'Lean Funders' Say Local Economic Conditions Shape Their Philanthropy

'Lean Funders' Say Local Economic Conditions Shape Their Philanthropy

A majority of funders who run a "lean" operation — including individual donors, families engaged in philanthropy, and foundations with few or no staff — say their work is strongly or moderately influenced by economic conditions in their local community, a report from Exponent Philanthropy finds.

A survey of nearly three hundred so-called lean funders found that 51 percent of respondents said the overall economic environment in their community was a "driver of change" that strongly (20.21 percent) or moderately (31.36 percent) influenced their philanthropy, while more than a third (37 percent) said the same of the national economy and one in five (19.6 percent) pointed to the global economy as an influence. Other factors cited by respondents as being strongly or moderately influential on their philanthropy were the performance of financial markets (55.7 percent), how information is shared and consumed (46.3 percent), and demographic shifts (38.5 percent).

"Technological advancements have allowed us to address local problems in new ways, such as the smartphone app we helped create for homeless or precariously housed youth in Chicago," said Robert DiLeonardi, executive director of the Chicago-based VNA Foundation, which funded the development of a mobile phone application that gives homeless youth real-time information about nearby health services, emergency shelters, and other services. "Allowing people in our communities to find information quickly about the closest safe shelter, health services, or food with the GPS feature in their phone or through social media is a sea change in how people are able to access the local support they need."

"These findings highlight the role that philanthropies with few or no staff play in being responsive to the needs of the communities in which they live and support," said Exponent Philanthropy CEO Henry L. Berman. "Lean funders are deeply connected to their communities and take a responsive, personal approach, which allows them to understand local needs and effectively catalyze change."