This is the first post of the DoGoodBetter blog (which also lives on www.domorethangivebook.com). We’ve created this space to open conversations and invite debate about the practice of catalytic philanthropy, a unique twist on the traditional approach to charitable giving that we explore in our new book, Do More Than Give: The Six Practices of Donors Who Change the World.
We wrote Do More Than Give because we believe that philanthropy, as commonly practiced, has become antiquated. It’s no antidote to the complex, interconnected problems that face our world. And while more than $300 billion is donated alone in the U.S. each year, experts agree that most philanthropy falls far short of its potential to create significant change. The exceptions are those donors who take a catalytic approach and strive to solve problems. They employ high-impact practices like funding and engaging in advocacy (rather than only supporting direct service providers). They embrace mission investing (rather than separating their financial and philanthropic interests). Perhaps most importantly, catalytic donors pursue collective impact strategies, collaborating with foundation and nonprofit peers to achieve field-wide wins (rather than only funding individual nonprofits or competing to establish their own legacies). They recognize that change requires influencing entire fields and systems – which are affected by multiple nonprofits, donors, policymakers and business leaders – to adopt better approaches (see John and Mark’s recent article in Stanford Social Innovation Review, Collective Impact). Catalytic donors see the forest for the trees.
Writing Do More Than Give has changed the way I think about and advise donors how to practice philanthropy. After studying the catalytic foundations, corporations, and individual donors featured in the book, I have come to believe that every funder has the potential to contribute to systemic change. This wasn’t always the case.
Back in 2007, when my previous book, Forces for Good, was first released, I held a different view. My coauthor Heather McLeod Grant and I had written about the “six practices of high-impact nonprofits,” and explored how great nonprofits create wide-scale systemic change by leveraging forces that extend far beyond the four walls of their own organizations (see www.forcesforgood.net). So when donors would ask me how they could apply the concepts in Forces for Good to their giving, at first I advised them to use the six practices as a screen to select the best nonprofits for funding. If donors spent more time finding and funding high-impact nonprofits like those in Forces for Good, I reasoned, more philanthropy would flow to top-performing organizations, and we would move closer to solving problems like underperforming public schools or climate change.
But then I realized that donors can do more than fund nonprofits to do things like combine policy advocacy with direct service. Donors themselves can actively advocate and push for policy change — and they are often in a better position to do so, given their connections and clout with policy elites. These are important assets that nonprofits often lack. But I didn’t know of many examples of donors who actually did much more than make grants. So John, Mark and I set out to find out examples of philanthropists who go beyond basic checkwriting to proactively catalyze change.
The results of our research are encapsulated in Do More Than Give. The book officially publishes on March 28, 2011, and we are excited to hear what you think. My coauthors and I will be starting a book tour this spring, and we look forward to sharing these ideas at various conferences and events in the U.S. and overseas. I’ll return to this blog to explore questions raised and ideas sparked from these encounters. So please join me back here to share your feedback and exchange your own stories about what it takes to catalyze change in this 21st century of giving.