Strategic Philanthropy Limited by Top-Down, Technocratic Approach, Report Argues

While growing awareness of the concept of "strategic philanthropy" has helped to improve philanthropic impact and effectiveness, the approach is limited by an overly narrow focus and top-down, technocratic view of social change, a new report from the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy argues.

According to Real Results: Why Strategic Philanthropy Is Social Justice Philanthropy (20 pages, PDF), the practice of so-called strategic philanthropy — which emphasizes clearly defined goals, evidence-based strategies, and frequent feedback and course adjustments — typically favors short-term metrics, eschews public policy, and is largely disconnected from the grantees and the communities they serve. To overcome these limitations, the report argues, grantmakers should prioritize the needs of underserved communities and invest more in advocacy and community engagement efforts, both of which are hallmarks of social justice philanthropy.

Drawing on NCRP's High Impact Strategies for Philanthropy series, the report argues that, indeed, truly strategic philanthropy is social justice philanthropy, in that it requires a clear understanding of who benefits from a funder's grantmaking and how; an acknowledgement of the importance of policy advocacy and community organizing; and direct input from grantees and the communities they serve. In contrast, when philanthropy overly favors large organizations or does not provide general operating and multiyear support, the report notes, it undercuts philanthropic impact by marginalizing smaller organizations that work with and on behalf of underserved groups.

"All grantmakers want to maximize the impact of their grants," said Aaron Dorfman, executive director of NCRP. "What they may not realize is that the missing piece in their grantmaking strategy is the social justice lens."

"New Report: Strategic Philanthropy Must Turn to Social Justice to Maximize Impact." National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy Press Release 01/29/2013.