I have a guest post up today on Paul Brest’s blog Strategic Philanthropy in which I challenge a core assumption from his book Money Well Spent. Here’s an excerpt. Head on over to his blog to check out the full post. His response will be up tomorrow:
In Paul’s book Money Well Spent and on this blog he has advanced a theory of strategic philanthropy that includes eight points:
1. A problem-solving orientation;
2. Clear goals;
3. A logical strategy for how one’s efforts can help achieve those goals, based on
4. A sound analysis of the problem and an evidence-based theory of change;
5. Good information about individuals and entities that can address the problem (i.e. thorough due diligence);
6. Sufficient resources, whether individual or aggregated, applied to achieving the goal, over a sufficient period of time;
7. Commitment to measuring progress and results and to making changes accordingly; and
8. An “expected-return attitude” that takes appropriate account of risk.
Recently I’ve been discussing this framework with Paul and after a few back and forth emails he suggested that we continue the discussion on our respective blogs. Unlike most of the writing I do, where I advance a specific opinion, this series of posts will be a live discussion in which I have not made up my mind but am skeptical of part of Paul’s framework. This is me going through the process of forming an opinion in public. I hope you’ll join in the fray.
…I agree with almost all of Paul’s eight points, although I would suggest that they are a framework for good philanthropy and not unique to a “strategic philanthropist.” The one point that I think defines the current practice of Strategic Philanthropy is the second half of point #4, “[Having] an evidence-based theory of change.” I believe that this point, the defining element of the way strategic philanthropy is practiced, is deeply flawed.
…The “theory of change” concept draws on the practices of scientific discovery. Social systems, however, are relatively resistant to scientific analysis. As philanthropy attempts to affect dynamic, human-influenced systems, I wonder if we might need to give up the search for the perfect theory of change and instead embrace what might be called Capital Market Philanthropy by focusing our philanthropic efforts on building great organizations.
Click here to read my full argument.