Giving Pledge Media Attention

The Giving Pledge is generating a huge amount of mainstream media attention (2,110 news mentions and counting). What I find exciting about the coverage is that instead of just focusing on the amount of the promised pledges, many of the stories examine whether the Pledge might signal a new era for philanthropy.

While I’ve been arguing that we are in the early stages of a Second Great Wave of Philanthropy, I don’t think the evidence is in that a new golden age is really here. So I was surprised when New York Times reporter Stephanie Strom tweeted to me:

“With all due respect, I don’t think there’s any question that we’re in a "second great wave" of philanthropy. So let’s stop kibitzing about it.”

My response to Stephanie was that while I was thrilled she thought so, the fact that American’s give the same 2% of their income to charity that they have for the past 100 years and that most American’s can’t name even one foundation suggests that my Second Great Wave hypothesis is far from proven.

(Stephanie and I are friendly, but her journalistic cynicism realism pushes her to deflate my sometime heady rhetoric from time to time. Like yesterday when I tweeted that “the giving pledge” was the #79 most searched for phrase on Google and she replied pointing out that “Wisconsin State Fair” was #9!)

The back and forth reminded me of a conversation with another reporter that I had in the depths of the financial crisis. She told me the philanthropy boom was clearly dead because it had simply been a function of a strong economy.

Every trend has mini cycles of waning and waxing. The mistake we often make is that we overestimate how much things will change in the short term while at the same time underestimate how much things will change in the long term.

I do believe that we are entering a truly new era in philanthropy. But that doesn’t mean everything will change overnight. While it might feel that the internet revolution happened in 1999, it was really a multi-decade long event that is still unfolding. I think the same is true of the Second Great Wave.

For those that are interested, you’ll find my thinking on the Giving Pledge in stories published in The Daily Telegraph, The Washington Times, The Motley Fool, and The Daily Beast. But my favorite interview was a radio interview I did with CHQR a news radio station in Calgary. It was kind of amazing to me to think that in between traffic reports and sports headlines, a mainstream news radio station would schedule a discussion of the beginning of a new era in philanthropy. The fact the show’s producer thinks that the average commuter would be interested in this story during their drive home from work is a fascinating, anecdotal data point that suggests something new and different really is occurring in philanthropy.


  1. Jesse Wiley says:

    Good observation, we do often overestimate how much things will change in the short term and underestimate how much things will change in the long term. Evryone needs to learn from history more, even recent history!

  2. Edith Asibey says:

    I agree with you that change won’t happen overnight. I was struck by several of the letters by those who’ve signed the Giving Pledge: their personal stories and motivations for giving. It is quite telling that many of these billionaires are self-made. Not uncommon in this country, but telling nonetheless. The Atlantic Philanthropies (my employer, for full disclosure) recently released a report on Giving While Living, and the stories of the philanthropists featured in the report are equally compelling.