Giving Compass' Take:

• Kris Putnam-Walkerly, writing for Exponent Philanthropy, discusses the importance and differences between checkbook philanthropy and transformational giving. 

• The author says that transformational giving requires funders to look at policies and practices that are contributing to problems, rather than solving them. How does this align with a systems change approach to philanthropy?

• Jean Case offers five principles of fearlessness in transformational philanthropy. 

Ask almost anyone even vaguely familiar with philanthropy what a foundation does, and the answer will likely be “they give money away.” That’s true, but what if instead the go-to answer was: “They improve people’s lives,” or “They transform communities,” or even, “They make a difference you can see and our community wouldn’t be the same without them”?

In general, checkbook philanthropy is great at addressing needs, but not so effective when it comes to solving the problems that create the need. For example, supporting a homeless shelter is a great way to meet the needs of those in crisis, but what if we addressed the issues that caused them to become homeless in the first place, like job loss, mental illness, or addiction? That would be the difference between simply writing a check and changing lives.

I call this transformational giving. It also has other names, like addressing root causes, funding proactively, or moving the needle.

Transformational giving requires that funders think about policies and practices that exist that may exacerbate the problem or at least maintain the status quo. It means looking for institutional or even individual players who are contributing to the problem (often unwittingly) and who could be valuable parts of the solution.

Transformational giving isn’t easy, and it’s not something any grantmaker should enter into lightly. But I believe it’s also some of the most enlightened and effective work that foundations can do to begin to make the changes we’ve all been seeking for decades.

Read the full article on working upstream by Kris Putnam-Walkerly at Exponent Philanthropy.