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Getting the 411 in Philanthropy 

Do you need to know anything to be a philanthropist? There is no Bar to pass, no certificate, and limited access to the experience and coaching of others. Yet, you are often affecting people’s lives, dealing with complex issues in education, poverty, equity, the environment and more. Therefore I would say: to be a good one, yes!

As a director at FSG, who has worked with large and small private foundations, community foundations and individual philanthropists, I hear the frustration of many who fear repeating the mistakes of the past—unknowingly—and of those who feel they may be re-inventing the wheel. As a field, we are rather poor at sharing and using knowledge.

Not to intimidate people from giving in the first place. There is a lot you can learn through giving with a 10-year-old for example, as Lucy Bernholz observed in a popular post. If you are simply trying to find an organization to work with, asking simple questions like “What does the organization do and how do they do it? and “How do they know if they are making a difference?” is a good start.

There are also people in the field to help. FSG and many other organizations like Grantmakers for Effective OrganizationsRockefeller Philanthropy Advisors and others offer resources for emerging philanthropists. In the next few months some of those resources will be accessible in one place through a new effort called LearnPhilanthropy. LearnPhilanthropy asks you to imagine:

• Learning resources from multiple providers all in one place.
• A wider audience for content providers.
• A searchable catalogue—for you, your staff, your members.
• Online peer learning and advice.
• Field learning data to guide new offerings.
• Learning as essential to effectiveness.

I am excited about this pilot to create a vibrant knowledge marketplace in philanthropy—where providers and seekers can meet and grow in their practice. I’ve led the effort to identify FSG’s “best of the best” (although it is all great, of course) and am looking forward to seeing if they will get used.

Speaking of usage, this will only work if LearnPhilanthropy and knowledge providers are responsive to your questions and needs—what questions do you find yourself asking most often as you practice philanthropy? What kinds of resources would be most helpful to you?