Thursday, December 13, 2007

Thoughts on Radicalizing Philanthropy

In the Tactical Philanthropy One Post Challenge, Trista Harris of New Voices in Philanthropy won the runner-up prize for having such a radical, innovative and thought-provoking post in which she called for philanthropy to leave the "ivory tower" and essentially send its program officers out into the communities that foundations actually serve.

Lucy Bernholz of Philanthropy 2173 proposes something equally radical and astute: she says that if she were "philanthropy queen" she would

find a way to take advantage of... applications of methodology and creativity from smart people... thinkers (students and faculty) from the social and natural sciences, arts, design, humanities, business, policy, and religion to co-craft possible solutions to poverty, hunger, sickness, cultural isolation, etc... Then I'd develop critiques and review processes that were led by those living the conditions so that only applicable, reality-based strategies would survive the process... The whole process would be public so that those we hadn't yet found who had something to contribute could find it, use it, improve it--and it would feed a marketplace of ideas for the public good.

Lucy calls this "open source charrette philanthropy." Personally, I love this idea. It starts off sort of as I imagine think-tanks (ideally) function, but then the incorporation of transparency, public testing and the open-source aspect of it make it truly novel and worth a real-world look.

Lucy also makes a really strong, valid argument against using overhead ratios as a metric for success for nonprofits:
in what other are of your life do you deliberately seek out the product, service, location, or experience that is being made available in the cheapest possible fashion? We don't pick restaurants because they forgo cleanliness...we don't choose schools for our kids because the administration is keeping costs down and not supporting teachers...

She goes on to argue that the main reason why that is the prevalent metric is that it is easy to calculate and compare. I'd like to take a moment here to congratulate Holden and co. at GiveWell for bucking this system and radicalizing philanthropy by establishing new methods for determining the success of nonprofits. Holden was the guest speaker/respondent at the Chronicle of Philanthropy online discussion yesterday entitled, "Changing the Culture of Philanthropy: a Young Donor's Views."

No comments: