Conversations with a New Donor

I had a fascinating conversation over lunch at the Global Philanthropy Forum with a young philanthropist. He was in his 20’s and along with his uncle had started a pretty large family foundation. He described the difficulty they had just trying to figure out how to get things started and how now after 18 months they were ready to really work on developing programs.

I mentioned in my last post on GBF how the intention of this conference is to bring together family foundations who can learn from each other and influence each others grant making. What I found interesting was this young philanthropist’s comment that many of the sessions seemed to focus on big policy issues. While clearly important, these issues did not help my lunch partner figure out how to create his programs. This gap, the gap in information available to individual philanthropists, is the information gap I’m focused on. A small segment of this gap is what I’ve designed Ensemble Capital to fill (the gap that led to the young philanthropists 18 month journey of simply getting his foundation up and running). But program development, either official foundation programs, or just strategic family giving, is a another huge gap. I suggested the book Inspired Philanthropy to him and told him about a program consultant I could introduce him to. But that’s not enough.

I think that supply begets demand as well as responding to demand. It is interest from donors that has led to the creation of Charity Navigator, the increasing level of philanthropy coverage in the mass media, the new philanthropy TV shows and Ensemble Capital. But on the other hand, I’ve found that most people who come to my firm for assistance don’t know what they don’t know. As they become educated about the possibilities, their interest and engagement in philanthropy grows.

Who is going to tell people the great story that is philanthropy? Who is going to weave the true story of the Second Great Wave of Philanthropy. Who is going to educate donors about the possibilities of philanthropy?

When an intelligent, young philanthropists like the one I had lunch with today has a hard time finding information about how to achieve impact (even after catching a long plane flight to one of the premier philanthropy conferences) how is it possible to make the argument that donors have always been focused on impact? To believe that donors have always wanted something and yet the market simply has not delivered it to them, is to believe in a massive market failure. The supply of impact-oriented philanthropy information does not exist because the demand is very new. The demand is small because the supply does not exist. I believe deeply that we are seeing the very early signs of supply coming to this market. I think the latent demand is massive. As the demand materializes in response to the coming supply, a feedback loop will develop and a Second Great Wave of Philanthropy will begin to crest.

What will these individuals fund? How will they conduct themselves? I met Case Foundation CEO Ben Binswanger at the conference. Have you seen the Case Foundation Make It Your Own program? Ben is one person who is already positioning his foundation to figure out how to leverage this Second Great Wave. Are you ready?

One Comment

  1. Glad to read your posting, Sean.

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