to solicit and synthesize feedback

Collect and publish findings

to share with our partners in the field

Support work in the field

that helps us uncover relevant evidence

These are the questions that we are using to guide the grantmaking in each of our interest areas.
Learning

How might we shift systems in ways that drive equitable outcomes and create opportunities for learners and their communities?

Workforce

How might we best empower workers and communities to shape and utilize new technologies and prevent harms in the workplace?

Infrastructure

How might we increase the meaningful participation and agency of communities to shape the development, deployment, use, and stewardship of the digital infrastructures upon which they rely?

Our Values

How We Work

Collaboration

We work closely with grantees and partners in the field to develop strategies and solutions that drive progress for our shared goals. We seek out people and organizations whose work is forward-thinking and true to their core values.

Risk & Experiment

We’re eager to test and develop new solutions, and push ourselves beyond traditional philanthropy to find promising untested ideas, identify gaps, and reframe conversations about complex issues. We embrace failure, taking it as an opportunity to learn, iterate, and strengthen our practice.

Relationship Driven

We have a “people first” approach to our relationships with grantees and partners, and consider a wide range of factors when developing engagement and assessment strategies. We don’t ask that our grantees fit a certain mold, or change who they are to fulfill our own objectives.

Humility & Trust

Our role is to lift up the expertise of others. We don’t have the answers and are not always positioned to wield the assets of the communities we serve. We operate from a place of trust in our grantee leaders, who know best how to approach challenges and allocate their resources.

Process

Values in Action

Our values guide how we’ve designed our grantmaking processes, from casting a wide and nontraditional net with our sourcing to funding out-of-the-box ideas and overlooked changemakers to offering flexibility in how we do reporting. Our goal is to center equity in as many ways as we can, and we continue to push, try, fall short, and experiment with ways to put our partners at the heart of our process. We remain flexible so that we can respond to what we’re hearing from our community. While this can not fully address the power dynamic inherent in philanthropy, we hope it may be a step towards balance.

Source & Build Relationships

We aspire to support people and organizations that are overlooked by traditional philanthropy, including proximate leaders, who come from and represent the communities they serve and best understand how to leverage their unique assets. We explore if an organization fits in with our funding priorities by forming relationships with the people doing the work. We take on the task of gathering relevant background and contextual information, leaning on publicly available data when possible. And we seek to remain engaged with organizations regardless of their funding status with us, working together on issues that affect our shared fields, making connections to other members of our network, and leveraging their expertise as thought partners. 

Grant & Engage

In collaboration with prospective grantees, our staff takes on the task of authoring grant proposals in order to reduce the time and capacity burden faced by many organizations. We find that this is especially helpful for smaller organizations, which are often led and staffed by systematically excluded and underfunded individuals. We present the recommendations at our monthly board meetings, and aspire to engage with the organization throughout the lifecycle of the grant in a way that best serves their needs. 

Learn & Share

Monitoring and evaluation are not one size fits all. We offer multiple reporting options to meet various grantee preferences and be able to dive deeper into what they’re learning. Like the grant proposals, we take on the writing of the grant reports using an intentional mixture of data, storytelling, and lived experience to measure and capture the impact of the grant. We present these findings as both written pieces, such as Case Studies, Leadership Q&As, and other communications assets that we draft with grantees’ review and approval, as well as present at internal and external events. We collaborate with our research team to collect findings from the field to help guide our strategy and assist our grantees, and also disseminate what we’re learning to the broader community.

Reflect & Iterate

Our work is never done. As we strive to both build a better world and practice equitable, responsive grantmaking, we are constantly evolving our strategies and practice based on what we are learning and hearing from our partners. We routinely collect feedback from our grantees and partners to ensure our processes are centered on the needs of those we serve. We reflect on the impact of our grants and the findings of our research team and partners, and use those to adjust our strategy. 

Go Deeper

All Insights
News | Reflections
Pursuing Progress Through Inquiry, Innovation, and Intentionality: Our Year in Review 2023

Pausing for reflection at the end of each year offers us the opportunity to look back with pride at the…

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From Our Grantees
Measuring Impact: Building on the Knowledge and Experience of the Computer Science Education Movement 

Leaders at CSforALL share their vision for new and better ways to think about “impact” – how it is defined,…

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News
Fall 2023 Events Recap

Our team criss-crossed the country this Fall to participate in convenings and conferences across our three interest areas.

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