The Davos of Philanthropy: First Impressions

(This is a guest post from Peter Deitz, Founder of Social Actions, who is covering the Council on Foundations Conference for Tactical Philanthropy)

By Peter Deitz

The Davos of Philanthropy: First Impressions

I find myself on the edges of what could easily be called the “Davos of Philanthropy.” Roughly three thousand attendees have flown in from across the globe to discuss the current and future states of global philanthropy.
A few phrases from the opening statements of Steve Gunderson, the Council on Foundations executive director, jumped out as worth noting:

  • “Philanthropy must become a movement, more than an institution”
  • “Our greatest power is not in the checkbook but in our vision.”
  • “Either we frame the conversation about philanthropy, or our detractors will.”
  • “Market economies are best when joined with a strong philanthropic movement.”
  • “If we do not believe change is possible, we cannot be philanthropists.”

Gunderson’s remarks were followed by a video essay from Roger Rosenblatt, contributor to the MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour. Rosenblatt’s vision of the future of philanthropy jives 100% with the potential I see in micro-philanthropy to transform traditional philanthropy into a vibrant, inclusive and very public force for good.

The big ideas of Rosenblatt’s video testimony:

  • Ordinary citizens are left out of contemporary philanthropy
  • Non-philanthropists equate philanthropy with charity, as opposed to strategic efforts to solve the world’s most pressing problems.
  • Philanthropy can make use of ordinary citizens, who would amplify the work and mission of foundations
  • Foundations should reconsider their inclination to “work in the shadows”
  • When foundations take a more public role in the media, they will reframe the news from a conversation about problems into a platform for demonstrating that problems have solutions.

That the Council on Foundations chose to feature this video statement from Rosenblatt in the opening session suggests that there’s interest in broadening participation in philanthropy. I’m excited to ask attendees what they thought of the message, and whether it resonated.

Off now to meet with Bill Somerville, author of Grassroots Philanthropy: Field Notes of Maverick Grant-Maker.


  1. Suzy says:


    Thanks for the two posts on the opening session. What great and widely divergent coverage of the same event! Really highlights the unique characteristics of following the event via blog.

    Look forward to reading more.


  2. Thanks Suzy. Obviously I would never have personally written both posts, so it was wonderful for me to see that the blog team is really bringing different views to this project than I do. Thanks for following along!

  3. Albert says:

    “Market economies are best when joined with a strong philanthropic movement.”

    That might be the most ominous thing I’ve ever heard said about philanthropy.

  4. Would you care to elaborate Albert?

  5. Peter Deitz says:

    Albert, I agree with you that Gunderson’s statement about market economies was quite startling.

    If he had substituted “open societies,” “democratic societies,” or even “human societies” for “market economies,” I probably would not have included the phrase in my list of remarks that jumped out.

    As the ED of CoF, I imagine that Gunderson has to reach out to a number of constituents that make up the council, including corporate foundations and pro-business philanthropists.

    The statement was no doubt intended to speak to the concerns of those groups. He also included statements that would resonate with a more liberal, social change oriented philanthropy.

  6. Albert says:

    I agree, Peter.

    Sean: The idea of an unfettered market with philanthropy riding shotgun sounds Orwellian to me.