Monday, July 13, 2009

A New Paradigm of Giving: Opportunity or Limitation?

A generous man forgets what he gives and remembers what he receives. ~Old Proverb

I have been working in philanthropy, corporate social responsibility, nonprofit and policy change efforts for nearly 15 years. In that time, I have seen a lot of changes. But I will say none have seemed so profound and significant as those going on today. I wrote in one of my last blogs about the changes going on and the divide between the old paradigm and new paradigm.

As Katherine Fulton talked on TED ( about the democratization of philanthropy and the changes that are coming with it, I began to think about the implications of this.

When I began working in philanthropy and corporate social responsibility many years ago, these organizations mostly did giving that felt good and had a “charity”-based approach to philanthropy. That is, give to causes and things that feel good, yet not necessarily always track the outcomes. In my work, I often worked with organizations to become more strategic in their giving – how could they get to the bottom of a problem, rather than just keep giving into perpetuity to the same causes over and over again without addressing or solving some of the root causes and utilizing policy to create more sustainable changes.

When I started, this concept was new and uncomfortable for most philanthropists. But now, it has become the norm as foundations, corporations and other philanthropists have become more "sophisticated," strategic and outcome-oriented in their giving. Now, there has to be a balance in giving between it feeling good (to our hearts) and being truly measurable and having the most impact (for our heads). Isn’t this true for life too?

The implications of this latest wave of philanthropy, as Katherine Fulton calls it, the “democratization of philanthropy,” are interesting. On one hand it is exciting to see all the momentum and passion behind giving by many more people, companies, celebrities and others that we haven’t seen in a long time. Yet, at the same time, the “sophistication” of this type of giving is very different and there seem to be some similar trends in it as early giving, where it is more a charitable giving model. This giving seems to feel good and while it is more democratized as some philanthropists are putting money out there to have users vote on their favorite nonprofits. The nonprofits with the most votes then receive funding – perhaps not the most strategic approach, but definitely innovative and an opportunity to capitalize on.

However, as it has taken philanthropists and “experts” in the field several years to become more sophisticated and strategic about how best to have the most impact, as we have a new generation of givers – celebrities, individuals and others using new media for giving, it will take some time to see the same sophistication through social media and online philanthropic ventures.

Whatever the case may be, the reality is that this democratization of giving is happening. Giving is becoming more popular, more common, more "sexy" and more accessible with new social media tools, cause marketing, branding and otherwise. Therefore, as many of the traditional philanthropists and nonprofits are still hesitant to fully utilize the internet and social media, the reality is that it is here to stay.

The opportunities will be
  • for experts in strategic giving to share in the responsibility to help move giving towards outcomes, results and maximum leveraging and impact while at the same time learning from the innovation that comes with these new media and mechanisms for giving; and
  • for everyone to find ways to bring together the viral, motivating, mass movement and democratization capabilities of online philanthropy with more strategic approaches to giving to create results, accountability, leveraging, impact and, ultimately, change on the planet.

So that this may become a cycle that motivates people to give more, change more, impact more, increase giving and incorporate giving into every facet of professional, personal and spiritual life so that the cycle may continue into perpetuity to create solutions for our world.

How are you combining social media and strategic accountability to create more impact for your nonprofit, philanthropy or otherwise? What direction do you think we are moving in? What do you see as the opportunities? And the limitations? Share with me on Twitter or Facebook!

You can find me on Twitter @pilarstella and Facebook at

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