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Funders Forum

The Commonwealth Fund

February 2012

The Commonwealth Fund The Commonwealth Fund is one of the first major private U.S. foundations to be established by a woman philanthropist and — several decades later — to be led by a woman president, Margaret E. Mahoney, who passed away in December. Based in New York City, the fund is dedicated to promoting a high-performing health care system that achieves better access, improved quality, and greater efficiency, particularly for society's most vulnerable. The fund's current president, Karen Davis, plans to retire at the end of 2012. The Foundation Center asked her:

Question What particular strategies have you found helpful in pursuing the fund's program areas, and what advice would you give to new leaders at other foundations who are striving to acclimate quickly and effectively and to build their leadership legacy?

Answer "Philanthropy is, first and foremost, about caring about people. I have always hearkened back to my time as a 4-H'er when I was young, and oriented my approach to the fund's work around the four Hshead (research), heart (commitment to social progress), hands (talented people and organizations with common concerns), in the service of better health for all. During my time as president, the Commonwealth Fund (TCF) has built its work around the principles established in its early years: a tradition of scientific inquiry coupled with a commitment to social progress; partnership with others who share common concerns; mobilization of talented people — both inside and outside the foundation — to work on important issues; and the innovative use of communications to disseminate its work. I would add that the periodic establishment of independent, external groups, such as our Commission on a High Performance Health System, is a strategy that has enabled us to gather a broad array of perspectives, provided an important oversight role to the fund's research, and enhanced the reach of TCF-supported work.

"My advice to new leaders at other foundations is to: 1) Build strong relationships with your board, and really get to understand nonprofit governance; philanthropy is different from academia, government, and business and requires a different leadership approach. 2) Visit other foundation presidents and borrow as much of their wisdom as you can. Also, establish a good relationship with your predecessor(s), as they are huge fonts of wisdom and can help you avoid early pitfalls. 3) Take time for strategic thinking. This doesn't need to be formal and lengthy, but do understand the four components — the relative strengths of your foundation, your relative weaknesses, opportunities to make a difference, and threats to your ability to be effective, and finally, 4) Always keep in mind the history of your foundation, the donor's intent on establishing it, and the organization's traditions. I have always thought of the fund as a gift from two donors: Anna Harkness, who established it in 1918, and the American people, who have granted our tax-exempt status. So I always think about how we are honoring those legacies."

Funder's Forum: Donor Profiles

The Heckscher Foundation for Children
December 2014

The Cooper Foundation
November 2014

The National Grid Foundation
October 2014

The Endeavor Foundation
September 2014

The Commonwealth Fund
August 2014

Teagle Foundation
July 2014

Robert R. McCormick Foundation
June 2014

Bush Foundation
May 2014

The Kresge Foundation
April 2014

The Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation
March 2014

Rauch Foundation
February 2014

Stavros Niarchos Foundation
January 2014

The Louis Calder Foundation
December 2013

The Bella Vista Foundation
November 2013

The Skillman Foundation
October 2013

Rosenberg Foundation
September 2013

The Pittsburgh Foundation
August 2013

Saint Luke's Foundation
July 2013

The Sobrato Family Foundation
June 2013

W.K. Kellogg Foundation
March 2013

Trustees' Philanthropy Fund, Fidelity Charitable
February 2013

The Duke Endowment
January 2013

The Beazley Foundation
October 2012

The Colcom Foundation
September 2012

The Clark Foundation
August 2012

The Hyde and Watson Foundation
July 2012

Annie E. Casey Foundation
June 2012

Robert W. Woodruff Foundation
May 2012

Markle Foundation
March 2012

The Commonwealth Fund
February 2012

The Burroughs Wellcome Fund
January 2012

Posner-Wallace Foundation
December 2011

Public Welfare Foundation
November 2011

Johnson & Johnson Family of Companies
October 2011

Walter & Elise Haas Fund
September 2011

Alcoa Foundation
August 2011

Eugene and Agnes E. Meyer Foundation
July 2011

The Cleveland Foundation
June 2011

Fannie E. Rippel Foundation
May 2011

The California Wellness Foundation
April 2011

Jerome Foundation
March 2011

Lumina Foundation
for Education

February 2011

Charles Stewart
Mott Foundation

January 2011

Conrad N. Hilton Foundation
December 2010

M. J. Murdock
Charitable Trust

December 2010

Surdna Foundation
October 2010

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