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Strategic Philanthropy

TPI’s 30th Anniversary: Reflections

By June 4, 2019October 13th, 2021No Comments

TPI opened its doors 30 years ago today. I was fortunate enough to be there at the beginning, alongside our founder Peter Karoff and a small team he had assembled to launch the firm. Peter had an ambitious vision – to help donors and companies find the best possible expression for their philanthropy, and ultimately to inspire more and better philanthropy through innovative ideas combined with a carefully designed plan of execution.

In the right circumstances – guided by a bold vision, a willingness to take risks and experiment, and a close attention to results – we knew that philanthropy could be an effective agent for developing innovative solutions to pressing social problems, a crucial social investment resource, a powerful catalyst for change. These ideas were incorporated into our original mission statement, and I’m proud and somewhat amazed to say that we have not wavered from this mission.

In many ways, the field of philanthropy has changed dramatically since June of 1989. We have seen tremendous growth in the number and size of foundations, and in the resources available to help funders become more strategic and thoughtful. The wealth divide has continued to increase – and some important efforts, like the Giving Pledge and the Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy (created 20 years ago with TPI’s assistance, and now called Chief Executives for Corporate Purpose), have been launched to encourage high net worth individuals, families, and corporate leaders to increase their commitment to philanthropy. Funders of all types are increasingly familiar with concepts like “strategic philanthropy” and “theory of change”, and we see more and more funders and companies who want to set ambitious goals for their philanthropy. Interest in international philanthropy, impact investing, and other approaches that go beyond conventional grantmaking, only continues to grow as well.

On the other hand, much has stayed the same. In reflecting on changes in philanthropy, I often recall the saying that “there is nothing new under the sun”. From the beginning, many funders and corporate leaders have come to TPI for assistance in ramping up their philanthropy in size and/or impact. This work continues to evolve and grow in many interesting ways. A great deal has been learned about what models, tools, and approaches may be useful, as well as efforts that have been less successful – and yet it continues to be challenging for funders to uncover and apply these lessons and learnings in ways that could perhaps elevate the impact of philanthropy even further. Perhaps these challenges are a reminder to pause and reflect every so often on what has been done and lessons learned along the way.

Over the next year, we will celebrate TPI’s 30th anniversary and honor Peter Karoff in a variety of ways. Ten years ago, in honor of TPI’s 20th anniversary, we gathered 20 ideas inspired by the ambitious, thoughtful and creative donors and corporate leaders with whom we have been privileged to work. My talented and wonderful colleagues here at TPI have spent some time reflecting on what we would add to these ideas. We did not have all the answers then, and we still don’t – but over the past three decades, we’ve learned some lessons we’d like to share. Check back next week for our “30 Lessons in 30 Years.”