The legacies of Rockefeller and Carnegie–and particularly their ethos of questioning and continual learning–were alive on the final day of the Global Philanthropy Forum’s annual conference. Attendees reflected the fruits of this legacy, with sessions that conveyed lessons learned on the importance of transparency in philanthropy – in our strategy, in our budgets, in our successes, and most importantly, in our failures.

UNICEF’s Anthony Lake shared a lesson that he learned about taking an equity-based approach to development: it is not just a moral imperative, but also the most cost-effective strategy. Caroline Anstey of the World Bank shared her insights on how the definition of development has changed in the past decade – much of what was previously in the purview of “politics” alone, such as gender and corruption, is now solidly understood as crucial to economic development. Her co-panelist, Luis Ubiñas of the Ford Foundation, emphasized that learning in philanthropy must be shared continuously, not just at the evaluation stage.

And new sources of learning and inspiration came to play in Barbara P. Bush’s story of young global health fellows in Boston working to implement a community health worker plan that was first perfected in Rwanda and Peru. This kind of borderless conversation and knowledge sharing, across geographic, language and generational barriers, is what the Global Philanthropy Forum is all about.

Jane Wales closed the conference with a reminder of what convened us: “The social contract is dynamic – it’s changing, and you are part of that change.” We thank everyone who participated in this year’s GPF, and also the philanthropic community more broadly, for the work you are doing in moving us toward increasingly strategic and effective giving. See you next year for GPF 2013 in Silicon Valley!

Watch highlights from day three of the Global Philanthropy forum below, and watch the full-length sessions on our website http://www.philanthropyforum.org/video.

Read tweets from GPF day 3 on our Storify page here.

“What brings us together this year is the sense that the social contract is fraying, but that it is also evolving.” So began this year’s Global Philanthropy Forum, “Towards a New Social Contract,” kicked off yesterday by GPF’s President and CEO, Jane Wales, in Washington DC.

The conference focus is on the changing nature of the global social contract – how globalization is changing the way our societies choose to divide up responsibility and allocate resources to improve the public good. GPF members are exploring the ways in which traditional roles and responsibilities have shifted over the past few years, and how they continue to shift – particularly the increasing power of the individual in the national and global arena, and how the private sector and government can and should work together to increase their impact.

USAID Administrator Raj Shah opened the conference by speaking about the role for creative public-private partnerships in enhancing development work. He pointed to specific examples where cross-sectoral collaboration made previously impossible outcomes possible, including the reduction of antiretroviral drug costs and the creation of new agricultural input markets.

Speakers from YouTube, Human Rights Watch and AllAfrica spoke about the importance of both new and old media, and how a blend of both is critical to holding our governments and businesses accountable, and also in allowing individuals to create their own truths.

Former Prime Minister Tony Blair encouraged the GPF community of philanthropists and social investors to be bold in their leadership—to be creative not passive, to seek to disrupt, and to step into the areas where government is too fearful or risk averse to go. World Bank President Robert Zoellick picked up on Blair’s theme of innovation in philanthropy during his remarks at the Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize dinner last night. He closed day one by calling for a new model to connect global players – a “modern multilateralism” – to bring together international institutions, individual countries, civil society and the private sector for social good.

Watch highlights from yesterday’s sessions here, and be sure to check out the livestream of GPF sessions on our website, and all of our GPF video archives at philanthropyforum.org/video.

In our increasingly globalized world, it is easy to expand our focus ever wider to issues and projects in all corners of our globe. Yet, philanthropy, wherever it is implemented, requires an understanding and appreciation for the local context — an awareness obtained through careful study, patience, an open mind and a listening ear. One size does not fit all in philanthropy, and many failures have stemmed from a failure to recognize this truth.

In a session last week at the 2011 GPF Conference, we turned our eyes southward to our nearest neighbors –Mexico, and the countries ofCentral America. Over the past decade, these societies have done many things right – they have built functional democracies, supported the emergence of a strong middle class, and implemented sound economic policies.  But, as Kevin Casas-Zamora of the Brookings Institution pointed out, staggering challenges remain.  “A drug-trafficking tsunami has befallen the region,” he said, resulting in widespread violence, regional instability, and enormous impediments to economic development. In 2010 alone, Mexicoexperienced more than 50,000 drug related murders, seven times the figure in 2006, and has also seen the expansion of other serious crimes including kidnapping, robbery, and extortion. 

