Strengthening New England’s social sector.

As a complement to our core programs, Barr’s Sector Effectiveness grantmaking aims to increase the impact of the social sector across New England communities.

The Foundation’s Sector Effectiveness grantmaking and activities focus on three goals:

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

Sector Effectiveness Strategies


Investing in leadership is a core value of the Foundation that permeates all of our activities. Through our Sector Effectiveness investments, we aim to cultivate leadership in the region that is representative of the diversity in our communities, highly skilled, and well prepared. We believe inclusive organizations are better equipped to fulfil their missions, and that this requires:

  • Alignment of executive management, board governance, and culture to cultivate diverse, inclusive leadership at all levels of the organization.
  • A robust, diverse, and well-prepared leadership pipeline with equitable access to leadership opportunity.
  • Attentiveness to diversity, inclusion, and equity in policy, practice, and culture.

We also believe cohort-based and peer-to-peer learning opportunities are among the most effective, as are targeted professional development opportunities for leaders.


Foundations can play important roles in ensuring public debates on critical issues are informed by rigorous, credible, objective research and analysis, and robust public engagement. Public officials, policymakers, and social, civic, and other community leaders use credible, objective data to inform strategies, to make decisions about organizational operations, and to promote the design and implementation of sound public policy. We contribute to such work in our core programs, and within our Sector Effectiveness grantmaking we focus on:

  • Building awareness of the need and demand for credible data.
  • Including constituent voice that reflects the diversity of our communities.
  • Employing strategic communications and engagement approaches to increase the use of credible information in policymaking and practice.
  • Building knowledge on how to bridge divides and reduce polarization, and enable healthier, more constructive debate on public issues.


The Barr Foundation recognizes the vital role of organizations focused on the overall health, effectiveness, and resilience of the social sector, and we embrace our shared responsibility to support such partners. Through Sector Effectiveness grantmaking, we focus on four principles:

  • Proactive engagement in public policy by nonprofit and philanthropic organizations of all kinds contributes to public policies that support and further their missions.
  • Sharing knowledge, effective practices, and lessons learned across the field by strong and respected organizations is essential for the sector to achieve maximum impact.
  • Cultivating inclusive cultures is a mission imperative for the sector to contribute to more equitable outcomes. This means ensuring diverse backgrounds, perspectives, and talents are welcomed and supported—particularly those from within the communities organizations work.
  • Regularly connecting leaders and fostering collaboration maximizes the individual and collective impact of varied organizations.

Consistent with Barr’s approach in its core programs, our Sector Effectiveness grantmaking is primarily regional in focus, with targeted national engagement when it advances these priorities and there is benefit to the New England region. As with all Barr grantmaking, Sector Effectiveness places a premium on collaboration with peer funders when engaging on a national level.


Learn about current investment priorities for Barr’s Sector Effectiveness efforts below. To see all recent Sector Effectiveness grantmaking activity, visit our grants database.


Recognize and support extraordinary leadership through the Barr Fellowship: Since 2005, Barr has recognized, supported, and connected 68 exemplary Greater Boston leaders through the Barr Fellowship, including the newest cohort announced in 2017. These leaders come from many backgrounds, organizations, and fields. Based on lessons from the first decade of operation, we refined the program model in 2017 and look forward to continuing to share lessons learned. Learn more.

Enhance nonprofit and public-sector leadership: Given ongoing shifts in demographics, emerging models of leadership, and the importance of cross-sector collaboration, we aim to support the development of an effective and diverse pipeline of nonprofit and civic leaders in New England, and to help cultivate organizational cultures that are attentive to diversity, equity and inclusion.


Increase access to credible, objective information: We support nonpartisan organizations that provide research, polling, and/or data analysis on a range of issues critical to our region and the nonprofit sector. In identifying such organizations, we look for high degrees of credibility, objectivity, sophistication in approach, and reach.

Promote healthy debate and civic discourse: We support organizations that ensure credible, objective information reaches the public in timely ways that facilitate thoughtful, constructive engagement on key challenges and opportunities facing the region. With interest in how knowledge can catalyze positive action, we seek efforts that leverage lessons from behavioral science.


Bolster critical infrastructure for the field: We principally provide general operating support for organizations that support nonprofits and philanthropies through policy engagement, knowledge- and practice-sharing, fostering inclusive cultures, and networking and collaboration. Our grantmaking decisions are informed by the Foundation’s core values, our work with grantees and other partners, and collaboration with peer funders.

Sector Effectiveness Grantmaking Process and Inquiries

Grants awarded by the Barr Foundation originate in different ways. The majority are initiated by our staff. Additionally, given the value we place on long-term partnerships, many grants are renewals for current grantees.

However, we welcome inquiries from those who feel their work may align with Barr’s priorities and who wish to introduce themselves to us. The best approach is to email with brief description (we suggest 300–400 words) of your organization and the funding opportunity you would like us to consider.

Learn more about Barr’s grantmaking process

Recent Sector Effectiveness News on our Blog