Ending Well: Maximizing Lasting Impact

Resource type: News

Christopher G. Oechsli, President and CEO, The Atlantic Philanthropies |

When we finally close our doors, The Atlantic Philanthropies will become the largest foundation ever to deliberately conclude grantmaking within the lifetime of its donor. We’re conscious of making every investment count – in Chuck Feeney’s words: to make the “highest and best use” of our remaining grant funds. That means maximizing the impact of our final work by applying our distinct experience and comparative advantages toward resolution of some of the 21st century’s most challenging issues. That’s a big challenge, requiring calculated risks and confidence in our grantees.

Setting the GOAL Posts

The contours of our final grantmaking are best expressed using a rubric we call GOAL—Global Opportunity and Leverage. GOAL collects and connects our 30-plus years of program investments into several essential themes, linking the issues and initiatives in which we’ve invested across the geographical boundaries of the five continents in which we’ve been most active. These themes include health equity and scientific innovation; inequality, democracy and social change; and racial equity.

By linking and leveraging these themes, we have identified a number of strategic final initiatives that will support systemic change and provide lasting impact beyond our life as a grantmaking organization.

My recent messages in this space have offered a glimpse at some of these final investments, from supporting a groundbreaking National Dementia Strategy in Ireland to building career paths for disadvantaged students in Oakland, California schools by linking health and education agencies. As Atlantic’s own life gets shorter, I will continue to share the legacy of this foundation and our visionary founder Chuck Feeney, as well as the lessons we’re learning about the leverage and lasting impact of time-limited philanthropy.

Atlantic’s work has always been rooted in specific interconnected human values that we believe are universally shared and that all aspire to: fair opportunity for social and economic mobility; basic human dignity for all people, including those who are different from us and with whom we may disagree; and the right to participate in an equitable society, including equal access to quality education and health care.

To realize and sustain these fundamental values and aspirations requires the continuing participation and engagement of catalytic leaders and constituent communities.  As we conclude our grantmaking, we are evermore focused on what Atlantic grantee and 2014 MacArthur Fellow Ai-jen Poo calls the “democratization of voice” – in promoting the participatory impetus and standing of those whose dignity has been historically and systematically devalued and for whom opportunity has been denied.

With this in mind, I am pleased to announce two major Atlantic-supported initiatives – one in Belfast, Northern Ireland; another in Washington, D.C. – establishing new organizations to continue to advocate for change beyond the life of Atlantic.

Social Change Initiative

Atlantic is proud to have helped launch the Social Change Initiative (SCI), based in Belfast, where much of our funding has been directed at addressing and resolving conflict and realizing equal rights and opportunity in a deeply divided society.

Established earlier this year with grants totaling nearly $15 million, SCI will continue and extend Atlantic’s focus on these concerns and will build on our foundation’s and grantees’ experiences and learning to advance human rights and social change, both in Northern Ireland and globally.

VIDEO: The Belfast-based Social Change Initiative (SCI) aims to advance human rights and social change, both in Northern Ireland and globally.

Led by our former Atlantic colleagues Martin O’Brien and Padraic Quirk, SCI’s central aim is to synthesize and share evidence, providing useful advice on how to effect broad change in policies, practices and public perceptions, particularly with respect to peace-building and protecting human rights. SCI will work with activists, advocates and funders to promote social change through proven approaches. These include strategic litigation, knowing when to collaborate with or challenge government, and piloting models of effective public-service delivery for marginalized groups and communities. Each of these strategies reflects the long and deep international experience of Atlantic, our grantees and funding partners.

SCI will also engage and convene leaders and thinkers across geographies to reflect on and share their experiences and practices – what has worked and what hasn’t, and why – and to focus on practical, actionable strategies and tactics that can make life better for the vulnerable and marginalized. That engagement will manifest in part through a fellowship fund, overseen by SCI, to support emerging and established human rights and reconciliation practitioners in Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland, the United States and South Africa.

Designed to be responsive and versatile, SCI is able to address pressing international issues affecting millions of people. Tragic events involving the death of migrants in South Africa and refugees in the Mediterranean Sea highlight the urgency of addressing migration policies and practices and have forced governments around the world to grapple with the issue publicly. Immigrants face discrimination everywhere, from physical and economic exploitation to social and political marginalization. Insufficient government response to migration damages both the individuals most in need and the economies of receiving nations.