Despite all of this, there is hope that we can reach a new moment in the region, and there is a role for philanthropy in getting there. Cristiana Falcone of the Inter-American Development Bank urged philanthropists to promote policies to protect citizen security, and to support the development of creative social justice programs focused on violence prevention for at-risk youth. Kevin also called for philanthropists to fund rigorous research into realistic options for dealing with the illicit narcotics trade – because there are options – and to then weigh these options dispassionately.  Our current approach, “the war on drugs”, has many flaws, but lacks clear alternatives.  Kevin also pointed to the need for more sophisticated use of information and communication technology in law enforcement.  The introduction of up-to-date interactive databases, GPS devices, and more would dramatically improve the ability of the security forces to maintain order and prosecute criminals.  Philanthropists should actively facilitate the adoption of this technology and technology training of police forces in Central America.

In a later session, we heard about the challenges of working post-conflict countries. Carne Ross, Founder and Director of the Independent Diplomat, spoke of the extraordinary rapidity of change in the level of influence of various players on the global stage.  It is no longer a chessboard where states move in predictable ways within clearly defined rules – it is now more of a Jackson Pollack painting, where billions of actors are interacting constantly and anyone can have an influence.  John Prendergast, Co-Founder of The Enough Project, shared examples of the ways in which philanthropists and activists have worked together to successfully implement agile advocacy campaigns that have helped to prevent or mitigate humanitarian atrocities.  In the case of South Sudan, the absence of  violence following the referendum points to the success of good old-fashioned diplomacy backed by new and dynamic advocacy.  As John said, “The fact that there was no smoking gun – THAT is the success.” 

Speaking specifically to philanthropists, Scott Gilmore, Executive Director of the Peace Dividend Trust, argued that, “whatever you’re doing now, you can do it in a conflict zone and have a bigger impact.” He pointed out the double dividends of working in conflict or post-conflict zones – that a job in a conflict zone pays twice: it not only feeds a family, but it also builds long-term stability. There is no doubt that we are at a turning point when it comes to philanthropy in areas of crisis. To be successful in these challenging parts of the world, we must be willing to take great risks. But with these risks, come great rewards.

The impact? Lives can be saved, societies can cohere and democratic states can govern.

This morning a standing-room-only crowd gathered at GPF to hear a philanthropic call to action to end modern-day slavery in our time and for greater collaboration across the social sector to make this a reality. The issues of slavery and human trafficking have approached a tipping point. They are among the fastest-growing and most pressing human rights challenges of our time. Fortunately, public interest and political will in these issues are on the rise.

More than 27 million people are enslaved across the globe in forced labor and the sex trade. Slavery is growing exponentially because it is lucrative, second in profitability only to drug trafficking among illicit enterprises. Rani Hong, co-founder of the Tronie Foundation and a survivor of child trafficking, shared her moving yet hopeful story. Sold into slavery at the age of seven, she was near death a year later—physically and emotionally destroyed. No longer able to contribute to the profitability of her owner’s business, she was sold to an international adoption agency. Today Rani is a tireless advocate on the issue of slavery, causing a global shift in consciousness by exposing the human cost of slavery and advancing a collective voice among survivors.

Kay Buck, Executive Director of the Coalition Against Slavery & Trafficking (CAST), described their important work on the issue of human trafficking. Victims have a long journey to recovery.  CAST’s comprehensive approach first provides the immediate case management and supportive services they need, including legal services and housing.  Survivors then participate in a one-of-a-kind leadership development program, forming a survivor’s caucus that supports advocacy efforts. The impact of their voices on policies and public awareness has led to the development of stronger protections for victims in bothCaliforniaand Federal anti-trafficking laws.

Efforts to raise awareness are bolstered by a range of communications efforts and the contributions of celebrity voices to the cause. Justin Dillon, director of The Fair Trade Fund, Inc., created a “rockumentary” titled CALL+RESPONSE that combines critically acclaimed artists such as Moby and Natasha Bedingfield with social luminaries such as Cornell West, Madeleine Albright and Nicholas Kristoff. In addition, the Fair Trade Fund, Inc. is currently working with the State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Human Trafficking to create the first ever ‘Slavery Footprint’ online tool and mobile application. The tool challenges us to recognize our participation in the modern-day slavery as qualified by their consumption of items created by forced labor.

The consensus in the crowded room this morning is that this is a moment of opportunity to address the dark underside of globalization. Media attention is on the rise, political will is growing, and public awareness is increasing. Many capable organizations are ready to convert our indignation and outrage into compassionate action if they have the resources to do so. The conditions are ripe for building a social movement to end modern-day slavery and we must heed the call to action.

