Chart of philanthropic actions and recipients

Signals From the Future (part 3): Tools and Strategies

When I’m asked to speak, I describe myself in three roles – philanthropist, philanthropoid, and philanthropy geek. The more practice I have in living out each of those roles, the more I find myself returning to three core beliefs:

  1. Philanthropy – voluntary action for the public good – is a big tent concept. It is too often devalued to only mean tax-deductible gifts to charitable organizations.
  2. A wide variety of values and purposes, often unvoiced, drive the voluntary philanthropy of individuals, businesses, and grantmakers. Too many messages from nonprofit staffers, advocates, program officers, and consultants demean the welcome diversity of values and purposes.
  3. There is no one right tool for philanthropic action. Philanthropists can choose from many legal structures (or lack thereof) and strategies and each structure and strategy has its own advantages. There are too many articles and conference sessions claiming one tool is wrong or one strategy is the most correct.

I’ve struggled to incorporate those beliefs into an easy graphic or two. My latest iterations came when preparing for a “Navigating 21st Century Giving Trends” workshop for the Bayer Center of Nonprofit Management and the “Strategic Grantmaking Deep Dive Day” for the Indiana Philanthropy Alliance.

The first graphic mapped three types of philanthropic action – investing, buying, and giving (cash, time and other resources) – and three recipients of that action – nonprofits (and government agencies), businesses of all types, and individuals. During the “Navigating 21st Century Giving Trends” workshop, we discussed trends in philanthropy and filled in the chart. It resulted in this:

Chart of philanthropic actions and recipients

The second graphic was for the “Deep Dive Day” and attempted to group the tools available to philanthropists and grantmakers into three headline strategies – impact, influence, and leverage. Credit goes to the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Making Connections Initiative for the three headlines, and to many other funders for the tools in use.

Graphic of funder tools for impact, influence, and leverage

Some of the ideas in the graphics are long-standing practices. Some are newer, evolving signals from the future of philanthropy. My sense is that an increasing number of donors, grantmakers, social innovators, and everyday people are purposely using multiple tools. They may have different terms for the tools and strategies, but they’re sharing in a belief that they can deploy their resources for social good in multiple ways. America’s largest two demographic groups are driving the trends:

  • Baby Boomers currently provide 43% of the money donated to charities and are the largest demographic in Congress and state legislatures, in nonprofit executive director roles, and on the Forbes 400. As they transition into retirement years, will have even more time to use their resources and talents to accomplish social and public policy goals.
  • Millennials will make up at least half of the workforce by 2020. They actively commit their time, money, and networks for causes and don’t mind if those causes aren’t managed by charitable organizations. They expect companies to be involved with causes and proactively seek options to buy from and invest in businesses that have positive social and environmental results.

Your Thoughts?

Both graphics pack in too many complex ideas to stand well on their own. And, both are works in progress. I’m offering them up for your feedback and comments. Do the frameworks make sense? Am I missing key tools and ideas? I welcome your thoughts!

Share Your Voice in the Trends in Family Philanthropy Survey

research-wordle.jpg_930094764How do philanthropic families involve younger generations in giving? How do those families think about strategy, impact, and legacy? How are they using staff, advisors, and services such as Donor-Advised Funds? Which financial and volunteer roles are family members taking?

There is surprisingly little data on these and other characteristics of philanthropic families. That will soon change, thanks to the new Trends In Family Philanthropy Study by the National Center for Family Philanthropy (NCFP) and Urban Institute. The research is being conducted in May and June of 2015 and the results will be released at NCFP’s National Forum on Family Philanthropy in October.

I joined the project’s advisory committee last fall because (you guessed it) I’m a philanthropy geek. More importantly, I know that philanthropic families frequently ask questions about how peers are handling a variety of giving, governance, and management issues. This study will be a terrific resource to the families and their staff and advisors, and it will be repeated and updated over time.

The Urban Institute is reaching out to a random sample of private, family foundations. NCFP is more broadly surveying philanthropic families, regardless of the tools they might be using (foundation, charitable gift fund, bank trust, etc.) and regardless of small or immense grantmaking/giving budgets.

Here’s where YOU come in!

Are you part of a family that purposefully practices philanthropy together? Do you staff or serve philanthropic families? Then please encourage the family (one response per family) to complete the confidential survey at It is about 50 questions and will take 25-30 minutes or so. You can also pass along the opportunity on social media using the hashtags #familygiving and #trendsresearch.

And, if you know folks at the William Penn Foundation or J.P. Morgan Chase Bank, please thank them for providing major funding for the research.

“Philanthropy has begun to use the accountability movement to establish a norm for what sound philanthropic investments should look like. This is where serious harm can occur….Accountability, in the end, is about defining the minimum level of acceptable performance, not the highest level of accomplishment we want to pursue.” – John Bare, Ph.D., Philanthropy, Evaluation, Accountability, and Social Change, 2010