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April 04, 2007

Podcast on Philanthropic Trends

Our own chief analyst Dr. Susan Raymond makes her podcast debut over at Tactical Philanthropy, in a wide-ranging interview on philanthropic trends conducted by Sean Stannard-Stockton. Listen up:

January 26, 2007

Leonsis's 'Filmanthropy' Plants a Seed With Buddies

Washington Post:  Ted Leonsis had seen his documentary "Nanking" dozens of times before it premiered Saturday at the Sundance Film Festival in Utah. He bankrolled it and selected the director, the actors and agents. He traveled to China and helped in the editing.

November 27, 2006

CNN Spot on Charity and Shopping

CNN did a piece on cause marketing and holiday shopping last Friday, and I was asked to make some comments on the phenomenon. The video is here, if you'd like to watch. Correspondent Ali Velshi did a neat job summing up how hot philanthropy is this year, and how it ties into consumer brands. Given the rise of "philanthropy coverage" in the mainstream press, the business of giving - from both a consumer and economic viewpoint - will continue to be a hot story next year, I'd guess. And I confess: it was fun being on TV.

November 20, 2006

For U.S. charities, a crisis of trust

NBC News: Americans’ charitable spirit peaks during the holiday season, but this year the urge to give is battling a strong contrarian tide – a crisis of trust born from public disenchantment with a philanthropic system that many consider disorganized, under-regulated and tainted by scandal.

A poll by Harris Interactive released this summer found only one in 10 Americans strongly believes charities are "honest and ethical" in their use of donated funds. And nearly one in three believes nonprofits have "pretty seriously gotten off in the wrong direction," it found.

September 25, 2006

Exploding Philanthropy: What the Clinton Global Initiative Meant

The barricades have come down, the explosive-sniffing dogs are back in their kennels, and you can rent a room without a full body search at the Sheraton. The Clinton Global Initiative wrapped up last Friday afternoon in New York, sending 50 heads of state, one first lady and one former first lady, two ex-presidents, one almost president, several secretaries of state, a few movie stars and singers, and scads of pinstriped moguls and CEOs back into the real world - the one where war dominates, politics polarizes, and well-intentioned efforts often smash to tiny bits of well-funded flotsam on the sea of world turmoil and base human hatred.

For three days, CGI was a kind of dressed-up Woodstock for corporate generals and NGO dreamers - three days of peace, love and understanding keyed by groovy world music overtones to accompany slick Powerpoint and desktop video. Everybody got along (at least onstage - cable interviews were another thing entirely). Bushes and Clintons mixed with Gores and Murdochs. And 215 pledges were made totaling $7.3 billion, all aimed at changing the world in one of four areas: environment, poverty, tolerance and health.

But in the words of one waggish bystander in the Sheraton hallways last week: this ain't no capital campaign.

Indeed not. Nor was it - like someone else suggested, an upscale Jerry Lewis Telethon (Ed McMahon was not present). The "pledges" were really was the Clinton team would prefer to think of commitments; multi-year promises to invest time and money and in-kind goods in making the world a better place. In some cases, the dollar value was extraneous to the importance of the commitment.

And although they were all "philanthropic," much of the total was not philanthropy - not as the U.S. Tax Code defines it, or really, how popular culture has always considered it since the earliest societies adopted alms giving to the poor.

  Bill Clinton 
  Originally uploaded by onPhilanthropy.

The largest single commitment was Sir Richard Branson's pledge to use all the profits from his Virgin transportation businesses to fund research into alternative energy sources and technologies. But the estimated $3 billion was not a gift; Sir Richard will invest the company in other companies, including one he already owns, to try and move the developed world to better energy policies. Yet he could have put the money into his pocket, as the largest shareholder.

It's as if the Clinton team was determined to destroy the entire accepted parlance of the philanthropic world. Venture philanthropy? Not quite. Corporate philanthropy? In part. Foundations, nonprofits, NGOs? All part of the mix. Major gifts? Very major indeed, but not all "gifts."

Last week's Clinton confab was part of a discernible trend in "philanthropy" - that is to day, the rapid deconstruction of the accepted term. The reach and economic might of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the disposal of Warren Buffett's fortune, the creation of the loosely for-profit, Branson's "gift," and the kind of economic studies that come out of the World Economic Forum and the Milken Global Conference all point in the direction of blurring the boundaries between philanthropy, business, and nonprofits.

How this changes democracy is clearly a question we who live in democracies must ask. As major-league funding efforts to change the world cross international boundaries and move far outside the oversight of our individual elected representatives, does the average Joe maintain any say on the global commons? Does this mean we have to reconsider how we view tax-exempt status in the U.S.? Should we reconsider the legal strictures on American foundations?

And beyond that, does it work? In the end, even a room with the heft of the Clinton Global Initiative has a hard time fixing the political realities that hinder real change in the world, that keep people dying from bad water and poverty and disease - ills that modern society can fix. Cynics blasted CGI as a staged love-in that broke down fewer boundaries than it appeared to. Part of that is fair criticism; no three-day conference can change the world.

But what it can do is get people talking, and get people thinking - and at a level where real change is possible. You can dismiss CGI as Clinton's government in exile, but you can't dismiss the very real commitments made there. And the sense that an American leader can and should set the stage for change - and commitment throughout the world.

August 30, 2006

Defining (or Re-defining) Philanthropy

Giving Back: What does the word philanthropy mean to you? For me, even though I have been working in the field for years, it still brings to mind stodgy old millionaires in suits and elderly ladies wearing white gloves all uncomfortably mingling at a garden party. It is a weird sounding word that it is hard to say. In fact, I still mispronounce it when I am speaking a little too quickly (Those that know me, know that my rate of speech will often approach mach speeds, especially when I am excited about something).

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