Jane

Jane Wales, President and Co-founder, Global Philanthropy Forum

We kicked off the second afternoon of the GPF 2011 Conference with remarks from a giant in public health: Dr. Paul Farmer, Co-founder, Partners in Health. Paul is leading the revolution in the way we think about health, not the least of which includes pushing us to think about healthcare as a human right.  Today, Paul chastised all of us – himself, the health sector, philanthropists – for our radical failure of imagination in envisioning how to provide high-quality healthcare to the poor. We must stop “low-balling” our standards for healthcare just because it’s for poor people, he argued.

With the tools we have at our disposal right now, high-quality healthcare for the poor is a realistic goal. And one that has a high return on investment.  Our inability to recognize this up until now points to one of Paul’s “five sins” in the public health debate: the untallied cost of inaction. Often we are plagued by health “sticker shock” – aversion to the costs required for implementation of health options for the poor. Yet we do not weigh these costs against the tremendous costs of inaction – the social costs of orphaning or lost income and of out-of-pocket health expenditures, among others.  These costs are significant and dramatically overshadow the costs of action.

Three speakers followed Paul, each speaking about progress in disease eradication, in the cases of polio, guinea worm, or meningitis. A common theme was the need for long-term commitment, and a willingness to look beyond returns on investment over one quarter, or one to two years.  Returns in health take time, but are worth the wait.  And in these three cases, eradication can be achieved with only an incremental expenditure.  

And so, we must usher in “long-term-ism” to replace our “short-term-ism.” Solving the problems of health and poverty, whether in Haiti or Boston, will require sustained and patient investment. A much-needed revolution in public health is happening right now – and, with Paul Farmer at the wheel, I think we are in good hands.

Jane

Jane Wales, President & Co-founder, Global Philanthropy Forum

Perhaps one of the most striking turning points under consideration at the GPF 2011 Conference is the dramatic broadening of the definition of philanthropy – it has shifted to include not just grant-making, but all private means of financing social goals. Philanthropists are increasingly investing in businesses that provide a social and financial return, and even working to ensure that social benefits are intrinsic to their own companies’ value chains.

Several diverse and engaging sessions over the past two days have explored this extended view of philanthropy, both in how the shift started and where it can take us.  In yesterday morning’s plenary, Antony Bugg-Levine, Managing Director at The Rockefeller Foundation, framed the inflection point at which we stand.  For decades, we’ve organized our view of philanthropy around two basic principles: one, that the only way to solve social problems is through charity or through government; and two, that the only way to create profit is through business.  But recently, these twin assumptions have begun to break down.  New philanthropists, many of them GPF members, are developing fresh approaches in response to changing philanthropic aspirations.

With these new methods, we have an opportunity to be intentional about creating an environment from which a true impact economy can emerge and thrive. It will require colleagues from whom to learn and with whom to collaborate, including members of the informal brain-trust that is the GPF. It will also require putting government policies and practices in place that welcome and encourage these innovations in philanthropy.  Sonal Shah, Director of the Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation at the White House, identified this as one of two roles for government in encouraging an impact economy: getting the policy environment right, and convening key players to promote cooperation and coordination across the worlds of business and philanthropy.

But beyond policies, we must also build a robust infrastructure for social investing including informed wealth advisors. In a breakout session yesterday evening, panelists considered microfinance, one of the earliest tools of the impact economy. Reeta Roy, President and CEO of The MasterCard Foundation, emphasized that philanthropy has a hugely valuable and honorable role to play in helping to build an ecosystem to support microfinance. Through the creation and support of technical assistance funds, partnerships with existing institutions, and capacity building, philanthropy can dramatically improve the environment in which impact economy projects take place.

Another key step in moving toward an impact economy relates back to yesterday’s conversation with Jeff Raikes of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation: we must establish clear standards for success, so that we know it when we see it.  In an afternoon session, James Mwangi of Kenya’s Equity Bank, stood up to emphasize that evaluation depends on the lens through which we think about and assess our investments. He pointed out that microfinance is a response to a market failure to be inclusive – it is not a remedy for poverty.  “Microfinance will always fail if we measure it and evaluate it through a poverty perspective, not a financial one.”

