One of the greatest attributes of philanthropy is that you can slice it so many ways.  There are so many perspectives, so many lens through which to view, it is nearly impossible to get bored and certainly impossible not to learn something new.

2008 was no exception.

From politics, we saw candidates campaign with platforms that included a re-dedication to national service and the importance of serving your community.  We also learned to question how the government and non-profit organizations can and should work together, particularly in disaster situations.

Within the social sector, the topics of accountability and transparency continued to receive an increasing share of attention , both on the theoretical and practical sides.  It is no longer about the amount of money you can raise and or how quickly you can get it out the door, but rather about how you are impacting your communities and your beneficiaries – both in successes and failures.

And if you missed out on the discussions around philanthrocapitalism (and its cousins), then the holidays are an excellent time to refresh.  2008 had us asking a thousand questions on the compatibility of the business and social sectors.

Technologically, it was an amazing year for new tools that will help the sector’s organizations move forward.  While technology won’t solve social problems on its own, when applied correctly Web 2.0 tools can help organizations in everything from fundraising to advocacy.  You haven’t heard the last of the impact of Twitter.

Impact of Global Recession

Undoubtedly, the effects of the global recession will impact philanthropy.  The biggest unknown is exactly how and to what extent.  The end of 2008 has left many adjusting expectations , foundations will change grantmaking, non-profits may cut back on non-essential programs, and donors are less confident in their own situations, meaning a potential drop in giving.

However, just as the recession is making its impact, the holidays are around the corner, and the general thought is that people will continue to give.  It is said that particularly in times of recession, faith-based and immediate-need organizations will continue to do well , because people will still give to those who need it the most.

What happens in 2009 will depend on confidence , if there is an end in sight philanthropy will likely preserve, but if a long financial slump darkens optimism , we’ll need to get strategic and creative to keep the sector moving along.

Which event deserved more coverage than it got?


The biggest misconception about philanthropy continues to be that “it is all about money.”  Yes, money is a key part , and more money in the sector is an exciting thing.  Donor advised funding, social entrepreneurship, philanthrocapitalism, endowments, bequests, and annuities are all very relevant to keeping the sector healthy.

However, by focusing narrowly on money, a vast majority of the population is excluded from the wild and fascinating world of philanthropy.

Time, energy, voice, and passion are all equally important pieces of the philanthropic puzzle.  By focusing more attention on these elements, the amount of folks who are able to participate within the sector expands dramatically.

Philanthropy is not effective when it is exclusive.  A widely held misconception about philanthropy

This ties directly into the last question and really is about accessibility.  Everyday there are hundreds of folks writing on philanthropy from every angle you can imagine.  There are financial pros, non-profit employees, technology nerds, community leaders, interested citizens and more all talking about the same topic from vastly different points of view.

If you have an opinion, it is likely being represented.  You can join the conversation.

Philanthropy is not about billions of dollars with a few people pulling the strings , its about community and making it better.  There is room for everyone.

Forecast for 2009

On a lighter note, old jargon will die and new jargon will emerge.  Personally, I`m tired of the “philantro” prefix, it just makes words too hard to pronounce and I don’t want the label of  ”philanthrocrat”.

More seriously, the financial situation will be at the tops of many folk’s lists for the next year.  Will organizations be able to survive and continue to address their missions?

The good news is that the perspective from Canada and U.S.-based discussions in which I’ve participated there is a generally optimistic outlook that things will continue and will improve in the near term.  No one is denying the challenges ahead, but the creativity coming out of these discussions is incredibly thought provoking , should non-profits consider mergers?

It is my personal hope that 2009 sees more folks of diverse generations, backgrounds, and ideologies become interested and engaged in philanthropy.  Even better, that we (as a collective) begin to look outside our own borders and definitions of philanthropy and how we think it ought to look.  We can learn much from our new audiences, both domestically and internationally.

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