Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Open Letter to the Secret Leaders of the Philanthropic Revolution


Thank you to Tactical Philanthropy for inviting me to respond to their One Post Challenge.

What is the definition of power and influence in the philanthropic sector?

The NonProfit Times has offered an attempt to answer this question by issuing lists of the people whom they consider to hold said power and influence. Their 2007 list was the subject of one of my recent blogs as well as Phil Cubeta's reply on his Gift Hub blog.

The attached image comes courtesy of a 2005 post on adoption curve dot net, which I discovered when running a Google Image search for "power and influence." The analysis struck me as a very fitting image to portray the ideas that I outline in my previous blog.

I'll concede that people like Patty Stonesifer of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Susan Berresford of the Ford Foundation are indeed powerful. And that this power necessarily provides a certain level of influence.

But their power is not unexpected, and their influence fairly predictable in all but the most extreme circumstances. The "power and influence" of this particular Top 50 list, therefore, is fairly minimal.

Allow me to offer that a far more powerful list -- a philanthromap, as it were -- would be a more revelatory list such as:

The Top 50 Non-Profit Leaders Who are Quietly Changing the Sector

Or, as I with my conspiratorial bent would prefer:

The Secret Leaders of the Philanthropic Revolution

Who are these leaders? What are their defining traits? Are they the sort of folks whom we would be proud to invite to speak at our child's school, or are they of that ilk that should be on some sort of public list that is carefully watched by the shadow government -- or both?

Who, I ask, truly holds the power in the philanthropic sector?

Who, as the diagram at the top portrays, are the true "players" as opposed to merely the "context setters"?

I would propose that the following traits would make for a fairly short but substantive list of the truly powerful leaders of our sector, the likes of which NonProfit Times in all its illustrious glory would never publish:
  • They have no cash to throw around (i.e. the revolution will not be funded);
  • Their organization is not a household name (i.e. their national and local office are likely the same);
  • They regularly voice their ideas in speeches, blogs, print publications or other media -- and they write their own material;
  • As the above image from adoption curve dot net blog illustrates, they have a high stake in the outcome of their actions/publications. This stake is deeply personal, far beyond compensation; that is, they have an intimate connection with the future of our sector.
I also think that an important consideration is whether or not they are compensated for their thoughts (i.e. they are part of a think-tank), or whether their publications are a veiled attempt to gain consulting contracts or sell services/products. This certainly should not fully eliminate people (love it or hate it, Terry Axelrod has made a lot of money while significantly changing our sector through her "Raising More Money" model). But there is a significant difference between Ms. Axelrod's motivation in writing a blog and that of someone like the anonymous writer of Don't Tell the Donor, who certainly has spent more resources on their blog than they will ever reap from its luminosity.

What names would you add to such a list? Phil Cubeta and I offered some initial suggestions in the aforementioned blogs. These are but a beginning.

Please add me your own nominations to this philanthromap as comments on this post, and I will publish the final results on my blog, The Raiser's Razor.

Viva la revolucion!