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Strategic Philanthropy

30 Lessons in Pursuit of Deep Social Impact: Leadership and Humility

By July 31, 2020October 13th, 2021No Comments

For the sixth and final post in the “30 Lessons” blog series, based on our 30th anniversary publication 30 Lessons in Pursuit of Deep Social Impact, we thought it was only fitting to share lessons relating to two of what we believe to be the most important qualities of impactful philanthropy: leadership and humility. Pursuing deep social impact means going above and beyond the status quo. Whether you are just beginning your philanthropic journey or you are already achieving high-impact philanthropy, we hope these lessons inspire you to continue growing and pushing yourself in your own pursuit of deep social impact.

Be a leader and role model.

Inspire peers to move up TPI’s Philanthropic CurveTM. If that doesn’t work, try a gentle nudge. Encourage dialogue. Create safe spaces for discovery. Make your efforts visible. Everyone who has made a commitment to philanthropy has a story, and philanthropists who come to their causes from personal experience can emerge as powerful leaders. Don’t be afraid to share your story while also continuing to ask questions, gain deeper insights, and push your thinking further. There is much you can do to spark deeper conversations about the power and potential of philanthropy, and in doing so you may not only help fuel that sense of urgency in yourself to move further along TPI’s Philanthropic Curve, but indeed, inspire it in others.

Communicate openly.

Be transparent and forthcoming with your grantees, the communities in which you operate, and all other stakeholders. Strong and effective relationships are key to effective philanthropy, especially when they’re built on trust, transparency, and collaboration. At what stages in your grantmaking process are there opportunities for more openness or transparency? In building partnerships, listen to those around you, ask for input, and engage a broader range of stakeholders in your work.

Do no harm.

Consider ways in which efforts can lead to unintended consequences. As TPI’s founder Peter Karoff once said, “Only the foolish amateur, muddleheaded philosopher, constipated bureaucrat, starry-eyed social planner, or romantic advocate pays no attention to the possible scenarios that could result from one’s best intentions. As in all things, it is important to ask the right questions and crucial to listen carefully to the answers.”

Beware of hubris.

While outside influences can help to spur innovation, solutions imposed by funders rarely result in real and sustainable change. Philanthropy is ripe with power imbalance at all levels, and funders who truly listen to and collaborate with local communities, leaders on the ground, and other valuable perspectives will have a more positive and sustainable impact. Lead, challenge, and inspire, but do it all with an abundance of humility.

Be both patient and restless.

Take the long view, but bring urgency to it. Change rarely occurs quickly and never without

ongoing inquiry, pressure, and continuous learning. Harness your passion and use it to fuel your work. Discover what inspires you and keep it front and center. And build continuous evaluation, reflection, and fresh thinking into your philanthropy in ways that help you identify signs of progress as well as hurdles that may call for a different approach.

Check out the other blogs in this series:

And as always, we invite questions, reactions, and stories, and we are happy to engage in a conversation about how we can help you achieve more with your philanthropy.