Where Can Donors Find Philanthropy 202?
Day in and day out, I attend conferences and read articles, books and annual reports that describe how both foundations and individual donors are attempting to gain greater impact through strategic focus. Two recent examples demonstrate that while interest in the topic of philanthropic strategy has grown exponentially in recent years, there is little beyond the basics for donors. That's to say that while Philanthropy 101 abounds, deeper, more thoughtful articulations (Philanthropy 202?) are still hidden in the heads of well-seasoned donors and program officers as well as in a variety of institutional file drawers.
The first is Joe Fleischman’s relatively new book, The Foundation: A Great American Secret; How Private Wealth is Changing the World. While decidedly solid, I was surprised to find little if anything that felt fresh, compelling or particularly sophisticated. The second was an event at the Milano New School for Management and Urban Policy called: Big Ideas, Big Gifts, Big Impact: A Conversation with Today's Philanthropists which featured Susie Buffet and David Rockefeller, Jr. I’ve no doubt dinner with these two mega-donors would have been full of hard-won insights, but I was surprised to find the School’s president dumbing down the questions to his astute guests, leaving little said that wasn’t decidedly obvious.
My sense is that today’s “new donors” (I am quite aware how that term grates on traditionalists) have few resources readily available that can enable them to move beyond the basics quickly. Community foundations and other public charities are struggling to make such information available to their donors but such information usually has to be customized to the interests of individual donors. The do-it-yourselfer is left with little to move them forward.
I am reminded of all this when reading the 2006 Annual Review from the Rockefeller Brothers Fund called “Transforming Societies” which displays levels of sophistication that really stand out from the crowd. More on that next week.