Philanthropy in the Next Decade

posted on: May 16, 2011

Yesterday, I attended the “Global Philanthropy: Skating to Where the Puck is Going to Be” (title based on a famous Wayne Gretzky quote) event at the Hudson Institute.

Panelists included Byron R. Johnson, director of the Institute for Studies of Religion at Balyor University; Susan Raymond, executive vice president of Changing Our World, Inc.; David Simms, board chair of Opportunity International Network; Dennis Whittle, president of the Whittle Group and cofounder of GlobalGiving; and Dr. Carol Adelman, senior fellow and director of the Center for Global Prosperity at the Hudson Institute.

The event focused on the release of a new publication by the Hudson Institute titled, “The Index of Global Philanthropy and Remittances 2011.” Then, the panelists made their educated hypotheses regarding how the global philanthropic landscape will look in the next few years or decades.

Of all the panelists, I found Whittle’s forward-thinking hypotheses the most thought-provoking and possible. He believes that within the next 10 to 15 years, three phenomena will transpire and transform philanthropy:

  • Democratization of Voice: First, Whittle explained some archaic and paternalistic approaches to philanthropy. Subsequently, he said that the practice of affluent Westerners with power (grantmakers) determining how to frame and approach philanthropic problems, solutions, funding strategies and evaluation metrics will be supplanted by the practice of voices and ideas of people affected by problems and solutions (the beneficiaries of grants).
  • Public and Real-Time Voice: Due to the exponential growth and expansive reach of technology, the evaluation and information-sharing between grantmakers and beneficiaries of grants will become an instant positive feedback loop.
  • Nonprofit Conductors: Nonprofit organizations will play the role of “conducting constructive conversations” between donors and beneficiaries, and they will do so in the public sphere. Additionally, he thinks the primary philanthropic question will no longer be, “How can the beneficiaries of grants meet the grantmakers’ goals?” Rather, he suggested, the question will become: “What do beneficiaries of grants need to receive from donors?”

Despite how wonderful it would be if/when Whittle’s three phenomena fully come to fruition, the pragmatist in me realizes that our world will always have too many problems and too few solutions.

Yet, a deeper concern of mine is that too few people determine which of the world’s many problems take priority, and those select people are often the least affected by problems and least exposed to the needs of those who are most affected by these problems. This dynamic will not change; history repeatedly demonstrates how the wealthy and privileged few unfailingly attain greater power than everyone else.

However, by understanding this dynamic and humbling ourselves about the responsibility of power, our philanthropic sector can strive towards accelerating a fourth phenomenon that is slowly coming to fruition: before rallying finite time and resources around tackling these issues, grantmakers ask whether their predetermined problems are the most critical among the many that need solving and whose perspective defined their predetermined problems.

Christine Reeves is field associate of the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP).