Giving Compass' Take:

• Harvard Business Review takes a look at the landscape of philanthropy and suggests that making significant progress will require more risk.

• What are we doing to support bolder, more ambitious ideas in the field? How can we finance projects with the expectation that they might fail (and that we can learn from such failure)?

• Counterpoint: Going for moonshots has its drawbacks.

Many of today’s emerging large-scale philanthropists aspire to similarly audacious successes. They don’t want to fund homeless shelters and food pantries; they want to end homelessness and hunger. Steady, linear progress isn’t enough; they demand disruptive, catalytic, systemic change — and in short order.

Even as society grapples with important questions about today’s concentrations of wealth, many of the largest philanthropists feel the weight of responsibility that comes with their privilege.

And the scale of their ambition, along with the wealth they are willing to give back to society, is breathtaking. But a growing number of these donors privately express great frustration. Despite having written big checks for years, they aren’t seeing transformative successes for society: Think of philanthropic interventions to arrest climate change or improve U.S. public education, to cite just two examples. When faced with setbacks and public criticism, the best philanthropists reexamine their goals and approaches, including how they engage the communities they aspire to help in the decision-making process. But some retreat to seemingly safer donations to universities or art museums, while others withdraw from public giving altogether.

Audacious social change is incredibly challenging. Yet history shows that it can succeed. Unfortunately, success never results from a single grant or silver bullet; it takes collaboration, government engagement, and persistence over decades, among other things.

To better understand why some efforts defy the odds and what lessons today’s philanthropists can learn from successful efforts of the past, we dived deep into 15 breakthrough initiatives. Our research revealed five elements that together constitute a framework for philanthropists pursuing large-scale, swing-for-the-fences change.

Successful efforts:

  • Build a shared understanding of the problem and its ecosystem
  • Set “winnable milestones” and hone a compelling message
  • Design approaches that will work at massive scale
  • Drive (rather than assume) demand
  • Embrace course corrections

Read the full article about philanthropy needing more moonshots by Susan Wolf Ditkoff
Abe Grindle at Harvard Business Review.