Giving Compass' Take:

• Katherine Fulton, writing for Alliance, discusses the limitations of strategic philanthropy and examines why funders should be cautious of this approach. 

• What are the primary differences between strategic philanthropy and others? What are the potential benefits?

• Read about why strategic philanthropy needs advocacy. 

Strategic philanthropy was born a generation ago to challenge the prevailing orthodoxies of philanthropy over the past century. Moving beyond traditional notions of giving back and charity, strategic philanthropy believes the way to create change is to decide on a goal that matters and then figure out what it will take to achieve it.

However, strategic philanthropy is in danger of becoming its own orthodoxy—a set of conventions that deserve to be questioned and are now being questioned by the next generation of innovators around the globe.

In philanthropy’s long history, leaders regularly come along and ask: Can’t we do better? Can more rigor and discipline be brought to decision-making, basing strategies on evidence, not just wishful thinking? Can philanthropy, in other words, be more like a business and insist on a social return on investment?

These questions have famously unleashed a great deal of energy and innovation—and no small amount of hype. I have had a front row seat at this ‘strategic philanthropy’ drama, working with many of this generation’s best leaders in major foundations, and in the newer domains that go by names like venture philanthropy, social entrepreneurship and impact investing.

However, the mindset of strategic philanthropy has significant limitations.

At the heart of strategic philanthropy is an assumption that making a strategy is a rational process, controlled inside an organization or by a donor, to craft a unique philanthropic contribution. This approach directly challenges older, more relational styles of giving, when funders ‘respond’ to those who ask, and attempt to fund great strategies rather than assuming they should figure them out on their own.

Read the full article about the predicament of strategic philanthropy by Katherine Fulton at Alliance.