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Strategic Philanthropy ( Category Archives )


Reconciling “giving smart” and “giving from the heart”

Housed at TPI’s Center for Global Philanthropy, New England International Donors (NEID) is a community of generous individuals, grantmakers, social investors, and advisors, who are changing the world from New England. On March 12, twenty-five members of NEID spent the evening together at the American Repertory Theater to see Witness Uganda and participate in their Act III conversation about the complexities of international philanthropy. It was a powerful evening that stimulated many thoughtful conversations over the last few weeks. Emily Nielsen Jones, a member of NEID’s Steering Committee, shares her reflections below.

A few weeks ago, I was honored to be part of the NEID contingency that went to see Witness Uganda, a musical about a young man’s idealistic, yet flawed, journey to do good on the other side of the world.


The story line was simple and many NEID members felt it mirrored their own early forays into humanitarian travel.  Based on a true story, a young man named Griffin living in New York City finds himself struggling for meaning and belonging in his good but unsatisfying life.  In a moment of youthful goodwill and adventure, he decides to leave it all to become an aid worker in Uganda.  The musical drama brings to life his inner struggles and contradictions of wanting deeply to connect meaningfully with those he seeks to help while also getting caught in a web of corruption, cynicism, and ineffectiveness that is all too typical in our world.


As I reflect back on the performance and on the dialogue with NEID members that surrounded it, there was a common thread that tied the experience together from beginning to end: a deeply human yet flawed impulse to create a better world.

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Today’s trends will influence tomorrow’s philanthropy

Ellen Remmer recently posed the question of whether it is worthwhile to think long term in this rapidly changing and uncertain world.  Well, I think it is.  In fact, we must think long-term to keep pace with global change and take a strategic, impactful approach to philanthropy.  Silos are crumbling, needs are growing and opportunities are emerging to push us in the right direction and make positive change – at every level.


Whitney Duan, Founder of the Beijing-based Kaifeng Foundation, recently asked me this question:  What are the critical issues affecting the world over the next 50 years? These are the issues that force us to think long-term and adjust our philanthropic view accordingly.  Upon reflection, here are some we should all be thinking about:


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Are You Taking the Long View?

Failing to plan is planning to fail.  Undoubtedly you’ve heard that quote before and it’s certainly something that many foundations have in mind when thinking about the future. On the other hand, the strategic plan has received quite a bit of abuse recently, influenced in part by the Monitor Institute’s article, The Strategic Plan is Dead.  Long Live Strategy. As the authors of that piece point out, “the world has become a more turbulent place, where anyone with a new idea can put it into action before you can say ‘startup’ and launch widespread movements with a single Tweet.”  In today’s environment, where the planning timeframe seems to have telescoped down to nanoseconds or certainly no more than a year, is there any point in taking the long view?


It turns out that some of the new Chinese philanthropists think so.


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Better Grantmaking, Baseball and a Billion Dollar Challenge

Early March is one of my favorite times of year. Spring training is finally here, after a depressing and dark stretch of no baseball; March Madness is set to begin; the race for the playoffs in the NHL and NBA is becoming more exciting. I may be losing some of the non-sports fans, but if that’s the case, don’t stop reading – this really is a post about philanthropy. (I’m just going to start with sports.)

In 1996, Baseball Prospectus was launched, introducing a wealth of new statistical tools to fans of the sport. Many early adopters of these analytics saw impressive success, so much so that the most famous of them – Billy Beane – was even portrayed by Brad Pitt.   Other sports followed, developing advanced analytics to better evaluate which athletes were, among other things, worth investment. This past weekend, MIT Sloan held their eighth annual Sports Analytics Conference, taking advantage of the fact that sports is moving ever closer toward being a data-driven industry.

Philanthropy has seen a similar awakening.

