How We Work

We work on a small number of big bets that strive toward transformative change in areas of profound concern, including the existential threats of climate change and nuclear risk, the challenges in the U.S. of criminal justice reform and in Nigeria of more effective and legitimate government services, and bringing more financial capital to the social sector.

In addition, we maintain just a few enduring commitments: strengthening our hometown Chicago, where our civic leadership and commitment is deep and unwavering, and advancing journalism and media as a foundation for critical thinking and informed action in a democratic society. 

We also make awards to individuals for extraordinary creativity through the MacArthur Fellows program and for solutions to critical problems through 100&Change.

Our work is carried out:

  • With a sense of urgency
  • With adaptive and flexible approaches that enable us to apply what we are learning
  • Through a range of philanthropic approaches (e.g. forming new entities, using different structures, engaging in unexpected partnerships, etc.) where appropriate
  • Using all available tools to achieve the greatest possible impact (e.g. grants, impact investments, contracts, convenings, communications, etc.)

Each of our big bets and enduring commitments has mechanisms for oversight, governance, management, and measurement of progress and impact; each engages staff expertise, experience, and relationships across our Chicago-based headquarters and our three country offices.

A core team provides leadership, develops strategy, and ensures effective management, implementation, and evaluation of each big bet and enduring commitment. These teams also incorporate evaluation, communications, and impact investments staff members, all of whom are part of the strategy development, grantmaking and investment process from the beginning.

Our institutional goal is to understand the impact in all our work; evaluation is integral to the work across its lifecycle, and we identify milestones to monitor and track progress and impact. We engage a formal learning partner from the beginning of new work. We also use strategic communications as a tool to increase impact and share the work of our grantees.

Beyond the core team is a set of internal advisors, who are MacArthur staff members with relevant background, expertise, or perspective. The role of internal advisors is to ask tough questions; provide guidance and advice on strategic direction; review and offer input on grants and investments; help consider progress toward stated goals; and ensure collaboration across the Foundation.

A small set of external advisors is also enlisted to provide critical review and extensive field knowledge. They are available for ongoing consultation and meet periodically as a group with Foundation staff.


Using Intermediaries for Impact

Like a number of foundations, we often make grants to intermediary organizations to take advantage of the knowledge, connections, networks, expertise, and resources of these entities. More on use of intermediaries ›

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