The Tactical Philanthropy Knowledge Network

Next week, I’ll get back to blogging about philanthropy more generally. But if I can take your time this week to tell you about our new firm, I would greatly appreciate it.

At Tactical Philanthropy Advisors, we think of ourselves as guides to the philanthropic world. We play the role that Jacob Harold of the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation describes as a “philanthropic concierge” or what philanthropy advisor Lowell Weiss calls a “synthesizing generalist.” It is not our job to tell clients where to give. Instead, we strive to help them give in the way that best suits their interests.

Having the right knowledge before making a philanthropic grant can make the difference between a thoughtful gesture and really making a difference. To locate, contextualize, and deliver the knowledge needed to achieve social impact, we combine innovative technology driven techniques with personal conversations with our wide-ranging networks of social sector experts.

For some time, many people in philanthropy have been looking for ways to use technology to make philanthropic knowledge accessible to more people. This is a worthy goal and one I’ve encouraged when I write about the Googlization of Philanthropy. But the fact is data isn’t the only thing you need to make good decisions. You also need strong personal networks. Human relationships are still (and will always be) the lifeblood that makes sense of data. I’ve explored this theme in the past as well.

I believe that systematic systems for exchanging knowledge between people (not technology driven databases, but human centered conversations) is the key to good grantmaking. To that end, we’re building the Tactical Philanthropy Knowledge Network.

From our website:

Who you know is often more important than what you know. And yet philanthropists – from individuals to large foundations – seldom communicate with each other. The result is that donors often have to reinvent the wheel. To help our clients benefit from the vast amount of knowledge in the field of philanthropy, we are building the Tactical Philanthropy Knowledge Network.

One of the core services of Tactical Philanthropy Advisors is to act as a trusted intermediary between major donors and the professional field of philanthropy. The Tactical Philanthropy Knowledge Network is a network of professional grantmakers who are committed to the idea that knowledge-sharing leads to greater social impact. Philanthropy thought leader Jed Emerson has agreed to act as Chair of the Network. In addition, the design firm IDEO will be involved in designing the Network and facilitating Network gatherings.

The Network will launch in late 2009 with the first in-person gathering to take place in early 2010.

I think the key to building a network like this one is to protect access to the individuals in the network while opening access to their knowledge. Protecting access to the individuals is a requirement for building a safe space within which people can share what they know. But social impact is best served by making sure access to knowledge is as wide open as possible. That’s why we intend to build the network as a tool to which Tactical Philanthropy Advisors as well as other advisors have access. Creating a proprietary Network that excluded other philanthropy advisors would minimize the social impact of the Network and go against our mission as a firm.

While our firm already has an extended informal network of this type, the formal Network is still under construction. Conversations with professional grantmakers suggest there is huge excitement around the idea. Working out the details is still ahead of us. But if we can pull off the design process, we might be able to start transferring some of the deep philanthropic knowledge that our field has developed into the hands of major donors. Since high net worth donors account for 50% of annual charitable giving compared to just 13% from foundations, this transfer of knowledge is key to a sustained and significant increase in the social impact of philanthropy.


  1. Len Bartel says:

    I look forward to seeing how the Tactical Philanthropy Advisors Knowledge Network evolves. We not only need to get our philanthropic knowledge into the hands of major donors, but other social benefit organizations within common fields of interest.

    Social media not only has the potential to build communities of practice that share and create knowledge beyond what is shared at face-to-face quarterly meetings among grantees, but enables organizations that didn’t get funded through a certain initiative that don’t have the opportunity to participate in those quarterly meetings to learn and benefit from the process – creating deeper impact.

    Social media helps us shift from supporting activities to shaping and supporting movements. These tools offer the promise of greater democratic participation and local knowledge in our work, and those things are indispensable to the foundation that wants to make real serious change on the local level . . . and I would assume, the major donor that is looking to maximize their impact.

    We have to crack that knowledge creation and diffusion nut – hopefully the TPA Knowledge Network can be a step in that direction.

  2. Thanks Len. I hope the TPKN can help the process. Another project that might be of interest to nonprofits looking to share knowledge and benefit from the knowledge of others is IdeaEncore which I wrote about here.

  3. David Lynn says:

    If you can find a way to get funders to openly talk to each other, let alone work together, you’ll have accomplished amazing things.