Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Birth of a sceptic

Written by: on October 19, 2017

In Learn How to Study: Developing the Study Skills and Approaches to Learning that Will Help You Succeed in University, Derek Rowntree offers basic and practical concepts to aid learners in assimilating and retaining the vast amounts of material we will encounter in our DMin program.  I’ve decided the best way to approach the learning in this text is to apply Rowntree’s coaching directly to one of the shorter articles in my bibliography.  It is, as Rowntree suggests, “[needing] to be involved in the making of your own knowledge.”[1]  And so I pray you’ll bear with me as, with Rowntree as my sounding board, I analyze a brief article: “An Alternative Model of Philanthropy” by Madeleine F. Green and Annie W. Bezbatchenko, which appeared in Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning in 2014.

Rowntree lays out the goal for learners at the beginning of his book: You need to know what you and your tutors want, and develop approaches to attaining it.[2]  My research topic is “Generational transitions in faith-based family philanthropy”.  Millennials are inheriting the responsibility of stewarding significant wealth dedicated for Christian ministry purposes.  How will their leadership impact future Christian giving?  To respond to those questions, I will be reviewing critical books and articles, including the one by Green and Bezbatchenko, and writing my dissertation on that topic.

At the outset, Professor Rowntree counsels his readers to be “active, alert, questioning and, where necessary, sceptical.”[3]  I’ve read a multitude of foundation-sponsored articles over the years, and I admit to a degree of scepticism with this brief article.  The first indicator for this sceptic was discovered in the biographical information of the authors in the footer of the article.  I was surprised, no, dismayed, to discover that Green and Bezbatchenko were program staff at the Teagle Foundation, the same highlighted institution that brilliantly shines in the article as a third way, and alternative model, for foundations.  They are clearly not dispassionate observers.

The Teagle Foundation, as a private grantmaker, invests in strengthening liberal arts institutions, and their approach is creative, thoughtful, and engaging[4]. However, I find it a stretch to insist that it models a unique, third way forward for foundations.  Green and Bezbatchenko set this up by contrasting Teagle with two types of grantmakers, Knowledge-Based Grantmakers (of which Mellon, Rockefeller, Carnegie and FIPSE are cited as examples), and Strategic Grantmakers (for example, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and Lumina Foundation).  The former are said to be “more reflective, more patient, and generally less aggressive”[5] and are characteristic of the 20th century, whereas the latter have emerged in the past few decades, and are wanting to lead more fully, more proactively, and set their own broad and overarching agendas distinct from the institutions they assist through their grantmaking.[6]

The third way espoused by the authors is a hybrid approach which serves as an alternative model for foundations.  Like Knowledge-Based Grantmakers, third way funders work collegially with its many grantees, cultivate a culture of experimentation, and do not insist that every approach will be equally successful.  Like Strategic Grantmakers, however, third way funders zero in on a singular social purpose, focus on a limited number of relationships, and emphasize collaborative partnerships.[7]  However, the claim this is a new, hybrid model is overreaching. This new model is merely the natural evolution of their foundation, based on learning and improving processes as they do their work, and as one is exposed to the best practices of other foundations.

My scepticism on this model being a new third way is rooted in my own experience in leading a Canadian private grantmaking foundation, knowing how we evolved over time in our strategy and practices.  Rowntree claims, “…you’ve acquired your vast fund of everyday facts not through memorising them but through living them.”[8]  Like the Teagle Foundation, we also hit a roadblock – also a year’s moratorium on grantmaking – due to the recession of 2008.  From that year of fallowness, we emerged more humble, centred, and reliant on collaboration.  Without that succession of road trips to listen to grantees when we would normally be receiving applications, we would not have had the courage to uncover better solutions such as working together with others to establish our collaborative grants program, Stronger Together.  As I’ve watched other foundations, I see they too are making similar shifts as they hit obstacles, shift leaders, or undertake a comprehensive strategic review.  Indeed, I had the privilege of visiting the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in May 2017, and listened to a presentation with Melinda’s Chief of Staff, John Sage, who spoke of how even the mighty Gates Foundation evolves.

A short article is not the best place to uncover the full explanation of Teagle Foundation’s hybrid pathway forward.  Their pathway seems valid, and from perusing their website, I admire their impact and how they have conducted themselves.  But as Mortimer Adler suggests in How to Read a Book, one should disagree with an author when he or she is incomplete in their analysis.[9]  Rowntree also acknowledges that, “Unacceptable premises … can lead us to reject an author’s argument.”[10] I would posit that many foundations, old and new, are carving out a hybrid pathway forward, and that Teagle is not the only one.  The pendulum does swing back and forth, and there are many of us are on that same journey of discovery.


[1] Derek Rowntree, Learn How to Study: Developing the Study Skills and Approaches to Learning that Will Help You Succeed in University, Kindle Loc 921.

[2] Ibid., Kindle Loc 316.

[3] Ibid., Kindle Loc 680.

[4] http://www.teaglefoundation.org

[5] Madeleine F. Green and Annie W. Bezbatchenko, “An Alternative Model of Philanthropy” in Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning, Vol 46, No 1.

