New Year’s Resolution

The field of philanthropy is a bit like an uncharted wilderness. Unlike most 100+ year old fields, there is no real set of “best practices” in philanthropy. There is no agreed upon way to evaluate a charity. Most donors have never even heard of some of the basic tools of giving like charitable trusts and donor advised funds.

Recently I’ve been discussing with a pretty esteemed group of philanthropic leaders what “strategic philanthropy” even means and how we can tell if someone is practicing it.

As a field we still have an aversion to admitting that philanthropy ever fails at anything. But as everyone knows, admitting a problem is the first step to fixing it.

Personally, I’m still in the thick of learning about philanthropy. I have a large stack of books about philanthropy next to my desk that I have yet to read and another large stack of those I have. But with One-Click ordering from Amazon, it seems that my “To Read” pile grows faster than I can keep up.

So let’s be ambitious and work hard to build a new and better philanthropy. But let’s also be humble and realize that we all have so much to learn. Philanthropy as a field of practice is still in its infancy. So rather than resolve that next year we will do more, do better, do faster. Let us humbly resolve that in 2009 we will make better mistakes than we did in 2008. Let’s make mistakes that are the result of daring, well informed risks. Mistakes that demonstrate our willingness to embrace the unknown and try things that other people tell us can’t be done. Let’s make mistakes that we can be proud of, the kind of mistakes that we brag about over a beer with friends, “Remember that time when we….?!”

And who knows. Maybe we’ll all create something wonderful.

Happy New Year’s and thanks for reading Tactical Philanthropy!


  1. Sean, let’s not start the new year with such a blank slate. There are many agreed upon best practices and ways to evaluate a charity, starting with good accounting practices that are standard in both for-proft and non-profit fields. Few would argue that the structure of the board and staff, how much they are paid and open reporting of what gets done are also ways to evaluate charities (again, just as we are accustomed to see in the for-profit world).

    I don’t see “philanthropy” as so mysterious an entity, nor do I see standards or measurements in and of themselves as the answer to making charitable gifts effective. After all, we thought we knew how to evaluate financial institutions and look where we are today.

    That said, all fields of endeavor need advocates who push for “more and better,” and I wish success to all who try to do that. In the meantime, we all need to stay informed about changes in EVERY part of our world, not just what seems to fall in the category of “philanthropy.” The pace of life is too fast and our world is too interrelated to allow anyone to be complacent that they know all there is to know about the best way to do ANYTHING.

  2. Philanthropy is the core principle to reach the hearts of others.

    I say,”Reach The Heart Of A Child Then You Can Teach The Heart Of That Child!”

    Tony Searight & Youth Investors