Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Old-Fashioned Millionaires

"The word philanthropist still cracks me up because it sounds so hoity-toity...I'm not Rockefeller."

Kathleen Noonan and Katherina Rosqueta, "I'm Not Rockefeller": 22 High New Worth Philanthropists Discuss Their Approach to Giving, The Center for High Impact Philanthropy, September, 2008.

With all the recent talk about "new wealth", venture philanthropy, and even high-impact philanthropy, it sometimes seems that the new "givers" are setting the stakes higher for smart strategies, getting to scale, results, return on investment, and impact. Then along come these 33 philanthropists who don't want to be called philanthropists.

"What we found were...a predominant reliance on peers for information, a narrow and negative view of evaluation (despite a strong desire to make a difference), and difficulty with exiting established relationships with nonprofits, perhaps because the transaction costs of "breaking up" seem too high."

So, the Rockefeller reference is not just about size; it's also about approach. Most of these non philanthropists are still working and rely upon some of the skills and ways of doing things that made them successful in business -- much more "gut," much less formal process. The condascending foundation world might say they are unsophisticated or going down the "developmental" path.

You get the sense that many of these non philanthopists give away money to do some good, feel good, and not cause any problems.

"It's my joy. It's my pleasure."

"I don't want this to be a job."

I found their comments on evaluation to be a bit unnerving, not that I love all aspects of evaluation but because knowledge development is an important role for foundations, at least I think so.

"I don't need hard numbers. I just need to see."

"..[I]f a philanthropist is giving a gift, they ought to know more about what they're doing before they do it, rather than stirring the pot once the gift has been given."

These interviews are helpful debunking of the myths gathering around new wealth. Some of their comments may seem parochial, but they also seem to keep their eyes on the ball of doing good and not doing harm without spending a lot of time at it.

I would love to have them identify their top five non-philanthropist "giving" mistakes.

1 comment:

Colin Austin said...

Ah, the life of the high net worth non-philanthropist giver. I applaud some of the ideas in this report. These business people seem to intuit that nonprofits need investment in infrastructure, not just programs. And it is healthy to be involved and form peer relationships. Are we arriving at a new era of philanthropy as social networking?