[6] The Gates Foundation’s commitment to eradicate malaria is an example.  See https://www.gatesnotes.com/Health/Mapping-the-End-of-Malaria.

[7] Green and Bezbatchenko, 48-49.

[8] Rowntree, Kindle Loc 911.

[9] Mortimer Adler, How to Read a Book, (New York: MJF, 1972), 161.

[10] Rowntree, Kindle Loc 3427.

I wouldn’t normally post this, but Rowntree does urge us to: “Make a note of the main ideas.” (Kindle 2489). Writing out the main points helped me uncover the argument being made.

About the Author

Mark Petersen

Mark Petersen is the CEO of Stronger Philanthropy, a Canadian firm specializing in maximizing family philanthropy. He leads a diverse group of visionary individuals, foundations and organizations to collaborate in leveraging wealth for charitable impact.

11 responses to “Birth of a sceptic”

  1. Jennifer Williamson says:

    Hey Mark, your whole post was fascinating to me as a former grant writer, and I agree with your analysis about the evolution of funding. But the thing that is prompting me to comment is your photo of your notes in the end. I love how your notes are in the style of a mind-map. I tend to take notes by hand, rather than on a computer because I like to be able to put ideas into spatial relationship with each other. This aids both my learning and my retention. I have also heard that hand writing contributes to better knowledge retention than typing. Interesting that even though the book has been through numerous updates, he didn’t discuss HOW to take notes (ie digital vs by hand). Do you have a personal preference for one or the other? Which is most useful to your learning?

    • I find I need to get away from a screen and taking notes by hand helps me retain them. I also like putting them on a page and creating a flow for the work.

      But doing it by hand means not having a digital copy. So I am learning now to take a photo of the notes and uploading it to Zotero. There’s a feature there where you can attach documents or images.

  2. Jay Forseth says:

    Hi Mark,

    In my blog I made fun of the UK author for using S’s instead of Z’s. Will you let me make fun of your French/Canadian spelling of “sceptic” instead of the “skeptic” spelling I am used to. (grin).

    Actually, you had my attention in your blog when you mentioned the Teagle Foundation. We received a grant from them when I worked as the fundraiser for my college.

    I think you are the best prepared philanthropist I have ever talked to. I am impressed with your thoroughness and preparation. I can hardly wait to hear how your dissertation evolves…

    • Jay… It’s hard to be Canadian. Sometimes we spell the UK way (colour, centre) but sometimes we spell the American way (organize, skeptic). So you outed me for spelling skeptic wrong!! 😉

      The reality of being a Canadian is we get used to seeing spellings in both American and UK versions, so after awhile, both end up looking right. When I posted “Birth of a sceptic”, I had a mild sense that I was misspelling skeptic, but checked with Rowntree, and that’s how he spelled it… so I left it at that!

      Also: that is very interesting you got a Teagle grant at your college. Did your college have to collaborate with others to get the grant? Is there anywhere online that would show me what their grant was used for at your college? I’m curious… Thanks!

  3. Greg says:

    I appreciate that you continue to relate the books we are reading to the dissertation and passion that drives you. I have to admit that business, money and philanthropy have always been a struggle for me to understand or be passionate about. So as we journey together I feel as though I am learning as well.

    I was intrigue by the note taking section of this book as I had done some “webbing” models when putting creative short stories together but had not thought of that as a technique to take notes. I am glad you included your in your footnotes section. Is this how you normally take notes and have you found that it helps keep your thoughts (can I say because of it apparent chaotic look) organized?

    • I’ve never been very disciplined about taking notes, but I am trying to be more so this time around. I find I have to see things visually and so play around with the main points to create some diagram that I can remember.

  4. Jason Turbeville says:


    Great use of the text to help your dissertation move along. I really admire you for being able and willing to call an author out for being possibly hidden in their agenda. Giving is one of the most difficult things to talk to people about and it seems you are someone who has a gift for doing that. I appreciate your insight.

  5. Jean Ollis says:

    Hi Mark,
    Great application of Rowntree’s book to an article on philanthropy! I, too, appreciated your visual notes you uploaded at the end. I have a colleague who doodles/takes notes with a stylus on her iPad. It serves two purposes – allows for the brain connection of writing/organizing for understanding and memory and automatically is uploaded/saved. I’m impressed by digital note-takers and organizers. I also like to take written notes more than electronic notes – but it’s much easier to misplace them!

    On a separate note, thank you for shipping your book. I’m in awe of the work it must have taken to compose and publish. It seems you’re farther ahead than the rest of us when it comes to writing!

    One more question, do you ever see a day when philanthropy is archaic and your foundation cannot sustain? I have some sociological thoughts on this…

  6. Jean,

    I’d love to know more about your sociological thoughts on that… how would you see philanthropy as archaic?

    One of the dilemmas we face in the philanthropy sector is arrogance. The thought is that money can’t run out when it’s invested well. People invest the principal and give off the interest; they talk about giving in perpetuity. I’ve always felt this was wrong, but am unable to justify it. My preferred solution is for the founders and their families to give it all away within the first-third generations to steward the original intent of the donor.

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