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Hi! It’s Chris Cardona, Chair of VPF’s Advisory Council. I’m delighted to be contributing to VPF’s blog.

I attended part of the Council on Foundations philanthropy mega-conference earlier this week representing VPF. I blogged about the experience – and got the word out about VPF to a broader audience – on Tactical Philanthropy, here, here, and here. My VPF colleagues Gali, Lauren, and Leslie were in the house as well.
 
The Council on Foundations is the trade association for organized philanthropy. Its annual conference generally draws about 2,000 people. Given that there are maybe 10,000 foundation staff in the whole country, this is a big number. CoF also holds sector conferences for family foundations, community foundations, and corporate foundations. This year, it combined them all into one big event. It also made a conscious, if not entirely successful, effort to attract more funders from abroad. As a result, the attendance this year was in the neighborhood of 3,500.
 
For broad and deep coverage of the conference, including detailed summaries of VPF-relevant sessions on social entrepreneurship, venture philanthropy, and funding climate change, check out the following blogs:
After a few days back home, here are some reflections:
  • Institutional philanthropy is in the midst of a full-fledged identity crisis. There was almost as much discussion at the conference of why we do what we do as what we do. And the calls for “more” were legion: Philanthropy should be more global, more proactive, more communicative, more willing to embrace human rights, more willing to support advocacy. Practically no one said, we’re doing a pretty good job, and we should stay the course in the midst of tough times. That’s the sign of a field in flux.
  • The “next gen” is the place to be. Emerging Practitioners in Philanthropy, 21/64, and Resource Generation co-sponsored a wildly successful “Next Gen” track that was the talk of the conference. But now that a space has really been opened, what do we do with it? EPIP’s involvement in the Social Justice Philanthropy Collaborative is a good sign that we can start answering the questions, what does the next gen want, and what will it do differently?
  • We’re only beginning to scratch the surface of engagement with our counterparts in other countries. The opening plenary featured leaders of counterparts of the Council of Foundations from Canada, Latin America, Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. In the brief time they had, each shared fascinating glimpses into the challenges of promoting philanthropy in areas with no legal incentives in the tax code and traditions of charitable – as opposed to strategic – giving.
  • Strategic philanthropy is important, but don’t underestimate charity. Susan Berresford, former head of the Ford Foundation, made this point on Sunday, and the tragic news from Myanmar this week reminds us that sometimes the best thing we can do is to get people in dire need the very basics right away. Speaking of which, Myanmar relief options are here, here, and here. I especially like the approach of the last one.
  • It’s not clear to me that most foundations are ready to engage with giving circles in a meaningful way. A terrific panel on this very topic was woefully underattended. VPF has a lot of work to do – let’s get to it!

So see, your mama was right when she said you should share. You’re helping others and feeling good too. See: http://health.yahoo.com/news/healthday/giveandbehappy.html

Happy Just think of the implications! As a nation nearly drowning in depression and with nonprofits that underpay their overworked staff that run under-funded projects we certainly could use a healthy dose of happy giving.

So be good, give a little and be happy!

 

With all the focus on the growth of the philanthropy sector both corporate and personal, urban and rural, retired persons and youth – one would think that “philanthropy” was becoming a common enough concept. But, in fact, I am reminded on a daily basis that uttering “philanthropy” causes a raise of the eyebrows, a clouding of the eyes, or a slight shuffle of the feet. I read these responses as general either complete boredom at the thought of philanthropy or a lack of understanding what philanthropy is and could be.

And on many levels, I understand exactly what these people are saying.

Let’s take a look at the word: philanthropy. If I didn’t know what it meant, I would think it sounded like a scientific study of something or other. Something stodgy, stuffy, boring.

According to old standards, philanthropy is boring. The image is often a bunch of rich folks writing out checks to museums and cultural events from their oak-lined, Persian carpeted offices. It’s of coiffed blue hair, diamonds hanging on thin fingers and overpriced cigars.

Even if hipsters like Bono, George Clooney and the Jolie and Pitt duo are challenging this image we are still left with the distinct feeling that philanthropy is for them, not little ‘ole me.

But according to the American Heritage Dictionary, philanthropy is:

  1. The effort or inclination to increase the well-being of humankind, as by charitable aid or donations.
  2. Love of humankind in general.

So essentially any joe or jane who has half a heart and desires a more positive future is, technically, a philanthropist. Somehow, somewhere along the way, by misfortune or by bad marketing, we have managed to sell off the concept of philanthropy to the less than 1% of the population that we classify as really, really rich.

But think of what we could accomplish if the other 99% (or, more precisely, the disputable 60% living above poverty) of the population was able to hop on the philanthropy bandwagon too. Some are. Most aren’t. And considering the seemingly regular reporting on the measurement and transparency foibles throughout the nonprofit sector, people certainly are being wooed none too seductively.

What must we do to undo the terrible mess we’ve made of the word philanthropy?
What can we do to take it back to ensure that all kind hearted do-gooders understand their philanthropic identity and actively promote others toward good old giving?

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