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Global Philanthropy

6 Powerful Practices of Thoughtful Global Funders

By March 4, 2020October 13th, 2021No Comments

Even funders with the best of intentions hit common pitfalls that can contribute more harm than good when viewed with a wider lens – and many of these challenges are further exacerbated in the context of international giving. As a result, it is all the more important to consider best practices drawn from leaders in global giving, as these approaches have stood the tests of time, distance, and cultural differences. Funders of all sizes – working locally or across broad geographies – can benefit from real progress among donors and organizations when it comes to addressing fundamental questions:

  • How can we give effectively and responsibly in cultures and geographies not our own?
  • How can our philanthropy or foundation make a difference on some of the most pressing issues facing the world?
  • What are some promising entry points and strategies to tackle complex issues?
  • How are other funders approaching such issues and what are the opportunities to collaborate?
  • What are the most effective and authentic ways to partner with grantees to reduce the power imbalance and be as successful as possible in achieving our shared goals?
  • How can we leverage our philanthropic resources to catalyze significant and sustainable change?

These questions were uppermost in our minds as we set out to create TPI’s resource for global philanthropy: The Thoughtful Funder’s Guide to Global Giving. While other blog posts address specifics of what was distilled from quantitative data and qualitative interviews with inspiring leaders, a key takeaway is that urgent challenges – basic human rights, climate change, peace and security, to name a few – are complex, multifaceted, and require taking the long view.

While the best approach for any situation tends to be more art than science, we have identified what we call Powerful Practices cutting across issues, geographies, and populations. Within them, the Guide underscores deeper possibilities when a funder strives to listen and learn first, ask good questions, identify key stakeholders, and truly engage intended beneficiaries, all to better define the scope and nature of the challenge. The 6 Powerful Practices of Thoughtful Funders include:

  1. Build Authentic Funder-Grantee Relations. Grantees must be true partners, rather than simply recipients of ideas and funding, so that work is informed and led by those who best understand local context and are based in the communities.
  2. Fund Grassroots Organizations and Social Movements. Social change often starts with one person, or a small group, who understand the systems in place and their faults, and have taken them on in a way that is intuitive and draws rapid community support.
  3. Provide Flexibility in Funding and Reporting. Organizations need different types of support at different phrases in their development, and their resources are best used when put behind their work or to keep the doors open, rather than to meet funder-developed reporting demands that don’t contribute to a healthy evolution.
  4. Foster Collaboration. No issue was ever solved by one player, and any community-wide issue – nevermind one playing out on an international scale – must be tackled by all of the stakeholders and within complicated frameworks.
  5. Balance Scale, Sustainability, and Impact. It is critical for funders to not just state a broad objective for their work on an issue, but to learn how to assess and structure their specific roles with these three factors in a correct, unique balance.
  6. Deploy Every Available Asset. Many foundations use about 5% of their endowments for grantmaking, and increasingly are learning to better use the other 95% of their resources to support their missions, through socially-minded investment, or impact investing.

From there, the Guide outlines what is possible when funders take time and resources to map the landscape of an issue. In particular, we unpack three key global issues where philanthropy can play a critical role: increasing access to clean, safe water; addressing the global refugee response crisis; and improving conditions for women and girls. We then demonstrate how the practices above can increase the impact of philanthropy in addressing each issue. We share strategies, lessons learned, and calls to action involving philanthropy, and also describe how philanthropy fits into the broader landscape of local laws, culture, and civil society.

Ultimately, the most thoughtful funders recognize that trust and human relationships are at the heart of philanthropy, rooted as it is in the Greek term, philanthropia, or love of humanity. Among the most effective funders, we are witnessing greater humility and openness to learning from others in devising and co-creating philanthropic strategies and approaches. Funders today may have many motivations for their giving, but most share an innate desire to improve the world in which we live for generations to come – and more and more recognize the importance of building networks and listening deeply, intentionally, and continuously.

In that spirit, my colleagues and I invite you to download the report for free, thanks to generous support from the C.S. Mott Foundation and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. We welcome your insights and we encourage you to look for opportunities to engage in larger discussions with us and other funders at the upcoming 2020 Innovations in International Philanthropy Symposium, to be held this September. Registration opens soon, and you can follow us on Twitter or LinkedIn @TPIPhilanthropy for updates on speakers and workshop leaders as they are confirmed in coming weeks. We look forward to talking with you, and to coalescing a new, stronger, interconnected community of funders with greater knowledge, more creative and informed goals, and the power to effect true and truly needed systemic and sustainable change.

Click here to learn more about TPI’s Center for Global Philanthropy and our work supporting funders of all kinds who wish to effectively give around the world. The Center supports individuals, families, foundations, and companies to have an impact through their giving. We help funders and companies do more and better giving worldwide.

This post was updated from one published following the release of the Guide, building in additional details on the Practices and announcing the September 2020 Innovations in International Philanthropy Symposium.