This is the first piece in our new blog series, Bold Notes. In the months ahead, we’ll use this blog to share our learnings as we work with and help extraordinary philanthropists have outsized impact on the urgent needs of today.
I had my first experience with the power of individual philanthropy while leading a program to prevent HIV/AIDS in Rwanda in 1995, just a year after the country’s horrific genocide. Our core work was well supported by big funders but we did not have resources to act creatively. A staff member had the idea of making videos of real people dealing with massive, post-genocide loss and the taboo topic of HIV/AIDS. An anonymous gift from an individual donor gave life to “cinemobile,” entertaining HIV prevention dramas that we created and that families would gather on hilltops across the country to watch. These became so popular that army units had to chaperone our events. In the end, tens of thousands of Rwandans engaged on tough topics with their neighbors, animating a health problem and slowing the spread of HIV – all at a nearly imperceptible cost in our budget. Cinemobiles soon became a feature of behavior change campaigns in other countries throughout Africa.
Mega-donors supported our programs in extraordinary ways, but smaller and more nimble individual donors helped us innovate. The world has changed dramatically from the time I was in Rwanda, with a different world-wide pandemic and all the loss and turmoil that comes with it. Much has changed in philanthropy as well, with more giving than we could have ever imagined 30 years ago and institutional philanthropy playing a vital role in easing the shocks of economic devastation. And we are also seeing the rise of new faces in philanthropy – from MacKenzie Scott to 20-year old Alycia KamilAlycia Kamil helped to organize food drives with simple tools of Google spreadsheets in her hometown of Chicago and was an inspiration for MacKenzie Scott’s massive giving in 2020. – who have no formal institution or platform but who are moving quickly and making innovative investments to lesser-known partners.
The great paradox is that at a time when we are about to see the greatest transfer of wealth in history and when the need has never been greater — MacKenzie Scott aside — there is still hesitancy and confusion about how to best engage in philanthropy. It’s sobering to think that only slightly more than a third of those with net worth greater than $30 million are engaged in philanthropy.Stepping off the Sidelines: The Unrealized Potential of Strategic Ultra-High-Net-Worth Philanthropy: Milken Institute, Hilary McConnaughey and Sokol Shtylla. Some aspiring philanthropists simply lack the time or inspiration to engage – but more challenging for many is how to pick the right philanthropic structure among so many available choices, how to select the most effective grantees among countless nonprofit organizations, and how to understand and best contribute to progress on complex and challenging issues such as a global pandemic, racial justice, or inequities in health, education, and economic outcomes. As a result, far too much philanthropy remains on the sidelines – $120 billion in Donor Advised Funds and billions more that have not even been designated for giving.
Jeff Kutash and I created Boldly Go Philanthropy to meet this moment – to help individuals, families, and lightly-staffed foundations take on the pervasive inequities and injustices here in the US and around the world.
The philanthropists we serve want to get closer to the problem, engage with their time, use multiple tools for impact, and know they are contributing to solving the problem. They desperately want impact but have little patience for overwrought processes. They prioritize making a difference over making an institution. What we hear from them and from so many other extraordinary philanthropists is that they are looking for:
- Boldness: They want to set ambitious goals and are willing to take risks, raise their voice, advocate for change, and use grants, impact investments, and initiatives to create real change.
- Proximity: They prioritize the voices of those on the ground, understanding that problems are rooted in systems and history (particularly around racial equity) and that home-grown solutions are always more sustainable and impactful.
- Urgency: They want to expend resources now, not letting perfect be the enemy of good and prioritizing action over analysis.
- Practicality: They focus on solutions that work, capitalize on existing partners and efforts, learn by doing, and roll up their sleeves to get stuff done.
- Low-Fuss: They want minimal infrastructure, streamlined processes, trust-based relationships with grantees, and right-sized approaches to strategy and evaluation.
So, if you are a philanthropist who wants to double down on impact, and not on infrastructure, let’s talk. We stand ready to use our decades of experience in philanthropy and in the social sector to help you achieve your philanthropic goals and have outsized impact on today’s toughest challenges.
|↑1||Alycia Kamil helped to organize food drives with simple tools of Google spreadsheets in her hometown of Chicago and was an inspiration for MacKenzie Scott’s massive giving in 2020.|
|↑2||Stepping off the Sidelines: The Unrealized Potential of Strategic Ultra-High-Net-Worth Philanthropy: Milken Institute, Hilary McConnaughey and Sokol Shtylla.|