One of SCI’s primary projects is the Global Migration Learning Exchange, which will build on years of work by Atlantic grantees that have changed migration policy and practice. The Exchange will consolidate, disseminate and share successful advocacy efforts and tactics on this pressing global issue. For example, it will facilitate an exchange of skills on topics, such as strategic communications to counter negative narratives, while also mobilizing broad and supportive constituencies for migrant communities, and influencing and implementing legislation.

SCI reflects Atlantic’s obligation to share, support and sustain intellectual, social and human capital and to extend and amplify its impact on a global scale after we have left the stage.

Civic Participation Action Fund

To promote lasting, systemic change, Atlantic is committed to supporting advocacy aimed at diversifying democratic voices that inform and influence public policy. We have had the distinctive capacity to support particular forms of advocacy in the United States that have provided our grantees with much greater flexibility and a wide range of effective tools. Funded by the Atlantic Advocacy Fund (AAF), a 501(c)(4), this unique resource has supported organizations and often marginalized communities to exercise their voices through lobbying, conducting ballot initiatives, and even engaging in electoral work that is non-partisan, issue based and not directly linked to candidates.

AAF support of U.S. advocacy organizations that seek to overcome barriers to fairness and opportunity has helped gain more equitable access to health care for millions of vulnerable children and families, change racially discriminatory policing and criminal justice policies, defend the Social Security system against unfair budget cuts, and move America closer to comprehensive immigration reform and elimination of the death penalty. Many of these efforts are ongoing, and the need for advocacy resources, like those provided by AAF, will be even more critical in the future because of outsized special interests that blunt a participatory democracy, often sidelining, if not excluding, underrepresented and under-resourced communities. With important social justice movements around the nation gaining momentum, and a presidential election on the horizon, committed advocacy and voter engagement are critical. An informed and activated public is vital for reforming discriminatory immigration and criminal justice policies.

To continue support for policy change in the United States to which Atlantic has been committed, we established a new, independent Washington, D.C.-based organization, the Civic Participation Action Fund (CPAF), with a five-year, $50 million commitment that will enable it to continue to pursue AAF’s objectives beyond our own life.

VIDEO: The Civic Participation Action Fund (CPAF) will support projects and organizations that promote racial equality, expand civic engagement and increase economic opportunity.

CPAF embodies Atlantic’s long-standing belief that engaging low-income people and communities of color in voting and grassroots advocacy will contribute to policies that are more democratic, responsive, equitable and representative. It will support projects and organizations that promote racial equality, expand civic engagement and increase economic opportunity. Operating with a small staff led by Atlantic’s former U.S. Country Director Steve McConnell, CPAF will work primarily with underrepresented communities in their efforts to gain a stronger, more influential voice in elections and in the legislative process.

VIDEO: Stephen McConnell, Atlantic’s former U.S. Country Director, discusses the Civic Participation Action Fund (CPAF), a new, independent Washington, D.C.-based organization established with Atlantic’s support.

CPAF will seek to support activities at the national, state and local levels where there are significant opportunities to advance non-partisan, evidence-based policy changes and civic participation. CPAF will also focus on enlisting and joining with other funders to expand the available pool of 501(c)(4) funds and to make more effective and efficient use of all resources dedicated to policy advocacy. CPAF will develop and make grants by invitation only.

Leveraging Limited Life Philanthropy for a Better Future for All

“In the world we live in today, there is such a need to reach out and help people,” our founder Chuck Feeney once said. “There’s no shortage of people who need help; it’s a market that will always exist.”

For over three decades, Atlantic Philanthropies’ grantmaking has been premised on building better futures for those in need; affirming the promise of dignity, opportunity and equality; and promoting organizations, leaders, practices and policies that can deliver on that promise. As Chuck Feeney wrote to the Giving Pledge: “Today’s needs are so great and varied that intelligent philanthropic support and positive interventions can have greater value and impact today than if they are delayed when the needs are greater.” Our experience has shown that making large, purposeful philanthropic investments now in effective advocacy can enhance and sustain rights and protections that make tangible differences in people’s lives now and for the longer term.

Our culminating grants represent two of Atlantic’s final big bets on a more democratic and equitable future. Our grantmaking days are numbered, but we remain dedicated to deploying our remaining resources to their highest and best use for maximum lasting impact. I look forward to announcing more of these exciting, and we hope game-changing, final investments in the months to come.

Best Regards,


Christopher G. Oechsli
President and CEO