The Big PICTURE
Historically, the world of philanthropy has been the realm of foundations – nonprofit organizations whose own funds enable them to make grants to support other nonprofits. However, the field of philanthropy has undergone significant shifts since Carnegie, Rockefeller, and other captains of industry launched the first general-purpose foundations in the early 20th century. New giving vehicles (such as donor-advised funds and giving circles), and online giving platforms have been democratizing forces, empowering individuals of all income levels to engage in philanthropic activities. However, despite all these changes, the primary aim of philanthropy – to fund activities that contribute to the common good – remains the same.
- The 76,000 grantmaking foundations in the United States gave an estimated $45.7 billion in 2010.1
- Donor-advised fund assets grew 12.3% to nearly $30 billion in 2010, with contributions increasing 25.3% over the year before, to $7.77 billion.2
- At least 69 of America’s wealthiest families and individuals have publicly committed to giving the majority of their wealth to the philanthropic causes and charitable organizations of their choice either during their lifetime or after their death.3
What can you expect if you decide to work in philanthropy?
It's easy to give away money, but it's hard to do it well
So says former grant-maker Eugene Wilson, in this New York Times essay. Measuring impact can be challenging, as impact depends on outcomes achieved by grantees and requires patience. If you’re someone who needs to see immediate results from your work, or if you want to be more directly connected to activities on the ground, the philanthropic world might not be right for you.
Connections are currency
Working in the philanthropic sector provides a vantage point of the field that crosses numerous organizations and individuals. If you enjoy making connections across and between leaders and institutions; seeing the big picture of how change can happen; and serving as a translator and interpreter, philanthropy might be a great fit.
The lines are getting blurry
These days, most savvy donors are working across sectors and using a variety of levers beyond traditional grants to drive social change. While traditional foundation models still exist, the field is evolving quickly and people who are able to straddle both nonprofit and for-profit worlds are becoming increasingly valuable and valued.