Rethinking philanthropy means going open

Clare Wilkins

Philanthropy is now expected to tackle more problems than ever before. Those problems are growing in complexity, scale, and urgency – all set against a backdrop of global uncertainty.  

Philanthropy is confronting big questions: given finite resources, how is it to tackle the major issues it seeks to address? Especially when it is hampered by individualism, unequal power dynamics, limited information, and false competition?  

Business as usual is clearly not the answer. If we are to meaningfully impact on the growing complexity of our challenges, greater openness in how we do so is prerequisite. Open Philanthropy is an emerging field that could hold valuable insights for achieving impact within an increasingly complex world 

What is Open Philanthropy?

Open Philanthropy sees the value of approaches like participatory grantmaking and publishing decisions and activities. But it also recognises that these are just two approaches from a broader suite of possibilities. Open Philanthropy aims to go further. Icalls upon grant-makers to rethink all their activities, systems, and processes, to explore how they can be made more open.

Open Philanthropy means starting from a position of openness and power devolution to make philanthropy more transparent and inclusive. Click To Tweet

This includes:  

  • Crowd-sourcing ideas, strategy development and decision making. 
  • Publishing and sharing data. 
  • Inviting scrutiny and feedback. 
  • Overcoming private or secretive practices that damage effective and economical grant-making. 

Open Philanthropy is a journey. Opening up won’t happen all at once, and, as with all journeys, needs to be done in stages with an attitude of discovery, observation and reflection. For example, opening up your decision-making processes should make your power structures more equal, but the transition may reduce efficiencies and could involve difficult cultural shifts. These processes will need to be handled with awareness and care to prevent push-back that could damage their long-term viability.  

An emerging movement

We are already seeing growing interest in elements of Open Philanthropy. We’re seeing calls for greater transparency and inclusion in grant-making, as part of a push to rebalance uneven power dynamics and enable more effective funding.  

The information barrier around grant-making can reinforce unequal power dynamics, with many charities having to guess what funders are looking for, and how to tap into funder imaginations and interest. From a funder perspective, lacking crucial insights and not knowing what other funders are doing can limit scope for impactOpenness with information is an important step towards rebalancing power dynamics and creating more equitable and effective partnerships across the social sector. 

Alliance Editor Charles Keidan recently touched on the need for greater inclusion and transparency as part of his five point plan for the future of philanthropy, where he called for more participatory grant-making practices, and for formal grant agreements and correspondence to be made publicly available. This is echoed by ACF’s report on transparency and engagement and of course it is an area that 360Giving has been pursuing for some time – creating an important principle and resource for all in the philanthropy sector to use.  

We see Open Philanthropy not as a model but a movement, the ultimate goal of which is to power-up grant-making so that it is better informed, better coordinated, more efficient, and more equal to the task of tackling the major issues it aims to solve. This makes the case urgentWe want to forge alliances with Open Philanthropy partners to exploreprototype and test these principles so that together we can build a more open sector.

We’d love to know what you think in response to these questions, comment below with your thoughts, ideas and what else we should be asking…

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