One of my readers asked me via email what exactly would be the value of a Philanthropy Compass. Before going further in designing the framework, I thought I should answer this question.
Philanthropy is in the most general terms about “doing good”. But it is about specific type of good. While government is “public action for the public good”, and for-profit activity is “private action for private good”, philanthropy is “private action for the public good”.
Debate is so strong in the public sector about the role of the government because the government takes action on behalf of the public for the benefit of the public. So everyone has an opinion about the role that government should play.
In the philanthropic sector, while activity is meant to benefit the public, the actions are taken by private individuals and so there is (mostly) a limited debate about the best role for philanthropy to play. It isn’t exactly good form to debate someone who has taken a voluntary action with the intent of benefiting others.
The point of the Philanthropy Compass is to help frame the range of potential roles that philanthropy can play. Just as the Political Compass is not designed to pass judgment on the various potential roles, the Philanthropy Compass is meant to help us all understand the potential roles so that we might better form our own opinions about how philanthropy should be conducted.
Before you can really get into making a decision about how to act in a given situation, you need to understand your goals. Too often, the goal driving philanthropy is a sort of undifferentiated sense of “doing good”. But doing good, taking private action for the public good, is a nuanced, complicated endeavor. My hope is that the Philanthropy Compass can help donors better understand their own goals and motivations so that they can better take actions that are aligned with those goals.