Philanthropy’s Community: Observers, Fans, Evangelists & Ambassadors

Speaking at the Millennial Donor Summit this morning, Matt Britton of acclaimed social media agency Mr. Youth talked about what makes a community. In his words, the key elements of community are:

  • Observers, who watch,
  • Fans, who participate,
  • Evangelists, who recruit, and
  • Ambassadors, who represent.

Now there are all sorts of models like this that can be used to think about a community. So I’m not suggesting that this set of actors is comprehensive. But I do think it is a useful framework to think about the philanthropy community.

The Second Great Wave of Philanthropy thesis that underlies the way I think about philanthropy is predicated on the idea that we are at the early stages of a time period in which philanthropy goes from something that is the domain of the very wealthy to a practice that is infused across American culture. While all of America has always be engaged in giving, the Second Great Wave idea argues that a shift is happening from transactional donations to more sophisticated forms of private actions for the public good that encompass traditional giving but also other blended value ways of thinking about social impact.

When I talk about the Tactical Philanthropy Community, I’m referring to the community of people around this blog who watch, participate, recruit and represent the movement towards more effective forms of philanthropy. My interest in Matt Britton’s categorizations is the way in which it can help us think about the effective philanthropy movement and the roles that need to be played to make it sustainable.

The Giving Pledge, for instance, appears to be an example of a number of philanthropy “fans” (major donors) stepping up to become “evangelists” who seek to recruit others to the philanthropy community. Members of the Pledge such as Gates, Buffett and Bloomberg are probably better understood as “ambassadors” who are coming to represent what philanthropy means today.

When I wrote recently about my belief that large private foundations should be participating as intermediaries in the Social Innovation Fund, I was essentially arguing that it is not enough for them to be “observers” or “fans”. While the roles of “observers”, “fans”, “evangelists” and “ambassadors” are all critical to a functioning community, I think that if the large private foundations are truly committed to effective philanthropy, that some of them should be stepping up to play the role of “ambassador” in the nascent government programs designed to focus money on effective programs.

What’s your role in the philanthropy community today? What role would you like to play in the future?