Tom Watson, writing at OnPhilanthropy, just published a piece called Culture Clash: Foundations Face Changing Definitions. In it, he quotes Ford Foundation Susan Beresford’s op-ed piece in the Seattle Times that ran during the COF conference:
“The emergence of a new generation of entrepreneurs-turned-philanthropists offering their fortunes to tackle pressing problems has prompted reports of a philanthropic divide — a generation gap between established foundations and their young counterparts. Such phrases as "venture philanthropy" and "social entrepreneurship" are in vogue. New foundations are said to be ambitious, strategic, entrepreneurial, innovative and focused on measurable results. Established foundations are said to lack those qualities.
As the president of an "old" foundation and a nearly 40-year veteran in the field, I am here to say this dichotomy does not fit reality. It does not capture the breadth of philanthropy’s scope and history, and it has the potential to damage our field.”
(Tom writes): Beresford suggested that “new” philanthropy does a disservice in holding that one model is more effective than another, or that the wave of change will sweep the foundation world from the philanthropic stage:
(Beresford continues) “When we fall prey to false divisions, we undercut that strength, by suggesting that some kinds of donors may be less valuable or necessary over the long run. That is plain wrong. The tough challenges before us demand that we draw upon many philanthropists’ skills, perspectives and experiences. AIDS and other diseases, the stubbornness of deep poverty, the ongoing struggle against ignorance, intolerance and oppression — there is no single way to conquer those, and no single conqueror.”
Later in the essay, Tom cites my post Demonstrating Impact and Lucy’s post, The Philanthropic Fault Line as part of the “old-new fray”. In a follow up comment to his post, Tom writes “…there’s a danger is kind of throwing down an "everything should be new" gauntlet…”
I don’t believe that “old philanthropy” needs to be replaced by “new philanthropy”, rather I think that Arianna Huffington got it right during the Morphing Media session when she said that we need to bring together wisdom and innovation. When the wise and the innovative are brought together, the positive outcome is not a result of each side politely acknowledging each other’s strengths and then going their separate ways. Rather the two sides are best served by engaging in verbal combat, where the weaknesses in each side’s point of view can be exposed and the strengths revealed. From this process comes “disruptive change”. Disruption does not come easily and does not arrive during restrained conversation. Holden Karnofsky made the case yesterday that only through controversy and competition can philanthropy truly engage people. During the Demonstrating Impact session, no less an authority than James Irvine Foundation CEO Jim Canales agreed saying:
“We have to cultivate a culture of debate. Civility is a big problem. We can’t have five board members present different points of view and then have the chair say “Good debate!” and hand things off to the staff”
Imagine the power of a philanthropic entity that managed to harness the innovative spirit of the new philanthropists to the wisdom of the old philanthropists. We can see the glimmer of promise in Packard’s Nitrogen project. So let’s keep arguing. Let’s keep debating. Let the innovators call the wise ones out of date and the wise ones call the innovators foolish. But let us continue to engage and remember that this debate is nothing new, it is the same war fought in every discipline at every great turning point. The only risk we run is the risk that by not engaging, philanthropy will atrophy.