Stewart Brand’s notes on the “future of philanthropy” talk

This guy Stewart Brand covers the talk I attended Friday night so much better than I could. But, what’s totally cool and inspiring about this guy is that he nonchalantly sends his notes to everyone who attended the event via email.

This might seem insignifcant, and some people might call it spam.  But, I’m grateful and really wondering what the world might begin to look like if schools and social sector organizations’ modeled this behavior? Forget about the positive outcomes for a minute, just think about how people might begin to treat one another!

This guy rocks.

Here are his notes:

10,000 families in the US, Katherine Fulton reported, have assets of
$100 million or more. That’s up from 7,000 just a couple years ago.
Most of that money is “on the sidelines.” The poor and the middle
class are far more generous in their philanthropy, proportionally,
than the very wealthy.

Philanthropy across the board is in the midst of intense, potentially
revolutionary, transition, she said. There’s new money, new leaders,
new rules, new technology, and new needs. Where great wealth used to
come mainly from inheritance and oil, now it comes from success in
high technology and finance— and ideas and expectations from those
business experiences inform (and sometimes over-simplify) the new
philanthropy. Some of the great older institutions like the
Rockefeller Foundation are radically reorganizing around new ideas
and opportunities. But still the greatest amount comes from
individuals, many of whom are now “giving while living” instead of
handing over the task to heirs.

One major new instrument for philanthropy are the community
foundations, “the mutual funds of philanthropy, where donors can
outsource their strategy.” There are 1,000 such organizations in the
world, 700 of them in the US, led by innovators such as Acumen Fund,
Social Venture Partners, New Profit Inc., and Women’s Funding Network.

Online giving is growing rapidly, including the development of
philanthropic marketplaces for direct, selective, fine-grain giving.
Give India, for example, is a national marketspace of charity
exchange. “By 2020,” Katherine predicted, “we will see a headline,

Katherine drew a matrix to classify kinds of philanthropy, with
Short-term & Responsive on the left, Long-term & Systemic on the
right; Personal & Local on the bottom, Global on the top. An
important trend is from the lower left to upper right, from local
and short-term toward global and systemic, exemplified by Bill
Gates’s move from bringing computers to American schools to bringing
health to Africa.

“Philanthropy is how we make the long now personal,” she said. The
trait most often missing in philanthropy, including the new
philanthropy, is stamina, patience. “Instead of rewarding success
with continued funding, the givers get bored and look for something
new. Really effective giving requires deep contextual understanding
and tolerance for ambiguity. My advice to new donors is, ‘Pick at
least one difficult and complex issue and stick with it, and join
with others to work on it.'”

The greatest needs require philanthropic stamina but will also reward
it. She quoted Danny Hillis: “There are problems that are impossible
if you think about them in two-year terms— which everyone does–
but they’re easy if you think if fifty-year terms.”

Richard Rockefeller and Larry Brilliant joined Katherine on the
stage, and discussion got going that wound up lasting to 1am at
dinner with the sponsors of the Seminar series. One subject was the
isolation that often comes with great personal wealth. Katherine
emphasized that donors have to visit up close with whatever they’re
giving toward. Dr. Rockefeller supported that, describing how
different his view was of Doctors Without Borders once he had worked
with the physicians in the field in Peru and Nigeria. He said that
direct experience helps free you from lots of theories that are just
wrong, and from philanthropy that is a projection of your own

Questions from the audience revealed a continuing problem with the
whole social sector, which is the lack of clear mechanisms of
self-correction and accountability. Government has checks and
balances. Business has the bottom line. But “it’s hard to speak
truth to philanthropy,” Katherine said. Richard said he looked
closely at a $20 million effort by the Robert Wood Johnson to
evaluate its programs and was unimpressed by the result. Larry
Brilliant added, “And the new philanthropy is even less accountable
than the old.”

Over dinner the subject came back to the 10,000 families with over
$100 million dollars, most of it inactive. One problem is that
giving really large grants is harder than small grants. Only
universities are well geared to attract and receive the multi-million
dollar gifts that result in named buildings and additions to already
bloated endowments. New institutions and mechanisms are needed for
directing large grants in new directions.

And something generational is going on, Katherine mused. The
generation of Andrew Carnegie and Richard’s great grandfather John D.
Rockefeller had a strong religious tradition that inspired them to
public generosity and inventiveness. Those who came of age in the
1960s and early ’70s had their experience with political activism as
a driver for later philanthropy. “But I notice that many who became
adults during and after Ronald Reagan seem to have no framework at
all for giving.”

–Stewart Brand


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