Foundation Center

How the Foundation Center Transformed Into a Digital Information Resource


“[The Crossland Group] is great at establishing a vision and teaching you how to foster a culture that will make that vision a reality. Our team trusted them as neutral brokers through the growing pains, and as a result, they successfully helped get a critical mass to own the change process. That was vital.”

Brad Smith


The Foundation Center

The challenge

Transform the Foundation Center from a data publisher to a knowledge services organization for the philanthropic community.

The Foundation Center’s mission is “to strengthen the social sector by advancing knowledge and philanthropy in the U.S. and around the world.”

Established in 1956, in the wake of McCarthy-era hearings on philanthropy, the Foundation Center brought transparency to the work of foundations by publishing large subscription-based directories on U.S. grant-makers and their grantees.

For many decades, the Foundation Center was effectively the only curator and source for this valuable data. In 2011, however, the U.S. government indicated that it was planning to make this data (in its raw form) free and open to the public. While the Foundation Center supported this movement of free information-sharing, it also meant that it’s primarily offering could be rendered obsolete. As a result, the organization found itself at risk of losing 70 percent of its non-grant revenue.  This potential risk, however, also provided the Foundation Center with a great opportunity to put more emphasis on developing its other more progressive forms of knowledge services, such as research/analytics, data visualization, education, and training. So, it began charting a long-term transformation, including the drafting of a comprehensive strategic plan.

What we did

Upon completion of its strategy, the Foundation Center was unsure of how best to put its plan into action, and it was challenged by impending massive organizational change implied.  With this thoughtful eye on implementation, it sought an experienced partner to help, enlisting the expertise of the Crossland Group. There were two main objectives of the work:

1. Develop offerings that supported the strategic shift.

First, we enlisted the feedback of the Foundation Center’s stakeholders and end-users to identify solutions based on the needs of the philanthropic community. We asked hard questions and took a close look internally to bring new insights to light. Which audiences do/will we serve? How are their needs and behavior changing? What is the Foundation Center doing right? Where can we do more? What information and offerings are needed/no longer needed?

After answering these questions and extracting requirements, we next focused on creating a cohesive set of products and services—some evolved and some new—that aligned to and furthered the mission of transparency and meaning making in the world of philanthropy.Next, we identified a set of key dependencies and formed a plan for product design/development.

2. Realign the work, people, and processes in the organization to support a lasting transformation.

On the heels of setting the product/services plans, we developed a blueprint for transforming the organization into one capable of delivering those plans:

Organizational design encompassed a large piece of our collaboration on this project. First, we identified the core functions and competencies required to support the new vision of the Foundation Center.

Next, we created a talent plan. We looked inside the organization at the existing talent and their skill sets, mapping them to the those needed and enabling them to contribute their highest and greatest value. We identified gaps and developed plans to fill them.

We then aligned people and processes to strengthen teams, increase efficiency, and ensure that everyone in the organization understood their roles in the overall success of the Foundation Center.

Finally, we embedded a series of operational project plans into a project management “gearbox,” developing a shared organizational resource pool and dramatically increasing the project load the organization was capable of managing.

The result

Over $18M in new investments

Through its collaboration with the Crossland Group, the Foundation Center was able to turn its strategy into a solid implementation plan and secure over $18M in new investments from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Ford Foundation, Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, Conrad Hilton Foundation, Robert W. Woodruff Foundation, Open Society Foundations, and other donors over several years.

This investment enabled the Foundation Center to proactively respond to changing conditions and needs in the social sector. Much more than a trusted provider of data, the Foundation Center is a cornerstone of knowledge for the philanthropic community in the U.S. and around the world. Our team at the Crossland Group is honored to have had a role in creating that.


Number of engaged employees


Total increase in investments


Number of co-created products and solutions


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