Sharing the lessons of The Philanthropy Workshop

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


One Response to “Sharing the lessons of The Philanthropy Workshop”

  1. instituteforphilanthropy Says:

    “Money is important in solving societal problems, but so is the human touch—you need to give of your heart and emotions.” Jana Al Zaibak, Syria/Canada (TPW Cohort 18)

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