Like/Love/Haha/Wow/Sad/Angry…and Better Philanthropy Support?

By Hanh Le, Exponent Philanthropy

Photo credit: Facebook

Photo credit: Facebook

Last month, Facebook released its new “Reactions” feature, expanding the original Like to Love, Haha, Wow, Sad, and Angry. According to Wired magazine, “Mark Zuckerberg had finally conceded that the platform needed a more nuanced way for users to interact with posts, for the obvious reason that not every post is likable.”

A likely outcome is that users will be more willing to share with the possibility of receiving more supportive reactions. Granted, whether we should be so knee-jerk to what we see flash on a screen is fodder for another discussion, but encouraging people to share more and, in turn, receive support from peers, that’s a good thing, right?

It’s left me thinking, what can those of us at philanthropy support organizations—this large universe of advisors and infrastructure groups—do to help philanthropists share ideas, practices, activities, and opinions so we can all learn, improve, and make a more significant impact? I have some ideas!

Shut down philanthro-judging, which dissuades donors from being open. Philanthropists can use multiple structures, strategies, and tools to advance their impact, but the public and media sometimes seem misinformed about the validity and efficacy of these methods. Judgment doesn’t encourage philanthropists to openly share the new and innovative ways they are approaching giving.

A great example of setting the record straight is a Washington Post piece by Valparaiso University law professor David J. Herzig. In, “Why we should stop slamming Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan’s philanthropic plans,” Herzig makes a thoughtful case for not judging a philanthropic intervention based on preconceived notions of how philanthropy should look.

Exponent Philanthropy certainly observes our members using multiple vehicles and strategies for their giving. According to data in our 2016 Foundation Operations and Management Report, 23% of foundations complement their giving with funds through sponsoring organizations (e.g., community foundations, national sponsors, public foundations). Since 2014, 6% of our new members do not give through foundations at all. 

Create diverse, accessible, and supportive ways for philanthropists to reflect. Beyond conferences, what opportunities can philanthropy support organizations create for candid sharing and reflection?

Through The Giving Practice at Philanthropy Northwest, Jan Jaffe and Mark Sedway are leading exciting work on philanthropy’s second discipline: the reflective practice tools and skills that help funders get to better outcomes. As part of this project, they plan to map resources and programs that support reflective practice.

Exponent Philanthropy is proud of the opportunities we provide for reflection, including our Next Gen Fellows Program and Master Juggler Executive Institute, and our soon-to-be-launched coaching program to train funders in the valuable coaching mindset and skills.

In January, we also launched Philanthropy Lessons, a video series and campaign to increase openness in the field and accelerate effective philanthropy, funded by the Fund for Shared Insight and released in partnership with The Chronicle of Philanthropy. Through inspirational funders sharing key lessons learned, we hope to encourage other funders to share their most important philanthropy lessons. 

Model the behavior we hope to see. Those of us working in philanthropy support need to come together more to share candidly what’s working, what’s not, and how we can best advance our work. One of the most helpful conferences I attend each year is the Forum of Regional Association of Grantmakers annual conference, a rare opportunity for me to connect and learn primarily with other individuals working in philanthropy support.

Exponent Philanthropy also seeks out peers with whom we feel comfortable honestly discussing our organizational challenges and opportunities for improvement. Grantmakers for Effective Organizations has been a fabulous partner in this regard (and others) over the years, collaborating to facilitate connections among staff in similar roles, learn about and practice giving and receiving feedback, and simply talk about what we do day-to-day.

To be sure, we’ll have to wait and see if Facebook’s new Reactions are successful in getting more users to share and feel supported by their peers. Regardless, the change is inspiration for thinking about what else we can do to encourage more sharing for learning and greater impact.

What would you suggest?

Hanh LeChief Program Officer Hanh Le leads our Programs and Services Team in guiding, connecting, championing, and elevating philanthropy with few or no staff. She has directed training, grant, and technical assistance programs for KaBOOM!, Community Technology Centers’ Network, and Peace Corps. Passionate about collaborative impact and community, Hanh helped launch the DC-area’s first Asian American giving circle, the Cherry Blossom Giving Circle. Follow Hanh on Twitter @HanhLeDC and Exponent Philanthropy @exponentphil.

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