Deep Social Impact
The Philanthropic Initiative Inc.’s strategic philanthropy blog
Helping creative and ambitious
families, foundations and corporations
dream big and act wisely


Moving Towards Strategic Family Philanthropy

This is the second post in a series by Ellen Remmer on strategic family philanthropy. Read her first post, Strategic Family Philanthropy – an Oxymoron?

I’m a big believer in strategic philanthropy; again stemming from my own experience moving from checkbook giving to thoughtful, focused strategic philanthropy, but also because I’m an unabashed idealist who truly believes that thoughtful, smart giving can have a disproportionate impact on society.

What is strategic philanthropy?

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Strategic Family Philanthropy – an Oxymoron?

I have a confession.  I’m a prosetelyzer and I’m an evangelist…for strategic family philanthropy.  I caught the bug when my own family discovered the joys of working together on our family foundation, and it’s become a calling in life.  I’ve spent the last 20 years of my professional life evangelizing: working with families who are about to embark on a journey into family philanthropy – or are already deep into it , and helping them become more fulfilled in that journey, craft and realize big ambitions and become strategic, effective givers.  Dream big and give wisely – that’s TPI’s tagline.

The problem is that it’s not easy.  More than a few people have told me it’s a lost cause, that I’m Sisyphus pushing that big old rock up the hill.   But unlike Sisyphus, this is my goal, not a punishment, and the rewards of seeing some of those rocks reach the top of the hill have made it worth it.

In this series of posts, I’m going to talk about why I think strategic family philanthropy is important and why it can be so hard to achieve.  I’ll share some examples of success and failure, and provide you with a little advice for what you can do to make it a reality – and not an oxymoron.

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One Less Hurdle to International Giving

I have a piece of good news.  There is an exciting effort underway to reshape the international grantmaking process.  Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stole the show earlier this week with an announcement at the Clinton Global Initiative for U.S. foundations making international grants.

Under existing rules, if a foundation wants to make a cross-border grant to a foreign-based organization it generally uses one of two legally permitted methods: equivalency determination (ED) or expenditure responsibility (ER).

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When Donors Do More Harm Than Good

Back in June I wrote a piece for the Stanford Social Innovation Review blog which argued that the first rule of corporate philanthropy is to do no harm.  I still believe this to be true, but I want to broaden the idea because I really think that the first rule of all philanthropy is to do no harm.  It’s not a surprising supposition since harm is the last thing any donor wants to see happen as a result of his or her giving, but it remains a challenge for donors because unexpected consequences are also a fact of life.

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Filed under: Strategic Philanthropy



And the Medal Goes to…Philanthropy

I’ve got Olympic fever.  Who doesn’t? With all the hype and media coverage it’s hard not to have the Games on the brain.  And between cheering on Aly Raisman and ogling Ryan Lochte, I began to think about how philanthropy plays into it all.  Of course their origins are similar – the first athletes competed in Olympia, Greece in 776 BC and the word philanthropy originates from the Greek root “philo” meaning love.   But the Games have changed a bit since the days of ancient Greece, most notably in the amount of money that is involved in putting them on.  The cost of the 2012 Summer Games in London is upwards of $19 billion and Beijing spent over twice that amount ($43 billion) in 2008.  The costs to the host cities don’t even scratch the surface of the amount of money surrounding the Olympics though.  One must also take into account the corporate advertisements and sponsorships, merchandise, and numerous endorsements that athletes receive.  There’s a lot of money in these Games, but is any of it going towards philanthropy?

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Impact at First Love

By Stefan Lanfer, Knowledge Officer, Barr Foundation

There is a lively debate in the social sector about effectiveness. In April, Peter Karoff jumped in to debate with a post on this blog called, “What’s Going on Here?” Karoff argued for an approach that blends both art and science – one that depends on logic, left-brain analytics, and explicit outcomes, while remaining open to complexity, disruption, and emergence.

But what does that actually look like in practice?

One answer is the Barr Fellowship

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Remember Social Capital?

It’s back. Suddenly I am seeing social capital everywhere and thinking a lot about how philanthropy can cultivate or kill it.

I first noticed it at Associated Grantmakers’ Annual Meeting a few weeks ago, where the featured speaker was Thomas Sander, Executive Director of the Saguaro Seminar at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.  This is an initiative created by Robert Putnam, of the famous book Bowling Alone, and since inception it’s been waving the flag on the importance of understanding, improving and measuring the creation of social capital.

Tom had all kinds of depressing data

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CSR Rule #1: Do No Harm

Social impact, social change, and social innovation – these are aspirational concepts in themselves reflective of a movement, but how do we define them?


In 1970, the sociologist James Taylor defined social innovation this way: “new ways of doing things in order to meet social needs.” How would you add to that?


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Why Don’t We Make a Scene? Together.

We can do a lot alone, but we can do so much more together.  This is not a new concept by any means, yet there seemed to be a sense of urgency at the Social Impact Exchange Conference last week to move towards such collaborative efforts.  Why now? Well, I think there are a lot of reasons, but that’s not what I want to discuss.  I want to talk more about what “together” means. 

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A Mentor for All

“Wouldn’t it be great if every student had a mentor?”  I can’t remember who said it, but I’m certain we were all thinking it.  Several of the TPI program staff recently had an opportunity to sit down with our colleagues at The Boston Foundation to share what we’re doing in the college access and success space.  While the mechanics of what we’re each doing is different – we’re working with very different populations of students, we’re providing different types of support – a theme threaded its way throughout the conversation: Mentoring, advising, guidance, coaching.  Call it what you will, it’s helping students complete college.

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