Monday, December 14, 2009

Feeding Funder Egos

"Despite the sincere dedication and best efforts of those who work in the nonprofit sector, there is little reason to assume that they have the ability to solve society's large-scale problems...We should not pretend that conventional contributions will change the status quo."

Mark R. Kramer, Catalytic Philanthropy,Stanford Social Innovation Review 7(4), Fall 2009.

Guess who is leading way: Funders. The argument is that we need to get beyond individual grantmaking in order to spark the kind change that is really needed.This is a good new, old point. A little history of social movements and social change might have helped: Did funders start the Civil Rights Movement, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, anti-tobacco campaigns or community reinvestment,to name a few?

Kramer questions the results and impacts of proliferating nonprofits and growing charitable giving. Are funders the answer or a part of the problem? Last week the answer was galvanizing philanthropy, this week catalytic philanthropy.

Kramer delineates four components to this new approach: "responsibility for achieving results, mobiliz[ing] campaign[s] for change,us[ing all available tools and creat[ing] actionable knowledge."

Again, good ideas and examples but not just the bailwick of funders. Think of the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act (HMDA) of 1976 and the resulting availability of data about community investment, for example.

Pressing the philanthropic community to be more ambitious and results-oriented is a good thing. Feeding their collective egos about being the leading lights is probably counterproductive in the long run. This article could have benefited from some history, more time spent on discussing the interaction of funders and nonprofits and a sense of the drawbacks and failures of "funder led" initiatives.

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