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Organised philanthropy has the potential to grow the sector


Shelagh Gastrow provides advisory services to the philanthropy sector, higher education advancement and non-profit sustainability. She works with individuals and families on how to integrate their wealth and their values into meaningful and effective philanthropy. From 2002-2015 she was founder and executive director of Inyathelo and focused her efforts on strengthening civil society and universities through programmes to develop their financial sustainability whilst promoting philanthropy in SA. Her work has gained public recognition locally and internationally.

The heightened awareness around philanthropy and the role that it can play in society has led to greater professionalism in the sector.

For years, most philanthropy has functioned under the radar and there are still many philanthropic foundations that work in this way, avoiding any form of publicity such as websites or the social media. This is partly to avoid a deluge of funding requests, but also because they prefer to seek out their own relationships that match their own values and interests.

However, especially since the emergence of the Giving Pledge led by Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffet in which they publicly pledged to give away “more than half of their wealth to philanthropy or charitable causes either during their lifetime or in their will”, philanthropy has emerged from the woodwork and in many ways has now become a global industry.

This has played out through the formation of large numbers of philanthropic networks in a range of geographies and specific affinity groups. On its website, the Worldwide Initiatives for Grantmaker Support (Wings), a network of networks, indicates that it now has about 100 members from 40 countries. Wings conferences are where many in the philanthropy sector go to engage on major issues relating to philanthropy and to further develop their own networks.

Members include entities from every continent and include representation from the USA, Canada, Mexico, Brazil, Colombia, Russia, India, China, Turkey, Australia, Indonesia and New Zealand. When it comes to Africa, this does appear to be the new frontier for organised philanthropy. We have the Global Philanthropy Forum based in the USA setting up the African Philanthropy Forum which brings together wealthy individuals from the continent to share their philanthropic objectives; the African Philanthropy Network which has emerged from the previous African Grantmakers Network and which brings together all types of grantmakers, not only philanthropic foundations; The East African Association of Grantmakers that focuses on donors in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania; and the new African Venture Philanthropy Association that explores a particular approach to philanthropy and should be establishing its pilot office shortly.

In South Africa we have the Independent Philanthropy Association South Africa (IPASA) which brings together private philanthropic trusts and foundations in a peer learning programme that also enhances members’ capacity to build collaborative relationships with each other as well as the state and the corporate sector.

The heightened awareness around philanthropy and the role that it can play in society, has led to greater professionalism in the sector. As a result, philanthropic entities such as private trusts and foundations seek ways to improve their grantmaking practice, to build partnerships with other donors and to learn from each other. There are huge benefits in creating such networks and, according to Wings, key benefits include building skills, knowledge and expertise in the sector; building relationships and promoting collaboration and co-operation and building credibility around the value and impact of philanthropy.

However, one of the key benefits of organised and networked philanthropy is the potential to grow the sector and to bring other individuals and families into the formalised philanthropic family. This would grow and enhance the pool of donor finances available to society.

When working with civil society organisations, many of whom receive funding from private philanthropy, many complaints arise around the relationships between the two. Very often there are concerns about a power imbalance, onerous and expensive reporting requirements especially when the funds provided are small, invasive behaviour that interferes with organisational programmes and the independence of the fund recipients as well as a lack of exit strategies on the part of the funders involved. Grantmaking practice is a key learning element in philanthropic networks and many of the above issues emerge in case studies that are shared or are discussed at symposia or conferences held by organised philanthropic organisations.

Generally, grantmaking practice has improved through professionalisation with more efficient and effective use of philanthropic funding; a more strategic approach to social change including collaborations; improved relationships with civil society organisations and a greater understanding of how they operate. In addition, other issues emerge when philanthropy comes together that impact on the sector as a whole. These can include the enabling environment for philanthropy in a specific country such as the legislative framework as well as government policy in relation to tax benefits for those who choose to establish public benefit organisations; the positioning of philanthropy in countries where there is a clamp down on civil society and a philanthropic voice in relation to a range of specific issues such as corruption, global warming and social innovation.

It is important to recognise that South African philanthropy is part of a global movement, especially taking into account the number of international philanthropic foundations that make contributions to this country. There are significant parallels when it comes to philanthropic practice in other countries. Naturally, every context is unique and the kind of philanthropic practice that emerges in South Africa will fit its own specific needs, but by being part of a network, individual philanthropists as well as those involved with philanthropic trusts and foundations can learn what they need from a global experience instead of very often reinventing the wheel. DM


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