Money Makes the World Go Round... Philanthropists Set the Agenda

This weekend I caught up on my reading.  You know what that is like - the back issues of magazines that you have been wanting to get to, the pile of books that you bought (some because they make you feel smart, other’s because they make you smart, and still others that are brain candy) that are lying on your nightstand or on the table beside your favourite reading area.

The book I picked up this weekend, The Philanthropic Mind, by Chuck English & Mo Lidsky, is a set of case studies about Canadian philanthropists.  Alongside this book I read an article in The Atlantic, “The Poor Man’s Plutocrat” by Molly Ball. And serendipitously on 60 Minutes Presents, was all about "Making a Difference".  So all in all, it was a weekend of reading or watching how people are choosing to use their money for good and the influence that these decisions and investments are having beyond the charity or social issue that is being addressed

What does the influence of the super-wealthy have on social change issues?  How do their actions impact the broader community?  Since the industrial revolution North American charities have been tracking the effects of giving.  This means we have well over 200 years of data about the ripple effect directly attributed to the industrialists’ generosity (late 1700’s through to the mid-1800’s).  Every city in North America has been touched by the actions of one of these initial philanthropists and the entrepreneurial approach to philanthropy, at its core, really hasn’t changed.

From Andrew Carnegie financing the library system starting around 1906 (my home town’s first library was built by a Carnegie grant) to Jeffrey Skoll financing thought-provoking films through his production company, Participant Media, launched in 2004 - these business leaders use their access to Time, Talent, Treasures & Ties to raise the social consciousness.  One resulted in the foundational infrastructure for generations of literate and educated people (improving overall economic and individual health of a city/town), the other is working towards changes in policy around critical global issues from environmental decisions to foreign aide investment.  You don’t have to look too far to see how you have personally benefited from their generosity, depth of inquiry and connectivity.

In both of these cases, along with the social capital investment model (LLC) that Mark Zuckerberg’s recently announced, all the Giving Pledge members spearheaded by Warren Buffett, the call for Global Citizens by the Gates Foundation, and the drive of Nick Hanauer to shift employment policies around minimum-wage “Middle-Out Economics” we are seeing a shift in how philanthropy is being done.  In fact, one could argue, that these approaches are closest to the true heart of philanthropy, than the financial model of writing cheques and transferring securities to charities.  All of these instances describe the start, support, and guidance for movement making.

Philanthropy comes from the Greek words: Phil - Love and Anthropo - Mankind.  It has nothing to do with dollar value or tax credits.  In fact, one could argue that by creating the tax credits and incentives for giving, we have eroded the very nature of why one is a philanthropist.  What Skoll, Gates, Zuckerberg, Buffet, and Hanauer all have in common (aside from being super wealthy and using tax legislation to support some of their social initiatives) is the approach that they are taking in addressing complex social problems.  They are stepping in where governments have fallen short.  They use their entrepreneurial drive that got them where they are today, to influence and push the needle on some of our community’s most Wicked Problems. 

But it isn’t just the super rich that can do this.

We all have the ability to influence our circles and support the efforts of organizations that are filling in the gaps.  It could be as simple as writing letters to your political representatives (time), to launching crowdfunding campaigns (ties), to helping an agency with getting their message out through website design and/or social media management (talent) to a financial contribution (treasure).  I believe that anyone can be a philanthropist and who knows, the very actions you take today may shift how our communities are structured tomorrow.

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