Archive for May, 2012

Sharing the lessons of The Philanthropy Workshop

May 25, 2012

This post was written by the Institute’s Managing Director in the US, Tracy Mack. 

Imagine individuals coming together from around the world with a common commitment to learning the skills, gaining the knowledge and engaging with a network of dedicated peers to best invest their charitable dollars for lasting change. Put them in a room with leading thinkers, innovators and practitioners in the philanthropy sector. Imagine how much you could learn about how to leverage every resource at your disposal to make a difference in this world. That’s what we did last week in New York and I wanted to be sure we shared the learnings.

As many of you know, at The Philanthropy Workshop (TPW), launched in 1995 and run every year since, we recruit and work with a select group of individuals from around the world to learn how to practice strategic philanthropy. This year’s class—our 18th since our inception—first met for a week in London, another week in Sierra Leone and we just gathered for the final week of the program in New York.

We convened from morning ‘til evening in the board room of the Ford Foundation, engaging in dialogue with leading thinkers and practitioners in the philanthropy sector on topics from fostering leadership, conducting due diligence, measuring impact, building social movements, leading large-scale advocacy campaigns, collaborating and mobilizing resources and furthering social change visionaries.

In the words of our TPW participants, here are the top takeaways from their year-long learning journey:

“I now ask, do I have the answer—is it ego or passion driving me? I’ve learned that we need to work together to solve problems, rather than do it on my own in my own niche. Can I use intermediaries who can add value, be more strategic and get me more reach? But I need to stay involved and always ask, who is in charge?” Charlie L., England

“Non-profits are constrained by undercapitalization. A growing trend will be organizations engaged in profit-making activities that seek to do good.” Henri K., Finland

“Strategic philanthropists take as seriously the notion of changing lives as business leaders take the goal of achieving the bottom line.” Lisa W., Canada/Spain

“Strategic philanthropists seek to understand a problem and take it apart—how can we prevent a problem? How can we intervene once the problem exists? The strategies we support should be long lasting, not band aid solutions, and they should be based on data and research. Our greatest power is through partnerships and collaborations, including with the business sector, to achieve leverage.” Leen A., Syria/Canada

“I’ve learned the power of well-done presentations—of understanding your audience when you or a non-profit is making a case for change. And I’ve learned the power of numbers—being able to measure and communicate specific outcomes for the community you are achieving.” Lucy M., England

“Focusing your philanthropy on a specific set of issues is powerful, but at the early stages you should not be rushed—give yourself time to explore and experiment. One way to begin to focus is to work in a discrete region and demonstrate positive impact for others to learn from and apply elsewhere.” Jess H., United States/Canada

“When trying to address major social problems, how you frame the issue is of great importance—for example, simply telling people you are protecting the environment may be a less effective message than framing the issue as providing access to clean drinking water for the community.” Charlie L., England

“Philanthropy is a personal journey—it’s about knowledge of self and others. I’m more than my money. I’ve learned to recognize what I’m good at—my comparative advantage—and I can apply my talent to causes I care about…and just go for it.” Leigh B., United States

“There is value both in working with a community of peer philanthropists and in being a vocal leader and advocate for a cause.” Jess H., United States/Canada

“Philanthropists can go big or go home.” Lisa W., Canada/Spain

“While my early charitable work might be considered ‘traditional,’ it was always deeply rooted in the community. Now, as I begin to work with my family on projects not only where I live, but around the world, I’ll do so through supporting community-based initiatives—where those who are closest to the problems and solutions are.” Joanne H., Canada

To learn more about how to join us for The Philanthropy Workshop 2012-13 program, email me at


Everything but the money

May 4, 2012

Post written by Tracy Mack*

We spend much time at the Institute for Philanthropy on the topic of how philanthropists can make strategic social investments with their financial capital. But in late April, we gathered a group of our Philanthropy Workshop Alumni and other philanthropists in our network in London to talk about everything but the money.

The idea was to explore how philanthropists can leverage non-financial assets for causes they care about, such as:

  •  Talent (your know-how)
  • Networks, including your access to influential opinion and policy makers in media and government
  • Convening power (venues and platforms you can offer to bring stakeholders together)
  • Communications (can you write, advocate, speak publicly?)
  • Ability to mobilise other people’s resources (individuals, foundations, corporations)

With this in mind, we heard from four change-makers over the course of two days, who highlighted strategic ways to apply different assets to large-scale campaigns.

Nick Booth, Chief Executive of The Foundation of Prince William and Prince Harry, shared how he leverages the Princes’ position and convening power to marry “moments and mission”. This involves creating great public awareness moments to catalyse the missions of non-profit organisations. Nick also reminded participants to carefully consider whether the best strategy is to ‘build it or join it’: you don’t always have to start a campaign; sometimes the best strategy is to join an existing one.

Casper ter Kuile of Common Cause shared groundbreaking research on the values that motivate people, and how awareness of these values can help campaigns become much more powerful tools for long-term change. Casper also highlighted how approaching issues from a values-based perspective can help to bring together different organisations to form strong coalitions.

Jamie Drummond echoed the call to search out shared values to identify unlikely allies, for example religious groups who believe we are stewards of the earth can make great partners with environmentalists on campaigns to protect natural resources, even if they are on different sides of the political aisle. Jamie explained how the organisations he leads, DATA and ONE (supported by Bill Gates, George Soros and Bono) work to tap into grassroots membership networks, NGO coalitions and celebrities with sincere interests in the cause to advocate successfully for specific policy solutions to end global poverty. He reminded us to always keep the big picture firmly in mind, but to avoid an ‘all or nothing’ mentality and make an effort to embrace small incremental victories.

Finally Tony Hollingsworth, Executive Producer for Tribute Inspirations that choreographed some of the largest concerts in the world (including the two Nelson Mandela Tribute concerts) shared how to use popular culture as a powerful campaign tool.

One of the key takeaways from the group discussions was the value of networking and exchanging information: there was a consensus that more communication among funders – for example sharing information on who is working on what – would enhance the type of collaboration and partnership required to achieve greater impact. A model of this in practice that could be replicated is Ariadne, the European Human Rights Funders Network. There was de facto acceptance that the complex social and environmental issues that the world is currently facing cannot be tackled alone, and it was acknowledged that although productive collaboration takes real effort, it is well worth the investment of time and resources.

Reflecting on the two-day course, our recently installed chief executive Kurt Hoffman concludes: “The strategic philanthropists that we work with recognise that maximising social impact is about far more than money. But it’s not easy. It takes real commitment to seek out and convene likeminded funders, charities and community groups – all of which must be guided by the same vision. There is also a clear need to build up a body of evidence of what works and what doesn’t. Reporting failures as well as successes has an important place in moderating the attempts of others working in a similar space.”

But perhaps the biggest lesson was far from new: strategic philanthropy continues to advance and become ever more sophisticated. The commitment and challenge it has come to embody means it is becoming a career in its own right. But then the size and complexity of domestic and international issues being addressed, demands nothing less.

*Tracy Mack co-chaired “Philanthropy Plus: Everything But The Money” a new two-day course offered to philanthropists.  

The next course will take place in New York, 13th – 14th September 2012. For more information contact

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