Systems Change: Pursuing Transformational Philanthropy

About this collection: This Content Collection provides guides and resources to help donors and philanthropic families understand the complex conditions that hold social problems in place, and to imagine and design strategies that will allow you to create transformational impact.

This Content Collection features selected guides and resources from NCFP Content Partners and Contributors designed to help donors and philanthropic families understand the complex conditions that hold social problems in place, and to imagine and design strategies that will allow you to create transformational impact.

Please see the NCFP Content Collection on Advocacy and Lobbying for related information and resources.

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An attendee at the 2022 National Forum on Family Philanthropy asks a question on systems change

Supporting Systems Change

Blog Post
NCFP Senior Program Consultant Tony Macklin attended NCFP’s 2022 National Forum on Family Philanthropy. Read on for Tony’s takeaways from Funding Movements for Systems Change: There is a role for every type of funder. “We want to get to the root of the problem, not just fund the symptoms.” “We…

Scaling Solutions Toward Shifting Systems

The Scaling Solutions toward Shifting Systems initiative was launched in 2016 as an inquiry: Can we encourage collaborative, longer-term, adaptive resources to fund and accelerate scalable solutions targeting systemic changes around pressing global issues?

Water of Systems Change

Foundations involved in systems change can increase their odds for success by focusing on less explicit but more powerful conditions for change, while also turning the lens on themselves.

Systems Thinking Toolkit

Systems thinking allows individuals and organizations to understand the complex relationships and contexts surrounding social issues in order to best influence and navigate the system. We have identified several tools that are helpful in this practice, whether you are looking to understand an issue and its system, create a plan…

Being The Change

Many foundations are adopting new approaches for creating social change—approaches that aim to influence the actions and investments of the public and private sector, as well as address the complex conditions that hold social problems in place. Based on interviews with 114 practitioners representing 50 foundations and 8 philanthropic services…

Peer Perspectives

Accelerating Impact at the Intersections of Environment, Health, and Development

This report calls on funders to see these global challenges with a new and improved intersectional lens – and more importantly – to fund intersectional solutions. The report outlines eight practical actions that funders can take to move towards more integrated forms of cross-sectoral funding in the areas of environment,…

Philanthropy Needs a New Playbook to Fund Systems Change

Blog Post
We are living through an unprecedented, generation-defining moment, full of uncertainty and pain. Naturally, all of us—perhaps especially in philanthropy—are asking ourselves what we can do today to meet an urgent need. But the coronavirus pandemic also underscores the failures of systems—from healthcare to social welfare to wage inequality and…

From Creative Disruption to Systems Change

This 20-year review of the Durfee Foundation's Sabbatical program demonstrates and confirms the value of sabbaticals to rejuvenating the bodies, minds, and spirits of Los Angeles’s most gifted nonprofit leaders.

Restructuring Systems Amid Two Pandemics: Donors Can Step Up Right Now

Blog Post
This article was originally published by Giving Compass and is re-posted here with permission. This is part two in a three-part series. Read part one.  Philanthropy is continuing to miss the mark on addressing root causes of the exacerbated outcomes we’re witnessing from COVID-19 and anti-Black racism, but individual donors who…

How Philanthropy Can Support Systems-Change Leaders

Success in solving complex social problems frequently hinges on the work of organizations that harmonize the action of myriad actors—often referred to as field catalysts, systems orchestrators, or coalitions. Yet philanthropy too often overlooks them, as they defy traditional due diligence criteria. Breaking through will require philanthropy to reboot how…

The Role of Philanthropy in Systems Change

This paper offers a scan of the work of systems change within the philanthropic field, as well as a focus on policy advocacy – a key systems change strategy.

Additional Resources

This Content Collection features resources from the following NCFP Content Partners and Contributors, each of whom bring deep experience and expertise to the complexities of systems change:

Arabella Advisors



National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy

Panorama Global

Putnam Consulting Group

Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors

The Bridgespan Group