8 Silo-Smashing Trends in Philanthropy

By Kris Putnam-Walkerly, Putnam Consulting Group

In my work as a philanthropic advisor, I come across philanthropy in all forms—from individual giving to institutional grantmaking and everything in between. It used to be that most of my clients engaged in their work from behind a wall of protection. Charity and grantmaking were held aside and in addition to other forces for good. However, over the past few years I’ve noticed philanthropy in all forms becoming less siloed and more interwoven with the world around it. Here are eight manifestations of this trend:

  1. CEO branding. Foundation CEOs and high-net-worth donors, following in the footsteps of their corporate counterparts, are realizing the personal and professional value of developing their own “brands”—through blog posts, speeches, articles, and more. By using their voices more aggressively (and sometimes independently), they help support the reputations of the philanthropies they serve and incite meaningful conversation and debate within the field.
  1. Use of advisors and coaches. Philanthropy used to be something largely driven by an individual donor or foundation founder’s own gut instincts and emotional connections, and guided only by their own perceptions and experiences. Philanthropic advisors were practically unheard of. Increasingly, however, philanthropists recognize that those with specific knowledge and experience in philanthropy, grantmaking, leadership, strategy, and operations can provide valuable insight and guidance to help funders make dramatic and rapid change.
  1. Faster health conversions. Twenty years ago, when health conversion foundations first began to appear, their path toward effective philanthropy was gradual. New health conversion foundations usually moved slowly from a broad, “supporting our community” clinical health focus to more strategic efforts that addressed social determinants of health. (Part of this was because the field’s discussion of social determinants was also in its infancy.) Nowadays, I find new health conversion foundations eager to hit the ground running with well-thought-out, strategic approaches that engage communities quickly and deeply, and strive for impact.

  1. More honesty and transparency among individual grantmakers. With the help of technology, individual philanthropists and foundation staff are opening up more than ever to their peers. In the past, conversations about challenges or failures were guarded and shared only among a trusted few. Philanthropists today are more comfortable admitting flaws and sharing challenges with colleagues they’ve never met, via listservs, social media, and other online connections.

Related: Exponent Philanthropy’s “Philanthropy Lessons” videos featuring funders and their grantees sharing lessons learned

  1. Blurring of lines in member networks. As recently as five years ago, you could clearly define who was likely to be a member of any particular philanthropy membership network and who was not. Now, those lines are much more fuzzy as philanthropy serving organizations open themselves to broader ranges of members. Networks that once only accepted institutional members now welcome individuals. Organizations that narrowly defined their scope now encourage the membership of a broader range of participants. One example is the Forum of Regional Associations of Grantmakers (whose conference I will be speaking at this summer), which now welcomes all national or regional philanthropy serving organizations.
  1. Crossover in investments. While tools like program-related investments and mission investments aren’t new, they continue to grow in use by both individual and institutional investors. Philanthropic individuals are beginning to make stronger connections between the funds they invest in private markets and those they invest in nonprofits. (This concept is covered more deeply in The ImpactAssets Guide to Investing, a forthcoming book from Anthem Press by Jed Emerson, for which I’ve authored a philanthropy chapter.)
  1. New types of philanthropic entities. Donor advised funds continue to grow, but not necessarily at traditional community foundations. Organizations like Fidelity Charitable and American Endowment Foundation now are some of the largest donor advised fundholding organizations in the country. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s new public charity, Gates Philanthropy Partners, allows the public to make charitable donations in alignment with the foundation’s programmatic objectives. And other new forms of philanthropy seem to emerge every day, such as B Corporations and the Chan Zuckerberg LLC. As with investments, the lines between for-profit and charitable purposes are increasingly blurred in many new vehicles, which could signify either alignment of both or subordination of one, depending on your interpretation.
  1. Equity. Of all the trends in this list, I truly hope that the growing philanthropic focus on equity is the one that outlasts all others. Conversations about inequity are at the forefront of field in a way that they’ve never been. More foundations are asking themselves the hard questions about the extent to which their grantmaking—and their internal practices—are contributing to or helping to dismantle longstanding institutional inequities in the field and in society writ large.

I believe that all these trends are working together, and feeding one another, in ways that will hopefully make them a lasting part of the philanthropic landscape. If that is the case, then in another decade or two, the field of philanthropy as a whole should become a much more valuable and valued part of our society.

Kris Putnam-Walkerly provides strategic advising to donors and foundation leaders seeking to transform their giving and achieve greater impact. She recently launched “CEO Springboard,” a new program to catapult the success of new foundation CEOs. Kris can be reached at kris@putnam-consulting.com.

© 2017 Kris Putnam-Walkerly. All rights reserved. Permission granted to excerpt or reprint with attribution.

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