Looking Back at the Future of Philanthropy

Ten years ago, Bob Johansen and his team at the Institute for the Future (IFTF) were engaged by my employer at the time, InterAct for Change, to develop a Philanthropy Map for the Future.* This article looks back at the contextual environment for the 10-year old map and provides a local perspective around five driving forces and six key shifts predicted by IFTF.

“We find ourselves today in a period of unusual turbulence.” This was the context IFTF established for the Philanthropy Map 10 years ago. The uncertainty of those times vis-à-vis the philanthropic sector was due to what IFTF described as a shift from “First Curve” traditional, hierarchical institutions in place for one or two centuries—banks, corporations, foundations and large universities—to a “Second Curve” framework pioneered by social innovators deploying new behaviors, practices and technologies to organize activities and people. The Second Curve framework is defined by fluidity and high-velocity change. As IFTF stated at the time, “The Second Curve isn’t only about re-engineering organizations—it’s about building whole new ecosystems of platforms, tools and strategies that can enable massive movements for public good.”

The Philanthropy Map of the Future

The five driving forces identified in the 2008 Map were:

  • Personal empowerment – from consumption to customization
  • Grass roots economics – from economies of scale to economies of organization
  • Smart networking – from individuals to social networks
  • Polarizing extremes – from fringe to front-and-center
  • Health insecurity – from health care to health economy or “health as wealth”

The Map illustrated the people, practices, markets and places predicted for each of these driving forces. Many are now familiar, such as the local focus on the social determinants of health led by Interact for Health, and the emergence of open philanthropy and shared knowledge building techniques, such as learning collaboratives, webinars, and online giving platforms. As a region, we still struggle with economic and health disparities; however, thankfully, both issues have moved to the forefront.

Assessing the Philanthropy Map Predictions

IFTF organized a discussion guide for the Map around six key shifts they predicted would evolve as the philanthropic sector moved from First Curve to Second Curve. How has the predicted evolution worked out in the local philanthropic marketplace? Here are a few of my takes:

  1. From organizations to movements. This shift has manifested itself locally with the Save the Icons campaign and the Preschool Promise levy. And the collective impact strategy has taken hold, representing a significant shift in how things get done locally vs. 10 years ago. Pioneered by the Strive Partnership, common goals, common data collection and systemic thinking are now the preferred strategy for local philanthropic initiatives tackling big problems.
  2. From managing to synchronizing. While Facebook and Twitter have exploded as mechanisms for coordinating actions at all levels of society, at the local level we’re beginning to see this shift emerge through efforts such as Inspiring Service and its partnership with Social Venture Partners called Community Cares.
  3. From economic incentives to adaptive emotions. The theory was that inspiration and awe would drive collective action even more than economics. People want to be part of something bigger than themselves. Two examples locally are Lumenocity and its successor, BLINK.
  4. From projects to people. Grants for projects are still the norm in Greater Cincinnati, but a focus on funding people not projects is emerging in some circles. People’s Liberty leads the way with its investments in individual artists and civic problem solvers. Bethesda Inc., now known as bi3, prioritizes project champions and leaders in its grantmaking criteria.
  5. From scarcity to abundance mindset. Twenty-five years ago, Cincinnati was a city in a bad mood. Ten years ago, we began to focus on assets, not liabilities and now we are a hot city for tourists and a vibrant livable region. Innovative thinking drove a lot of the change, along with tons of corporate, civic and philanthropic investments as well as enormous long-term leadership. One example: an ecosystem of support for entrepreneurs has emerged.
  6. From episodic to embedded giving. Embedded giving is a phrase coined by philanthropy guru Lucy Bernholz to describe ways to donate to charity through the course of your everyday life. An example is “rounding up” for charity at your local Kroger store. While online giving has exploded, I’m curious to know about other examples of embedded giving locally. Seems to me this trend has not emerged in a big way in our community and that many nonprofits rely on events and annual campaigns.

I invite you to Securing the Future on March 8 to experience IFTF’s fascinating three-step cycle of Foresight Insight Action. The registration deadline is March 2.