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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!

A recent entry by Sean Stannard-Stockton on Tactical Philanthropy discusses some interesting and perplexing trends we are seeing throughout philanthropy. It’s worth a read.

Gwyneth at Gucci/Unicef eventBasically, philanthropy’s popularity is growing thanks to celebrities and super star-studded events that attract attention (example: pictures of Gucci-Unicef event). But, the amount of philanthropy is not directly correlated to its effectiveness and it’s here that we find the crux of a messy matter (or the cause for the mild, constant headache amongstDrew Barrymore at Gucci/Unicef event philanthropy professionals…) : people give money because they want to help solve an issue but they want their money to be a vehicle towards an effective solution. But, the measurement of effectiveness is Gordian knot unto itself .

Stannard-Stockton rightly points to philanthropic institutions themselves as the bearer of this burden. I have heard all too many times that donors should be responsible for researching, monitoring and ultimately correctly judging the effectiveness of the institution they give their money to. But when was the last time you wrote a check after studying impact measurement graphs? There really is a very good reason why pictures of hungry African children produce more donations than ROI/SROI reports.

The “global philanthropic marketplace” is an interesting idea but 1) I am not convinced that this is a solution to ensuring that the bulk of dollars goes to the best organizations and 2) this puts the bulk of the work and responsibility back in the hands of the donors.

Ultimately, giving will always be what giving is: an emotional practice based on a desire to take care of our fellow humans and the planet we live on. No matter the brilliant structures built to guide funds into the correct pot – we will loosen our pocketbooks for a good story or a kind face over a sound, rational model of impact and effectiveness any day.

Ideally, the responsibility falls onto philanthropic institutions to ensure that money is well spent on effective projects and programs. But with collaboration between organizations gamely limping along, a lack of standardized measurement across institutions, and a growing percentage of individual donations coming from the anonymous, online environment – you begin to sink into the center of that Gordian knot and it becomes ever more understandable why responsibility is being shrugged off and given to the donors.

The good news is that people are talking about it and actively pursuing solutions. And my guess is that, like most great ideas these days, the answer lies somewhere in between.

 

 

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!

 

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