As 2018 comes to a close, we’re taking a look back at what was trending in philanthropy this year and looking ahead to 2019. Others in philanthropy do this with depth, rigor, and humor. Our annual reflection is based on observations, conversations and the 20-plus years of experience of Giving Compass’ two resident philanthropy geeks. You may notice a common theme: Many of 2018’s trends are laying the foundation for what’s to come in 2019.

Disparities in charitable giving are increasing, and so are calls for reform. Charitable giving, at least as traditionally defined, is increasing among the wealthiest Americans, and declining among average citizens. This makes sense given the economic trends and growing wealth disparities, as well as the many different ways we now give (at the grocery check stand or via GoFundMe). As the giving we can count becomes more concentrated among those in the top 1 percent, philanthropy will continue to attract scrutiny and criticism. Calls for transparency, accountability, and giving more will be ongoing, and will feed populist movements for new models, and new policies. The pressure to regulate donor-advised funds will also continue to mount.

More focus on justice and disparities. There has been growing support for giving in ways that recognize disparities driven by historic (and current) injustices. For example, the Emergent Fund is responding to political and social conditions in communities of color. The momentum for shifting power to those who have less and supporting community-led work will increase, and more donors will learn how to incorporate an equity lens in their giving practices.

More piggy backing off of others’ strategy and due diligence. As donors struggle to deploy significant philanthropic capital in the time they have available to give, more will seek ways they can place bets on others’ due diligence and strategy. In its 2018 report on issue funds, the Raikes Foundation found that there is increasing demand for pooled funds. Intermediaries (such as Global Fund for Women) and funds (such as Seattle Foundation’s Resilience Fund, or the Center for Effective Altruism’s Animal Welfare Fund) that connect donors with expertise and aggregate dollars will continue to grow and get more attention.

For-profit or nonprofit? In 2018, corporations like Nike and Patagonia used their voices and dollars to advance social causes they support. Social entrepreneurs continue to disrupt sectors like education and healthcare and more are structuring their efforts as for-profits while nonprofits continue to develop revenue streams. Expect the private sector to engage in social issues and more blurring between the nonprofit and for-profit sectors.

The emerging role of AI (artificial intelligence) for social impact. AI is already being used to grow crops in areas affected by climate change and teach students Mandarin, so what’s next? A recent study by McKinsey & Co. suggested that AI could tackle some of the world’s most challenging problems, ranging across all 17 sustainable development goals and “helping hundreds of millions of people worldwide.” The last few years have made the virtues and evils of technology abundantly clear, and while it’s easy to be cynical about this technology, many people believe AI will improve their lives. Organizations like the Skoll Foundation are already planning for AI’s growing presence in our world, so expect to hear more in the years ahead.

More infrastructure for stronger impact tracking. There’s been talk over the last several years -- and the voices are continuing to get louder -- about the need for nonprofits to do a better job of defining and reporting their true social outcomes. Project Evident is combining a variety of resources into one platform, so nonprofits can build a model for evidence-based program development and funding grounded in nonprofits' needs. This model will close the gap between funders who want evidence nonprofits don't always have and nonprofits that are left with few answers about how best to build evidence.

Collective impact digs deeper roots in communities. Collective impact isn’t a new idea, and many would say it’s just public-private partnerships dressed up in a new outfit (partially true). It’s likely that more communities, frustrated with the lack of real progress on entrenched community problems, will look around and see networks like Strive Together, and the impressive progress some of their cross-sector collaboratives are making, and be ready to adopt the collective impact model. It’s not a passing fad, so here’s more on the intricacies of this framework.

Politics and philanthropy intersect. Some philanthropists see advocacy as part of their core strategies and others go as far as creating a 501(c)(4) alongside their private foundation or donor-advised fund, etc. Recent events, including the United States’ withdrawal from the Paris Agreement may spur more advocacy-focused philanthropy. Leading up to the 2020 election, we may also see philanthropically-minded people shift their funding from philanthropy to politics.

We’re hopeful for 2019 and we’ll continue to keep our eye on the latest philanthropy trends and stories, including the evolving role of corporations in the nonprofit sector (we’re looking at you, Facebook and Salesforce).


Original contribution by Stephanie Gillis, Interim CEO at Giving Compass, and Paul Shoemaker, Strategic Alliances at Giving Compass.