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Investing in a Strong Nonprofit Sector

Refined guiding principles and new name for Barr’s grantmaking aimed at strengthening New England’s nonprofit sector.

At the Barr Foundation, we believe strategic, long-term focus is key to impact. We dedicate most of our resources to three core program areas—Arts & Creativity, Climate, and Education. Each has clearly defined goals and strategies.

We also embrace our responsibility to help strengthen three elements that are essential for progress in these focus areas and, in fact, all efforts to realize social change:

  • Building more effective, inclusive leadership.
  • Improving decision-making on significant public issues.
  • Bolstering core infrastructure for the social sector.

To embody that responsibility, Barr announced two years ago what we initially called Cross-Program Initiatives, focused on leadership, decision-making, and infrastructure. Since then, we have developed greater clarity about what we mean in each area, and how they contribute to a more effective social sector. We have also renamed this portfolio "Sector Effectiveness" to better reflect its purpose and the work we support. Here are the principles that guide us in this work; more information on what we fund can be found on the Sector Effectiveness website.

Strong, inclusive, and effective leadership requires:

  • Organizations that are attentive not only to the senior executive, but to the leadership team, governance, and opportunities and conditions for leadership throughout organizations.
  • Inclusive organizations with both a robust, diverse, and well-prepared leadership pipeline, and attentiveness to diversity, inclusion, and equity in policy, practice, and culture.
  • Effective approaches to leadership development, including cohort-based and other peer-exchange learning methods.

Sound decision-making requires:

  • Credible and objective research and data as a critical foundation for effective organizational operations, public discourse, and policy.
  • Intentional efforts to build demand for credible data, and to ensure that data include diverse constituent voices.
  • Strategic communications and engagement to ensure the uptake and application of information in policy-making and practice.
  • Investment to understand and support the most effective ways to bridge divides and divisive cultures.

A strong and effective nonprofit and philanthropic sector requires field infrastructure organizations that help advance:

  • A policy environment that supports all nonprofits in pursuing their missions.
  • Capable and respected intermediaries that can enhance the effectiveness of organizations.
  • Field-building functions, such as the development and dissemination of knowledge and effective practices.
  • Networked and collaborative leadership and organizations.

As we have begun this work, we have been privileged to sustain longstanding programs like the Barr Fellowship, and to support new and longtime partners advancing these aims. You can explore all of our partners and the work we support in our online grants database.

The work of the social sector is essential to strengthening our communities and improving outcomes for all. Barr is invested in the health and effectiveness of the sector, and we know much more can be done. We welcome your insights and ideas as we continue to explore opportunities to strengthen our sector.

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