In a session this morning on distributed innovation, panelists presented several remarkable and tangible examples of how to make smart capital investments for impact. Neil Gershenfeld, Director of the Center for Bits and Atoms at MIT, and his colleague Amy Sun, Founder and Director of Fab Lab in Afghanistan, spoke of a bold idea for providing inspiration, education, and livelihood to people around the world: physically putting the tools of innovation into the hands of those who can and will use them. “Innovators are strange people,” Gershenfeld said, “and we need more projects that find the strange people and give them the tools they need.” This is exactly what their project, Fab Labs, does.  Amy spoke of the lessons we as philanthropists can learn from pyramid schemes, applied to education – teaching a few, who will then teach others. Amy also made a pitch for the merits of an exit strategy.  Fab Labs sets up labs around the world, and then “abandons” them, so that they may learn and grow on their own.  Amy’s lab in Afghanistan has been completely self-sustained and funded for the past four years.

In the private sector, far-sighted CEOs are leading efforts to ensure that social good is intrinsic to the value chain of the companies that they lead.  Chuck Slaughter spoke about the Living Goods model, which supports and trains an Avon-like network of door-to-door saleswomen who sell a variety of needed health goods at affordable prices, earning a livelihood for themselves, and improving health in their community.  Aun Rahman, the Country Director of Acumen in Pakistan, described an ambulance chain in India that, thanks to changes in government policies, was able to attract a great deal of private capital and expand dramatically, to the benefit of the poor in the region.

Overall, the double bottom-line is this: to have a true impact economy, we need the policies that enable it, the shared standards that will govern and shape it, a cadre of professionals to nurture and manage it, and the social investors that will fuel it.  Each of us can help all four of these factors come into play.

Jane

Jane Wales, President & Co-Founder, The Global Philanthropy Forum

On GPF 2011’s opening day, Jeff Raikes of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation reminded us that successful philanthropy takes not only a strategic focus and leveraging of core competencies, but also great partnerships. This is one of the new fundamentals we are exploring at GPF 2011: aligning philanthropic investments to achieve greater impact. The scale and complexity of the challenges we seek to address exceed the capacity of any one foundation, or sector, alone.

As a result, donors are working together to align their investments in new ways. On Thursday, Brizio Biondi-Morra, President of Fundación AVINA, and Sally Osberg, President and CEO of the Skoll Foundation, shared reflections on the robust partnership formed between their two organizations to address climate change. Together, they focus on deforestation of the Amazon. With this issue, as with so many, collaboration is necessary given the scale and complexity of the problem. Commonality of vision and values, complementarity in skills and expertise, and strong trust between partners can enable them to achieve dramatic results.

With so many institutions and actors comfortable with—and in many cases supportive of—the status quo in the Amazon, Brizio explained that the project felt insolvable. But to do nothing was unthinkable, as huge swaths of the Amazon rainforest are destroyed each day. The collaboration was an intelligent gamble and took advantage of the key strengths of both organizations, such as the Skoll Foundation’s ability to raise the visibility of the issue and Fundación AVINA’s deep local knowledge and networks inLatin America. The partnership between the two organizations took time to build—and even included a shared journey into the Amazon—but the benefits have been worth the time spent. Together they have shifted the conversation inBrazilabout the Amazon and ensured that the negative effects of deforestation are reflected in public discourse and in policy.

“Networked” giving approaches are another way that donors can amplify the impact of their investments. Philanthropists are joining forces with fellow donors and partnering across sectors to achieve greater impact. Work to empower women and girls across the developing world exemplifies this approach. An impressive and growing body of evidence on the subject indicates that such investments have a significant multiplier effect.  Here, there is a real opportunity for philanthropists to achieve impact. The Nike Foundation, for example, is engaged with the NoVo Foundation and the British aid agency, DFID, partnering across sectors and core competencies to empower women and girls.

Last, we were reminded by Ruth Levine, Deputy Assistant Administrator in the Bureau for Policy, Planning and Learning at USAID that philanthropists can and should leverage each others’ resources through alignment on data and evaluation. When donors support the standardization of data, it permits analyses and comparisons across programs, people and geographies, which can foster learning and continuous improvement across the field. Ruth encouraged us to consider supporting adherence to existing data standards instead of developing them anew. This contributes to the common good and gives donors a “free ride” on the investments that supported the development of those standards.

As philanthropists, we must invest in becoming smart users of data that demonstrates program impact. Standardized, rigorous evaluation methods will enable comparisons of results across studies and promote greater confidence in the level of impact.

Over the last decade at GPF, we have built a community of donors that shares a vision and values and is committed to international causes. As we mark our 10th anniversary, I am struck by the degree to which aligning for greater impact has become fundamental to the way GPF members pursue their mission.

