Mapping Philanthropic Values

Lots of great reader feedback on my Philanthropy Compass concept.

Michael Edwards, author of Just Another Emperor, a critique of Philanthrocapitalism:

“I think this is useful, but I’m not sure where it is heading in operational terms. It’s impossible to represent all the various dimensions on one diagram (maybe a cube would be better – as IDS Sussex have done to represent different elements of power) and people will always disagree on which are most important and where they place themselves – that’s part of the reality of very diverse views and voices that you are pointing to. I would add “control vs trust” and “process vs product” to your list.”

Barry Varela of Duke’s Center for Strategic Philanthropy:

“The horizontal axis might be Intrinsic Reward (self esteem, feeling of belonging, guilt reduction) v. Extrinsic Reward (tax avoidance, public recognition, thank-you letters). That’s pretty self-explanatory so I won’t elaborate.

The vertical axis might be Giving Back v. Reaching Out. By Giving Back, I refer to the sort of giving that’s motivated by gratitude and is directed toward recipients with whom the giver identifies. A classic case might be giving to one’s alma mater. By Reaching Out, I refer to the sort of giving that’s motivated by the broadest definition of philia (brotherly love)—that is, empathy with recipients who are decidedly different from the giver. A case might be donating to a relief agency working in a distant land, among people whom the donor has no connection to and will never see.”

Jeffrey Solomon, president of the Bronfman Philanthropies and co-author of The Art of Giving:

“I’m not sure that a two dimensional compass is the right metaphor as traditional social policy analysis talks of three dimensions: the provisions, the financing choices and the delivery system. I have found this framework useful in the philanthropic realm as choices along each of these three axes can and will change outcomes.

Another potential framework looks at the transactional-transformational axis. Does the philanthropist select transactional (but nevertheless, valuable) choices or does (s)he seek to transform an area.”

Noah Flowers of Monitor Institute points us to a similar framework analysis of cultural values that charts countries’ cultural values against the axes of Traditional-Secular Rational and Survival-Self-Expression:


I agree with Jeff and Michael that adding a third dimension may well be useful. It may also be excessively complicating. The trick is to find the model that is as simple as possible without being too simple. So let’s identify potential axes first and then decide how many we need.

I agree with Barry that two major modes of giving are related to intrinsic reward and extrinsic reward. But I doubt that these are actually values. Once located on the map, donors should generally agree with their location and I doubt that many people would proudly proclaim that the core value driving their giving was external praise.

However, I strongly support Barry’s suggestion of what he calls Giving Back vs. Reaching Out. I believe that this axis is likely to be one of the core issues driving philanthropy. Andrew Carnegie kick started modern philanthropy with his book the Gospel of Wealth. In it, Carnegie argued that the wealthy have a moral obligation to give back. He posits that because they have benefited from society, they must give back to society. However, I believe that today, more and more donors feel that their wealth comes from a process of value creation, not value extraction and so while they may be thankful to have been born into a society which values their skills and provided the infrastructure needed for them to succeed, their giving is primarily motivated by an urge to create social value (which may be a drive for self-actualization). This axis taps into some of the same themes I was trying to get at with my suggestion of a Creation-Distribution axis, by Barry’s description is much more targeted. However, I’d like to see a better label for the “Reaching Out” end of the axis. Any ideas?

I believe that Jeff’s suggestion of a Transactional-Transformational axis is also on the mark. This is inline with my suggestion of an Optimization-Transformation axis, but again my readers one-up me in clarity. This axis focuses on the donor’s belief about the potential of philanthropy. A Transactional donor is focused on making the existing social structure better, whereas the Transformational donor is interested in changing the existing social structure. However, I’d be interested in hearing other label names for the Transactional end of the axis. I’d like all axis labels to be identified as positive attributes by the donors who fall into that category. I’m not sure that “transactional” fits that criteria.

So here’s the next challenge:

Do people agree that these two axes are the right ones? Should they be modified? Are there other axes that are discreet from these two, which we should consider adding?


  1. Al Huntoon says:

    I’d like to suggest something like “Restorative vs Catalytic” as labels for the traditional/Carnagie approach as opposed to the emerging venture philanthropy/social value creation approach axis. Also it seems to me that for the Transactional-Transformational axis you are just looking at the difference between conservative and progressive viewpoints about social change so why not just use those labels?

    • If the axis is the same as the political axis, which I admit it might be, then I’d suggest it doesn’t have a place in the Philanthropy Compass.

      I like your Restorative vs Catalytic proposal.

  2. Amie Dillon says:

    I think transactional could be relabeled responsive (I was going to say reactive, but I think that has a more negative connotation). In my mind, this describes a role for philanthropy wherein it’s primarily concerned with existing needs, while the circumstances that create/perpetuate the need are of secondary importance. You work within the existing system, regardless of its deficiencies, to impact individual people who can’t wait on policy change. In this sense, it might also be called empathetic or direct.

  3. Barry Varela says:

    Hi Sean,

    You’re right, no one, not even Larry David

    wants to be known as someone who gives in order to reap praise.

    Regarding the Transactional-Transformational axis, which may, as Al Huntoon points out, correspond pretty closely to the Conservative-Progressive (Right-Left) axis of the Political Compasss:

    How about Grassroots v. Elite?

    Do you believe that change comes from the bottom up (Grassroots) or from the top down (Elite)? In my experience this is a fundamental difference in the way people view how the world works, and it cuts across the Right-Left political spectrum—though there are probably more Grassroots liberals than Elite liberals, and more Elite conservatives than Elite liberals.

  4. Barry Varela says:

    Meant to say more Elite conservatives than Grassroots conservatives at the end there.

  5. Amie Dillon says:

    I don’t think the transactional-transformational axis has to correspond to conservative-progressive political beliefs. The transactional side (which I suggested be renamed “responsive”) could reflect the belief that philanthropy should operate independently of the other sectors, playing either a supportive role or a corrective one. A conservative might envision a thriving philanthropic sector as the crucial linchpin in the ideal system of small government, addressing all the societal needs that fall outside the scope of government. A progressive might believe in the same type of role framed in totally different terms: philanthropy’s role is to correct the negative externalities of a non-ideal system. Both viewpoints would fall on the same side of the axis.

  6. Al Huntoon says:

    I’ll throw out a suggestion for the for the Transactional-Transformational axis. How about Remedial – Transformational?

    • Amie Dillon says:

      Remedial implies that something’s broken, though, doesn’t it? What about complementary?

      • Al Huntoon says:

        I was thinking that if a donor is focused on making the existing social structure work better that might involve providing funding for circumstances where people find themselves in need or perhaps for addressing gaps in essential services – in other words a situational remedy rather than something intended to be transformational.

  7. I’ve just posted a first version of a Philanthropy Compass. I’d love to get your feedback.