This week we welcome HBG Research Associate Angie Stapleton to share her thoughts during #ResearchPride month. In preparation for her presentation next week at ARC in Atlanta with teammate Elizabeth Roma, Angie has been giving a lot of thought to the macro view of philanthropy and how prospect development plays a key part in it. Here she shares a glimpse into some of the ways that philanthropists are collaborating and re-shaping what philanthropy looks like around our world.
In honor of #ResearchPride month, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the work I do every day. It didn’t take long to pinpoint what I love most about this work I have the pleasure of doing day-in and day-out – quite simply, it is that I get to see all the good going on in our world.
Every. Single. Day.
In a year that has seemed particularly polarizing and divisive – where all the negative in the world seemed on full display – I go to work, and I see the good.
You see, our clients – as well as the people, foundations and corporations funding them – are superheroes. They work tirelessly to educate children and provide them with opportunity and a future. They provide healthcare to those who are sick and are responsible for the scientific research that will lead us to future medical breakthroughs. They protect our environment and preserve this great, big beautiful planet we call home. They value art, beauty and learning – and bring it to the masses. They work overseas to ensure our friends abroad are cared for, fed, welcome, and not forgotten.
While each of these organizations is doing amazing work on their own, what has inspired me most recently is seeing how donors are responding to their work and the huge challenges they are tackling. Through an uptick in collective giving campaigns, venture philanthropy funds, and traditional giving circles, we are seeing the philanthropic community come together to commit to the social good unlike ever before! Not only is that super exciting, but I believe this type of collaboration has the potential to re-shape the way we think about philanthropy in a few different ways.
- We can do big things together. “If you want to go fast, go alone…if you want to go far, travel together.” This phrase sums up what we are seeing in philanthropy today. Funders are joining forces to take on systemic challenges that will require multiple, coordinated solutions and substantial financial backing. Though this type of partnership may take longer and may have its own challenges, it also allows funders to identify and strategically address the root causes of social issues making them more effective in the long run. Blue Meridian Partners, for example, is bringing together a group of individuals and foundations to strategically invest $1 billion for economically disadvantaged children and youth. The partners are all already successful youth-funding donors in their own right, but together, they can make strategic “big bet” investments in high-performing nonprofits and move the needle much farther than they could separately.
- Collaboration begets innovation. Lately, there has been a lot of discussion on “disruptive philanthropy” and what effects – both positive and negative – it may have on our industry. But one thing is certain, it is ushering in a new wave of philanthropists dedicated to innovation and finding creative solutions to the world’s largest problems. Breakthrough Energy Coalition, for example, is a partnership between a who’s who of private philanthropists, governments, and research institutions with the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero by financing emerging clean energy technology. It is an audacious goal that would seem impossible, but for the people involved. To them, it is not a matter of “if,” only “when” and “how.”
- Knowledge-sharing benefits us all. The explosion of wealth creation is providing a unique opportunity – educating future philanthropists. People new to this world can find it daunting, and I love seeing groups of seasoned philanthropists stepping up to address the complexities around becoming a thoughtful donor. Organizations like Science Philanthropy Alliance are bringing together a community of current funders to act as advisors and mentors to new donors, providing inspiration and critical information on supporting work in the sciences. More informally, we are also seeing a similar type of mentorship and education happening in Silicon Valley through organizations like Pledge 1% and the Founder’s Pledge.
- There is a seat at the table for everyone. Our industry is starting to shift, in the very best ways! We are beginning to see a more representative face for philanthropy as emerging donors take their seat at the table. Collectives such as Women Moving Millions, ABFE (supporting African American communities), Hispanics in Philanthropy, and Funders for LGBTQ Issues, among many others, are working to increase the scale and impact of philanthropic resources within their community. And, while they do so, they are also enhancing equity and inclusiveness on a much broader scale.
- Collaboration works everywhere. While I love seeing large-scale collaboration crossing state and national borders (all the possibility that brings could be an entirely separate blog post!), I also love seeing how this type of philanthropy is taking shape at the local level. You see, I’m an east Tennessee girl at heart (forever and always, amen). Absolutely nothing in 2016 made my heart sing like seeing the concerted efforts of individuals, nonprofits, foundations, and businesses to support the victims of fires that swept through Gatlinburg, Tenn. this past year. But, that type of support doesn’t have to be reserved for disasters. There are organizations bringing like-minded citizens together in almost every city, all the time – Impact 100, Social Venture Partners*, Women’s Funds or similar at the local community foundation. There are also organizations working to solve problems on a regional level – Philanthropy Northwest, Philanthropy Southwest, and Southeastern Council of Foundations, among others. These organizations allow donors to step outside of their own bubbles to truly see and understand the unique issues facing their communities – and be a part of the solution.
(*Pro-tip: Social Venture Partners also has SVP Kids for young philanthropists. My heart can’t even take it!)
- Researchers and strategists get a front row seat. Selfishly, this is my favorite part. I truly believe prospect development professionals are singularly positioned within our organizations to follow philanthropic trends and incorporate them into our nonprofits. We consume and process an incredible amount of information. Because of that, we can (and should!) bring ideas to the table. You will very likely be the first one in your development shop to read that a new giving collective has formed in your city, or that a local investment outfit has launched an impact investment fund, or a group of foundations is partnering for a “big bet” solution to social issue your organization is already supporting. It takes just one news alert – and a little creative brainstorming around it – to revolutionize the way your organization brings in future fundraising dollars.
All that to say… we live in exciting times for prospect development. As we move forward in #researchpride month, let’s take just a minute to reflect on how philanthropy is changing and how lucky we all are to be a part of it. Together, as just a bunch of researchers and strategists happily doing our work day-in and day-out, let’s look to the good – and then, let’s get about the work of being a part of it.
PS: If you are interested in learning more about collective giving and you’re planning to attend the ARC conference next week in Atlanta, I hope you’ll join Elizabeth Roma and me for Collective Giving: Philanthropy as a Team Sport (Session 1007). Together, we’ll dig deeper into this topic and discuss how your organization can capitalize on the changing face of philanthropy. Plus, there will be chocolate, so basically, it’s a win, win. Hope to see you there, friends!