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Q&A: Jacob Harold creates philanthropist 'toolbox,' guide


Jacob Harold believes philanthropy needs more “strategic promiscuity” – battling the world’s problems using a variety of approaches.

It’s an idea that mirrors his wide-ranging career. Harold was president and CEO of GuideStar before it merged with Foundation Center to form the even larger nonprofit information source Candid, which he co-founded. He worked with the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation to make its giving more effective and with The Bridgespan Group, he helped philanthropists and foundations donate more intentionally. As a strategist for Greenpeace USA and Rainforest Action Network, he deployed those donations.

“We can’t afford as a field and as a species to leave great ideas on the table right now,” Harold said. “If that great idea is born in some small organization, we have to figure out what is its pathway into government policy. What is its pathway into the marketplace? We can’t predict that, but we can equip people to have a better chance of getting there.”

To boost those chances, Harold wrote “The Toolbox: Strategies for Crafting Social Impact,” which hit bookshelves Thursday. “The Toolbox” offers nine strategies, or tools, philanthropists can use on a problem – from storytelling to behavioral economics to community organizing.

“I hope people who have only one lens -- all they have is a hammer, so the whole world looks like a nail – read this and just sort of pause and see that there’s other stuff out there,” Harold said. “And I want people feeling discouraged and hopeless in this strange moment to be reminded of the abundance of options and the abundance of learning and resources that are out there.”

Harold, 45, recently spoke with The Associated Press about his new book and how he hopes it helps nonprofits reach more donors. The interview was edited for clarity and length.

Q: Why did you want to write this book?

A: It goes back to my time at the Hewlett Foundation a decade ago where I’m sitting there in the fancy office of a $10 billion dollar foundation and the smartest social entrepreneurs in the world are coming to us pitching big ideas. Then, for lunch, we’ll have a great philosopher or a brilliant psychologist come in and give a talk. Or we’ll go across the street to Stanford and hang out at the design school. We were just so privileged to see all these different ways of thinking about social change. And I realized no one else had that level of privilege. So the first point of the book is “Let’s just share that abundance of ways of thinking about social good.” Over the centuries, people have put so much thought and time into figuring out how to do it and we’ve actually learned a lot.

Q: You said that’s your hopeful reason. What’s the less hopeful reason?

A: Part of me was kind of angry because so many people are so convinced that their one approach was the only way to succeed. So many of the failures we’ve seen in the social sector over the last 20 years come from people so obsessed with a particular framework that they don’t acknowledge the complexity of the world.

Q: How do you want readers to use this book?

A: I think most everyone is going to come to this with one of these tools as a framework that they’re already using. Maybe they come from the business world and use a market mindset. Or they come from journalism and they bring a storytelling mindset. I hope first they would see some affirmation in what they already have, but then seed their mind with these other ways of thinking... I would also expect that someone will read this book and say, “Seven of these tools make sense to me and two of them made no sense at all.” That is OK. It’s not that everyone has to master every way of thinking. It’s just that we have to recognize that the world’s too complicated for any one way to be enough.

Q: Why is it important for this book to come out now?

A: Right now, so many of us feel emotionally overwhelmed. There’s a lot of anxiety. We need to act in the face of all these challenges, but we also need to have confidence that we actually can succeed.

Q: To what extent can philanthropy get things done when compared to governments, especially in a global issue like climate change?

A: That’s one thing that I struggled with in this book that the classic reader of this book would be a nonprofit manager or a foundation staffer. But there are lots of people in the business world and in government working full time to make a better world. And they need tools too. The people in government trying to figure out the right policies to address climate change need to have frameworks in their minds as well. And we actually need every sector applying every lesson to address a question like climate change. Climate change, to me, is the perfect example of a problem that can’t be solved with a single solution.


Associated Press coverage of philanthropy and nonprofits receives support through the AP’s collaboration with The Conversation US, with funding from Lilly Endowment Inc. The AP is solely responsible for this content. For all of AP’s philanthropy coverage, visit https://apnews.com/hub/philanthropy.