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Jump Start Your Giving with Giving Tuesday

Tomorrow is Giving Tuesday.  For those of you who haven’t heard of Giving Tuesday or are still in a tryptophan-induced haze, it is a movement that launched in 2012 as the philanthropic counterpart to Black Friday and Cyber Monday.  It encourages individuals and families, for-profit and non-profit organizations nationwide to celebrate their philanthropic goals and achievements through a variety of channels – saturating the digital landscape with good. The motives and messages behind Giving Tuesday are encouraging, uplifting and especially relevant during this time of year.


While tomorrow is a wonderful opportunity to give, promote charitable efforts and bring attention to the field of philanthropy, we at The Philanthropic Initiative think it’s important to remember that need occurs year-round and cannot be addressed in a single day.  Nevertheless, Giving Tuesday should be celebrated.  We suggest you use the day as a chance to reflect on your giving and develop a larger strategy for your philanthropic efforts throughout the year.  Below are some lessons that we have learned in helping our clients maximize the impact of their philanthropy and we hope they help you consider how to make your giving more effective and fulfilling.

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Launching a Guide, Growing a Field

This is very cool.


At the Council on Foundations Community Foundations conference three years ago, GPS Capital Partners and TPI invited interested community foundations to come together for a conversation about what their foundations might do in response to the growing “buzz” in impact investing.  Our two organizations believed that community foundations could play an important leadership role as educators, intermediaries and aggregators of increased capital for social good, and in the process, prove themselves adaptable and relevant to a rapidly changing world and next generation of donors.  There was a fair amount of excitement in the room of 30 odd CEO’s, program, finance and donor service professionals, but also confusion and wariness about jumping onto what some feared might be the latest fad.

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I’m An Impact Investor

This blog, written by TPI Senior Fellow Tom Bird, originally appeared on the B Corp blog.

Endeavoring to “do more” with my money and my life, I’ve been an impact investor for 15 years.  Back in the ‘80’s at business school, I learned about the equation:  value = benefits – price.  And 7 years ago, while in Divinity School studying ethics, I was able to gain a bit more clarity on values.  Matterings.  Impact investing has allowed me to integrate what I have learned about value and values.  The MBA and the ethics training meet.

Here’s how:  in my own impact investing value equation, benefits can come in three forms.

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Financial Advisers: Roadblocks to raising the philanthropy question

Financial advisers and philanthropy seem like a perfect match.  As trusted wealth consultants with a strong personal understanding of their clients, financial advisers are uniquely positioned to positively impact their business, the individuals and families they serve, and society at large.  So, if philanthropy is good for advisers, clients, and society, what barriers keep advisers from starting these conversa­tions? How can these hurdles be overcome? The obstacles are diverse, but several surface more often than others.

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Financial Advisers: Building Trust and Getting Personal

Although most professional advisers report that they do talk about philanthropy with their clients, what we see at TPI as well as in the research con­ducted with high-net-worth and ultra-high-net-worth individuals is that that only a small percentage of advis­ers consistently raise the topic before their clients do. Even fewer go beyond conversations on the tax impli­cations or private foundation structures to ground the discussion in their clients’ values and interests.


A decade ago, those of us promoting philanthropy spent much of our time easing the concerns of advisers who thought that this topic was too personal for them to raise, that they would be overstepping bounds, or that they would appear to be imposing their own values or moral code on their clients. The good news is that

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Financial Advisers: A unique role with philanthropy

Tomorrow I’m presenting at the CFA Institute Conference: Wealth Management 2013 about how important it is for financial advisers to raise the philanthropy question with their clients.  For those who won’t be in attendance, I thought it might be helpful to share my recent contribution to the CFA Institute Private Wealth Management newsletter through a series of blog posts.


The truth is, too few financial advisers take the initiative when it comes to engaging clients on the question of philanthropy. Yet, having a meaningful conversation about charitable giving is an effective way of deepening client relationships and differentiating one’s firm. What is important, however, is that advisers frame the discussion around the client’s values, interests, and goals—not simply around the technical aspects of taxes and philanthropic vehicles.

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