Tactical Philanthropy: The Next Buzzword?

In last 2005, I started using the phrase “tactical philanthropy” to refer to the work I did with clients at Ensemble Capital Management. “Strategic Philanthropy” is a common phrase and I thought that if there is strategy, then by definition there must be tactics.

In spring of 2006, the book Mapping the New World of American Philanthropy came out and featured a chapter I authored called The Evolution of the Tactical Philanthropist. In the book, I argued that the current generation of donors was becoming more tactical in their giving decisions and charted the last 100 years of philanthropy and the cultural and technological changes that were driving the adoption of tactical philanthropy.

In October of 2006, I launched this blog and called it Tactical Philanthropy.

Along the way, I had a number of conversations with different people about whether or not I should trademark the phrase. But the feeling I always had was that phrase was just a name for something that intrinsically exists. Since we know that philanthropy can be practiced strategically, then there must be tactics involved, whether we call it tactical philanthropy or something else.

I believe that most philanthropic planning practiced by lawyers, accountants and financial advisors is really just tax planning. With the phrase “tactical philanthropy”, I was trying to distinguish the idea of philanthropic tactics from tax planning that used charitable tax deductions to minimize an individual’s tax bill.

I decided not to trademark “tactical philanthropy” because in the back of my head I always hoped that the phrase might enter common usage.

Last Friday I got my wish.

Jonathan Chevreau is a financial columnist for the National Post, one of Canada’s dominate newspapers and according to the paper, “is recognized today as one of Canada’s foremost personal finance journalists”. Jonathan writes a blog called The Wealthy Boomer, hosted on the newspaper’s website. On Friday, he wrote a post called Tactical Philanthropy. The post talks about the trend towards entrepreneurial philanthropy and the impact of business executives like Bill Gates leaving the corporate world to focus on philanthropy.

The post also says this:

These are examples of a trend dubbed Tactical Philanthropy, whereby focused and efficient business techniques are deployed to funding needy causes, whether alleviating child poverty in third world nations or coping with disease or natural disasters.

The “philanthropreneurs” behind these initiatives take a targeted entrepreneurial approach to solving their chosen problem, using the techniques of capitalism to drive social change. They are more efficient and results-oriented, levering up the commitment of others by using economic incentives like incentive prizes…

…It’s encouraging that the techniques of big business are being applied in this sphere.  While Gates and Buffett may grab the headlines, you don’t have to wait till you’re megawealthy to participate in such projects.

Note that the post does not refer to me or to this blog.

Jonathan defines tactical philanthropy as “focused and efficient business techniques [that] are deployed to funding needy causes.” I would define it a little differently. In this site’s About This Blog section, I write:

To practice Tactical Philanthropy is to organize, optimize, and transfer philanthropic capital in ways that maximize the impact of the donor’s strategic plan. It is the practice of transforming philanthropic strategy into reality.

Regardless, I would love to see the phrase used more. Most individuals that I speak with have never given any thought to tactical philanthropy. I have donors and their advisors tell me all the time about wasteful tactics that they have used while donating to charity. For most people, finding a cause they care about and deciding to fund it is the whole game. They don’t realize that by practicing tactical philanthropy they can ramp up their impact to a whole new level.

One Comment

  1. Maybe we should just steer clear of buzzwords altogether and just focus on getting the job done. Then, if necessary, we can call it “successful philanthropy.”