Council on Foundations Statement on The Philanthropist

The PhilanthropistSteve Gunderson, the CEO of the Council on Foundations has just released a statement regarding The Philanthropist, the NBC drama that premiers tonight on NBC. I think Steve is probably right in much of what he says and his point that The Philanthropist is to philanthropy what The Pink Panther is to police work is nicely put.

But personally, I think that philanthropy is fun and exciting. I think the best thing about The Philanthropist (as a concept, I haven’t previewed the show) is that it frames philanthropy as an exciting endeavor that is worthy subject for prime time entertainment. Note that The Pink Panther was about the exciting world of police work, not about some boring profession that no one cared about.

But Steve is exactly right that philanthropy isn’t easy. It is tough, hard work… that is fun and exciting. Easy stuff is boring anyway.

Here’s Steve’s official comments:

Tonight, NBC premieres its new series “The Philanthropist.” In the show, Teddy Rist a billionaire vigilante travels the world in weekly adventures giving new support for those most dramatically affected by life’s travails. It’s great entertainment. His life is exciting. His solutions arrive in sixty minutes. And he always succeeds.

I wish philanthropy was really that fun and that easy.

Last year, foundations in America provided $45.6 billion in grants to aid families, deliver human services, assist low-income populations and support economic development. Despite the economic turndown, this funding represents an increase of $1.2 billion over 2007. Most of these funds were carefully distributed through multi-year grants designed to implement multi-year strategic plans to create real change. In some cases a nonprofit organization received long-term financial support from one or more foundations to deliver its program. In other cases, a foundation identified a specific need and developed its own continuing investment plan to improve housing, achieve education reform, or support the arts.

Ask any nonprofit. Its staff will be the first to tell you that getting philanthropic support is never easy. It requires a thoughtfully constructed course of action, a sound business plan, a record of achievement, and skilled staff. The due diligence demanded of both the grantee and the program officers of the foundation involve long hours in meticulous preparation, months or years to implement solutions and thoughtful, ongoing metrics to track results.

One of Council’s board directors captured the show’s essence perfectly by saying, “The Philanthropist is to charitable giving as The Pink Panther is to police work.”  The show is a romanticized, action/adventure depiction of a powerful businessman’s efforts to find meaning in his life by applying his fortune and acumen to the problems of struggling communities in developing countries. Each weekly episode is expected to highlight the philanthropist’s giving in a different country. While some elements may ring true, very little of the first episode conveys the realities of philanthropy.


  1. For all the flaws the show undoubtedly will have, what intrigues me is that philanthropy is now deemed a subject worthy of prime time TV. Who knows where it could lead. It’s a start.

  2. I definitely agree Bruce. It’s a start and that’s a good thing.