A New Day for Philanthropy?

April 16, 2010 Leave a comment

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Just back from the Grantmakers for Effective Organizations (GEO) Conference, the theme of which was “Unleashing Philanthropy’s Potential.”  Marianne and I were in attendance in part to facilitate a session on “Leveraging Philanthropy’s Best Intentions for Collaborative Change.” We came away inspired, impressed, and heartened by the overall conference conversation, which included explorations of whether there is a need for greater empathy in philanthropy, how funders can support and evaluate the impact of networks, strategies for foundations to embrace innovation in their grantmaking practice, and what we might all learn from the Obama Administration’s emphasis on supporting “what works” (via such mechanisms as the Social Innovation Fund).

The conversation continued during the trip home with Gabriel Kasper of the Monitor Institute (also a contributor to Working Wikily) and Turahn Dorsey of the Barr Foundation.  Much of this one-on-one debriefing hovered around the question with which the conference ended – “How do we know what’s working?”  Whether we are talking about how we can effectively evaluate social change efforts or how we can track impact through network activity, there are so many more questions here than answers.  Which is good.  Philanthropy has sometimes been accused of being too cocky, too self-assured, and coming off too much as being “the smartest kid in the room.”  Well I can tell you that I witnessed a lot of humility and a lot of hunger in Pittsburgh, hunger for more opportunities to share successes and failures and to learn.  We at IISC would add that we hope that this is done in authentic and appropriate partnership with grantees and end-users, with careful attention being paid to power dynamics and privilege.

So I encourage you to jump into the conversation if you haven’t already.  Here are just a few of the many interesting blog posts that appeared during and about the conference:

And we would be very interested in hearing your thoughts about what you see as the untapped potential of philanthropy and how to unleash it.

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