“Philanthropy does a lot of good in the world, but it’s not fulfilling its potential,” states Gabriel Kasper.

Kasper, a senior consultant at the Monitor Institute, is co-author of the report “What’s Next for Philanthropy: Acting Bigger and Adapting Better in a Networked World.”

The report argues that the best practices of philanthropic innovation over the last decade have been about improving the effectiveness, efficiency and responsiveness of individual organizations. And the next practices of the coming 10 years must build on those efforts and include an additional focus on coordination and adaption — acting bigger and adapting better.

Coordination, because no private funder alone has the resources and reach required to move the needle on the most pressing and intractable social problems. And adaptation because given today’s pace of change, funders need to get smarter faster, incorporating the best available data and knowledge about what is working and regularly adjusting what they do to add value.

Acting Bigger
Unfortunately, collaboration today is still more often the exception than the rule. Working collaboratively can mean giving up individual control, being patient with group processes that feel slow and dealing with interpersonal tensions. It doesn’t help that collaboration’s benefits are often hard to measure in the short run.

But declines in foundation endowments remind us that no individual organization or actor, no matter how large their assets or how efficient their processes, has the resources to single-handedly produce meaningful change. Funders may not legally need to work with others, but if they hope to have a significant impact on their communities, they’ll have to. And increasingly, the others they work with will be not just from the nonprofit sector, but from business and government too.

The report says the most successful funders in the future will combine long-standing instincts toward independent initiative with an emerging “network” mindset that helps them see their work as part of a larger, diverse and more powerful overall effort.

Adapting Better
Yet, once philanthropy truly accepts acting bigger, the work will be only half done, according to Kasper.

It asserts mistakes made at a grand scale are still mistakes, and ambitious efforts that fall short of expectations are still failures. The successful philanthropy of the future will make judgments based on the best evidence available and then learn and adjust rapidly and publicly — adapting better.

Positive pressures to support these behaviors continue to build. Grantmakers no longer occupy a safe haven where they are given the benefit of the doubt simply because they are doing charitable work. As a New York Times headline proclaimed, the public is now “asking do-gooders to prove they do good.”

Kasper at MCF Convening
Don’t miss an opportunity to hear Kasper’s insights in person. He will present the opening plenary at the MCF Annual Convening! If you attend, you will have an opportunity to engage in discussions on key questions related to philanthropy’s ability to act, adapt and innovate.

You can read more about the plenary session, or if you’d like to learn more about Kasper, read his bio.

- Susan Stehling, MCF