“New” Philanthropy & The Charleston

The idea that “new” philanthropy exists is controversial. While many people claim that venture philanthropy or focusing on impact are characteristics of a “new” approach to philanthropy, many “new” practices were in fact pioneered by the Rockefellers, Carnegies and Fords of the world.

However, I believe that something new really is happening in philanthropy. But I think it can be better understood as a “remixing” of historical practices with a new attitude infused into the final output. The fact is, not much in the world is truly “new”. Most all inventions stand on the shoulders of those that came before. But that doesn’t mean that “new” philanthropy isn’t important. And it definitely doesn’t mean that “new” philanthropy should be dismissed.

Each generation tends to look upon the next generation, marveling at how much things have changed since they were young while simultaneously dismissing “new” ways of doing things as inferior to the way things “use to be”. We see this pattern at work in philanthropy and we see it at work in pop culture. Take for example the way each generation looks at the way their children dance as outrageous and somehow inferior to the way things use to be. But of course the more things change, the more they stay the same as we see in this fascinating video of musicians dancing The Charleston (hat tip” Andrew Zolli of PopTech).

If you are an email subscriber click here to watch the video.

So what’s the takeaway? What does it mean that simply “remixing” the context can make an 80 year old dance look fresh and current? It means that life does change. “New” does exist. But those of us who strive to build a “new” philanthropy must fully recognize that the approaches of those who came before us are the fundamental building blocks of our own approaches.

It is a striking sign of immaturity to dismiss those that came before you as not “getting it”. It is time for “new” philanthropy to grow up and recognize the monumental importance of “old” philanthropy in giving birth to “new” philanthropy.

Growth and change are good. But good change takes the best of what came before and remixes it into something new, different and better.


  1. Pamela Grow says:

    Can I tell you how much I LOVE this post?!

    The extraordinary video you’ve used to illustrate your point hits home. Just as amazing talent holds the test of time, so, too, does true donor-centered fundraising hold the test of time.

    While forms of communication have grown and continued to grow, we must never forget that the best nonprofit communication – be it via Twitter, blogging, email, direct mail, etc. – is donor centered.

  2. Thanks Pamela! Had to find a way to use that video… :^)