Is it time to challenge the power of philanthropy?

Blog post by Magdalena Kuenkel: “Over the past six months, we’ve partnered with Nesta to explore some of these questions. In the “Foundation Horizon Scan,” unveiled at an event today with sector leaders, we take the long view to explore the future of philanthropic giving. In compiling the report, we reviewed relevant literature and spoke to over 30 foundation leaders and critics internationally to understand what the challenges to foundations’ legitimacy and impact mean in practice and how foundations are responding to them today. 

We learned about new grantmaking practices that give more power to grantees and/or beneficiaries and leverage the power of digital technologies. We heard about alternative governance models to address power imbalances and saw many more collaborative efforts (big and small) to address today’s complex challenges. We spoke to funders who prioritise place-based giving in order to ensure that beneficiaries’ voices are heard.

Alongside these practical responses, we also identified eight strategic areas where foundations face difficult trade-offs:

  • Power and control
  • Diversity
  • Transparency
  • Role in public sector delivery
  • Time horizons
  • Monitoring, evaluation and learning
  • Assets
  • Collaboration 

There are no simple solutions. When devising future strategies, foundations will inevitably have to make tradeoffs between different priorities. Pursuing one path might well mean forfeiting the benefits afforded by a different approach. Near-term vs. long-term? Supporting vs. challenging government? Measuring vs. learning?

The “Foundation Horizon Scan” is an invitation to explore these issues – it is directed at foundation leaders, boards, grantees and beneficiaries. What do you think is the role of philanthropy in the future and what share of power should they hold in society?… (More)”.