Jane

Jane Wales

President & Co-founder, Global Philanthropy Forum

A Look Behind The Data

April 14, 2011

This afternoon, on the opening day of the 10th anniversary Global Philanthropy Forum, I had the pleasure of speaking in conversation with Jeff Raikes, CEO of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Among its many tremendous contributions, the Gates Foundation has been an intellectual leader when it comes to measurement and evaluation, or M&E.  But in Jeff’s work, as in the work of all GPF members, it’s not just about the data for data’s sake. It’s about learning. And about using data in creative and powerful ways to ensure continuous improvement.

Jeff brought up the example of Guinea Worm as a model for where we, as philanthropists, have been in global health, where we’re going, and what we need to get there. In just twenty-five years, the world has gone from 3.5 million cases of Guinea Worm to just 1,700 in 2010, in large measure because of the extraordinary work of The Carter Center. This is a tribute to hard and persistent work of many people, including some of the GPF’s members, but also an example of the profound impact that low-tech solutions can have.  The allure and excitement of high tech solutions often lead us to neglect the simple, cost-effective low-tech solution right in front of us.  The dramatic reduction in Guinea Worm has been largely achieved through the provision of public health solutions – safe drinking water provision and behavioral change interventions.

Jeff tells us that more than tracking the numbers, we need to think about what they mean. What does one case of guinea worm represent? What does it mean, day-to-day, for the life of the person affected? For that person’s family?  It’s not simply one life improved or saved. The data we collect can tell this larger story.

While the purpose of M&E is to improve performance and enhance impact, it is not meant to remove risk. But as philanthropists we have the unique privilege of being in a position to take the risks that government and the private sector cannot, or will not.  Failure as a philanthropist is not the failure of a grant or project. Rather, in Jeff’s words, “our failure will be if we don’t learn from those experiences.” THAT is failure. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is guided by this philosophy, as should we be, as engaged, agile, and committed philanthropists.

Jane

Jane Wales
President & Co-Founder, Global Philanthropy Forum

Sunday’s New York Times article on Google.org caught my attention. The Times is one of the few daily papers that cover the philanthropic sector, and it does so with the same seriousness it applies to developments in business and government. It is attentive to new philanthropic models that are being tested and refined, and offers a snapshot of a work in progress.

One such experiment is Google’s philanthropy arm, Google.org, or DotOrg for short. Structured as part of the for-profit company, it reflects a fundamental shift in corporate philanthropy.  Whereas corporate foundations used grants and employee volunteer time as their only tools, increasingly corporate executives work to assure that social outcomes are intrinsic to their company’s value chain. Many believe that the right business decisions can unleash market forces that, in turn, can drive positive and sustainable social change.

What sets DotOrg apart is that it is embedded in a search giant in the Information Age, a time when decision-making and authority are decentralized, and the individual, for better or for ill, reigns supreme.

It may be that many of the world’s most daunting problems, as well as their solutions, will be the aggregate effect of millions of individual choices – whether they be to limit the water and energy we consume; to resist taking up arms; to engage in healthy practices; or to vote, and demand that that vote be counted.

Informing those choices can be the ultimate form of philanthropic leverage.

No one understands that better than the executives and employees of a company whose first maxim is “focus on the user and the rest will follow.”

And, so Google has blurred the lines between the company and the philanthropy, naming its brilliant VP for New Product Development as DotOrg’s leader, embedding DotOrg program staff in product teams, and fostering a smart and deep collaboration between Google’s public-spirited engineers and external experts in large problems like poverty or climate change. Their combined talent has produced such products as PowerMeter, which allows the user to track home energy consumption, and in the aggregate, to contribute to mitigating climate change. Google Earth Engine allows the user to monitor deforestation in real time, informing efforts to promote the responsible use of this vital natural resource. Google Crisis Response and Resource Finder enable individual and group relief efforts after natural and man-made disasters. By informing individual choice and action, DotOrg hopes that these products can help to advance the social good more broadly.

Critics argue that these innovations are important mainly in the rich world where computers are ubiquitous. That may be true today. But the introduction and rapidly spreading use of “smart” phones, which provide internet access, is changing that equation.  In the short term, Google has work-arounds like SpeaktoTweet, which shows that states cannot deny the oxygen of unfiltered information to a public yearning for a better life.

But, over the long term, the company’s most significant contribution will likely be its decision to translate the world’s knowledge into the languages of the developing world. Leveraging that innovation will be DotOrg’s largest opportunity to harness information technology to social change. The combination of automated translation and connective technologies can change our world.

