The future of philanthropy

There’s a world of wonderful things in this new website and its corresponding report on The Future of Philanthropy. Thanks to the good folks at the Monitor Institute and their über-think-tank, the Global Business Network, we’ve got a full-fledged exploration of the dynamic forces shaping philanthropic efforts over the next decades.

Better yet, the extraordinarily deep background on these forces are translated into specific action steps and tools for philanthropists to explore what they do, and how they might do it differently. There’s no way to summarize the work here…I’d encourage you to wander through the various sections yourself. However, as a teaser, here are the report’s ‘Four Principles for Philanthropists in the New Ecology,’ which I think apply to many elements of the nonprofit arts ecosystem:

  • Exploit Philanthropy’s Strategic Advantage
    Philanthropy supports social benefit along with governments and businesses, but it is profoundly different from either of them. Its capital is entirely discretionary, free from quarterly profit projections or regular election cycles. As a result, it is money that has the most ability to take risks and to be patient, or to move quickly in response to something unexpected.

  • Seek Cooperative Advantage
    Rather than seek competitive advantage, philanthropists should develop their cooperative advantage — the advantage that comes uniquely from working in concert with others, developing the capacities to harness resources beyond any single institution, and applying them to complex problems. In the new ecology, it may make as much sense to identify a useful network and join or incubate it as to seek a distinctive niche and occupy it.

  • Embrace Complexity
    The problem-solving institutions of the last century thrived on cultivating clarity. The problems facing philanthropy today, however, are not as amenable to reduction and clarification. They require us to experiment with responses that see complexity as part of the nature of the problem, not simply a failure to clarify it. Therefore, philanthropists seeking greater impact will have to develop more sophisticated strategies.

  • Invite Meaningful Scrutiny
    As philanthropy has grown in size and ambition, it has attracted more attention from the outside and generated more reflection on the inside. Outsiders and insiders are both asking harder questions, a new form of scrutiny that, while not always comfortable, is here to stay and perhaps even grow. Donors and funders can use this growing pressure as a source for learning, rather than a source of distraction.

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