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Philanthropy: The View From 35,000 Feet

January 08, 2008

Lucy Bernholz, founder and president of Blueprint Research, author of Creating Philanthropic Capital Markets: The Deliberate Evolution, and nonprofit blogger extraordinaire, took her share of (undeserved, in my view) lumps in last week's GiveWell/Holden Karnofksy imbroglio. (You can read more about that here and here.)

But when it comes to philanthropy, Lucy is a deep, original thinker. I especially liked her post in response to Denise Caruso's Re:Framing column in Sunday's New York Times ("Can Foundations Take the Long View Again?", Jan. 6, 2008). After pointing to some of the forward-looking organizations that Caruso cites her in article (Grantmakers for Effective Organizations, Social Venture Partners International, the Center for Effective Philanthropy, the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation, the Hewlett Foundation, Compasspoint, the Meyer Foundation), Lucy asks whether or not the movement to advocate for and provide more unrestricted support to nonprofits "adds up to a trend or has enough heft to act as a countervailing force." Then she treats us to this bit of whimsy:

Fly up to 35,000 feet with me and the view gets really interesting -- there is a lot of experimentation and variation underway in philanthropy right now. As we fly over the "landscape" of funding for public good, we see an increasingly varied and dynamic topography:

From this altitude we can see...[groups] focused on general operating support, as well as those focused on project-specific metrics. We also spot the various efforts at accountability and transparency, a few on knowledge sharing, and several that are trying out new ways of using technology. And over there -- out that window -- can you spot the efforts to directly connect small donors with international projects? They're there, just next to the corporate social responsibility movement -- over by cause marketers. Just beyond them -- out another window, if you will -- is the increasingly organized microfinance community. From another window we see the growing range of donor advised funds. Look over there, we can see on the horizon the socially responsible investing movement and as we continue along social entrepreneurs, double/triple bottom line investment companies, and social venture capital firms are coming into view. Wait -- over there -- way on the horizon -- is that the carbon trade movement coming into view?

As we fly along we notice all along the way the interspersed tens of thousands of small foundations, organized around a family legacy or values, working hard to advance the causes they care about and not bothering with all the tumult around them. We also spot banks and trust companies, attorneys and accountants, consulting firms, wealth managers and multi-family offices -- all providing philanthropic advising and management services. And, look! Over there! Media companies and magazines that help frame the discussions about philanthropy. Out every window we see the hundreds of millions of individuals who make a daily, weekly or at least annual practice of giving some amount of their time or money to make life a little better for someone else....

Thank you, Lucy...for staying focused, and for reminding all of us that what we do is important and rooted in the real world.

-- Mitch Nauffts

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Posted by Lucy Bernholz  |   January 09, 2008 at 12:00 PM

Thank you, Mitch.

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