The Times article is critical of DotOrg’s prior leadership for making similarly bold claims, thereby raising expectations to a level that could not be met in a period short enough to match our attention span. Fair enough. Perhaps it would have been wise to have been quieter during the philanthropy’s “quiet phase,” as DotOrg defined its goals and honed its method. New models take time to develop and prove their worth.

While that criticism may be fair, in the scheme of things, it seems unimportant.

Like the rest of us, Googlers could not and cannot foresee the full social, economic and political implications of providing the world’s knowledge to those who were previously isolated by poverty or politics. (Although Google Chairman Eric Schmidt co-authored a deeply thoughtful Foreign Affairs article on the subject.)

But Googlers do know one thing, and that is the level at which large decisions will be made– and that is at the level of the individual

Even for a giant like Google, with 31 billion searches each month, that knowledge alone is humbling – and hopeful.

Jane

Jane Wales
President & Co-Founder, Global Philanthropy Forum

Over the past few days, the New York Times has offered a telling glimpse into the varied nature of the nonprofit sector and the ways in which it touches our lives — from day-to-day services to public policy. The Times coverage also offers insight into our shared instinct to preserve a sector that has the agility to help address market or policy failures.

This article reminded us that America’s increasing numbers of unemployed rely upon nonprofit food banks and other charitable services when their government benefits are exhausted.

Another article reports on one of the most significant developments in nuclear non-proliferation policy — the establishment of a global nuclear fuel bank — enabled by a $50-million gift from philanthropist Warren Buffet to the UN’s resource-strapped and politically hampered International Atomic Energy Agency. The bank would provide low-enriched uranium to states seeking nuclear power, in exchange for their returning the spent fuel and foregoing the indigenous capacity to produce their own fuel, including that which is weapons grade. Thus, the nuclear fuel bank would control the cycle of nuclear production and its associated dangers.

It is against this backdrop that a debate erupted within the nonprofit sector over proposals to alter the tax treatment of the donations on which it relies. The Times covered that as well, treating it as more than an industry’s special pleading. The debate’s starting point is that deficit reduction will require the combination of reduced spending and increased revenues. The question is whether tax breaks for charitable gifts are off limits or on.

A range of organizations from think tanks, advocacy and service groups to churches, temples, universities and hospitals have long benefited from the tax write-off their benefactors enjoy. And, in the past decade, there has been an explosion in the creation of new foundations, tax exempt endowments established to advance social causes. The introduction of these new philanthropic players with bold ambitions has created benefits not only for our society, but also for others across the globe.

Our tax code reflects the importance we place on the freedom that these philanthropies and other nonprofits enjoy. Reducing charitable deductions could adversely impact a nonprofit’s ability to raise or grant the funds needed to fulfill its mission. The change would occur on the heels of a recession that has already reduced foundation endowments and individual givers’ accounts, forcing their grantees to make do with less. Moreover, as national, state and local coffers have shrunk, nonprofits have stretched to make up for the resulting reductions in government services, providing a safety net for America’s most vulnerable families.

But the impact on nonprofits of a changed tax treatment is likely to be as varied as the nonprofits themselves — not to mention the philanthropists that support them. Donors are motivated by a range of factors. Tax relief is among them, but how much is not known. In order to judge whether it is right or wise to ask this sector to sacrifice further, policy makers would need to know the risks and benefits to society as a whole.

While that analysis is undertaken, it would be useful to come to a shared view of the reasons for the favorable tax treatment in the first place. Americans value the sector because it is unconstrained by the need to win elections or generate profits and can therefore take actions and generate ideas that may be unwelcome, unpopular and unprofitable today but produce true societal benefit tomorrow. In the process, they can help identify and tackle truly hard problems.

Among the difficult problems the sector can help us address is the need to get our country on a sustainable course.

The sector has already contributed by sounding the alarm and offering specific options for financing the obligations we undertake as a country over time. The continued search for solutions will not only test our willingness as a citizenry to share in the sacrifice, but also our ability to think strategically, ask and answer knotty questions, explore novel solutions — and to imagine. These are the strengths of the nonprofit sector.

While the sector can and will continue to contribute in these ways, informing a larger process, it may also choose to shoulder a greater sacrifice. Whatever choices the sector and the people make, let’s never sacrifice the sector’s independence from political and market constraints.

We must and they should preserve the sector’s freedom to help us solve society’s next difficult problem.

Jane

Jane Wales
President & Co-Founder, Global Philanthropy Forum