Tides Foundation

Fall-Winter 2014
Project Type
Full team
Project Focus
Market Analysis
Organization Type
Human Services,
International Development or Microfinance


Since 1976, Tides has provided social innovators, philanthropists, foundations, and corporations across the country and around the globe with comprehensive support to drive positive change. What began as a foundation to help channel anonymous grants to support environmental organizations and community groups has grown to include a multi-faceted range of programs. These include Tides Shared Spaces, a collaborative space for environmental, human rights, and educational nonprofits; Tides Center, fiscal sponsorship to enable nonprofits to focus on core programs with over 150 nonprofits currently under management; and the robust Tides Foundation, with over 16,000 grants totaling $500 million in the last five years to mission-aligned organizations such as Code for America, the Edible Schoolyard Project, the Center for Investigative Reporting, La Cocina, and the Union of Concerned Scientists.


Tides has provided sophisticated cross-sector financial and management services for impact for more than thirty-five years. The social impact ecosystem, however, has changed rapidly in the twenty-first century and Tides has not fully adapted to meet the needs of this new world. Tides now faces fierce competition from other foundations for donors, as well as from for-profit corporation spin-offs like Fidelity and Charles Schwab that have entered the charitable giving space and can offer incredibly low fee structures. As a result, Tides must understand its competitors and how these new entrants are disrupting the existing paradigm.

Project Objectives

Tides asked ACT to complete a competitive assessment. ACT was asked to study and analyze the social impact ecosystem as it existed in 2014-15 to assist Tides’ management and board in gaining a deeper understanding of who Tides’ competitors are, what they look like, and how they operate in order to assist the CEO in developing and driving a strategic direction that enables Tides to thrive.

Project Overview

Tides’ new leaders, the CEO and EVP, were previously affiliated with Stanford and familiar with ACT. The project was designed to provide key data on and characterizations of twelve specified organizations with which Tides Foundation competes, as part of a larger effort to develop an updated business strategy:

  • Five community foundations
  • Three non-profit affiliates of for-profit commercial fund management organizations
  • Four generally smaller, “hybrid” competitors

The ACT team collected, structured, and presented detailed historical data on the organizations, along with their strengths, weaknesses, apparent strategies, and marketing tactics. The team also completed seventeen interviews with Tides’ clients, competitors’ clients, competitors’ representatives, Tides’ staff and board members, and impact philanthropy experts.

Key Conclusions

The ACT team identified two organizations that, for different reasons, represent Tides’ most significant competitors, and why they are characterized as such. One is a large and particularly innovative community foundation; the other a smaller, aggressive hybrid organization that focuses on complex client needs. The team also characterized in detail the size, growth, service offerings, pricing/fee structures, and grantmaking activity of each competitor; described their mission-related grant and investment guidelines/restrictions; and delivered detailed supporting data and documentation to the client.

Final Report Outline

- Introductions to ACT

- Review of project objectives, scope, plan

- Characterization of the competitive landscape:

  • Community foundations
  • For-profit commercial fund affiliates
  • Hybrid competitors
  • Fees/investment options
  • Size, grantmaking, mission alignment
  • Growth analysis
  • Key characteristics/insights

- Summary of key characteristics and interview findings

- Data appendix