Despite a pretty tough economic climate more people are giving their money away, according to recent reports on philanthropy. This must surely be a cause for celebration. Those who are doing well are now more likely to give something back and open up new opportunities for others.
People are motivated to give for all sorts of different reasons. For some, it might be to support a cause close to their heart; for others it might be directly to help those in need. Even when philanthropists are motivated in part by a desire to enhance their own reputation, the ultimate goal of making a positive difference to society remains.
Harnessing the power of people’s social media networks is the next step forward in personal philanthropy. I have been advising GoodWorld, a Web-based fundraising tool founded in 2014. I was drawn to the start-up because GoodWorld has ingeniously unlocked the power of the Internet as it relates to giving and is changing the way people connect with the causes they care about. GoodWorld is social giving made simple. The organization’s #donate function allows users to give instantly to the causes they care about without leaving Facebook or Twitter. By sharing one’s #donations on social media, users show their support for the causes they care about and inspire others to give, paying forward awareness and generosity. President Obama has called the organization “a big opportunity for philanthropy.”
2012 saw the launch of the Giving Pledge, a campaign started by Bill Gates and Warren Buffet that encourages the world’s wealthiest to make a commitment to give most of their wealth to charitable causes. It’s a movement that has already had a profound impact. As of August 2015, 137 billionaire or former billionaires have committed to the pledge. And The New Yorker’s James Surowiecki recently reported that the Gates Foundation now spends more on health issues than the W.H.O. On December 1 of this year, in an open letter to their newborn daughter, Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg pledged that he and his wife, Dr. Priscilla Chan, would “during [their] lives give 99 percent of their Facebook shares to charitable purposes. Those holdings are currently worth more than $45 billion.
As philanthropy has grown, so too has the number of people looking at the space to try to understand what motivates people to give, and how donors can be confident their hard-earned cash will be used effectively. The London School of Economics has even opened the Marshall Institute for Philanthropy and Social Entrepreneurship, a new academic center that commissions research and plans to teach an MBA-style course in philanthropy.
With so many more people giving (in the UK the number of million pound donations apparently increased by almost 50% in 2013, totaling more than U.S. $2 billion), it’s probably a good idea to look at whether it’s making a difference.
Napster co-founder Sean Parker has been quite critical of traditional philanthropy, calling it “a strange alien world” where “the primary currency is recognition and reputation, not effectiveness.” It comes back to what the focus of philanthropy should ultimately be—not how much is given, but rather the impact it will have.
Corporate philanthropy isn’t just about donating money. It can also involve giving time and sharing expertise. Many organizations now give their staff volunteering days in addition to annual leave. Others, like Gap Inc, have opened up their in-house training programs to not-for-profit organizations. This sharing of skills and knowledge can make a lasting difference.
Hopefully this new wave of research and education will help to ensure a focus on maximum impact, as opposed to maximum dollars. After all, the impact is what really touches people’s lives, and what might inspire others to be charitable.