Problems we wish we had

Reprinted in full from the WSJ Letters to the editor, lest we all drink too much of our own KoolAid.

"Philanthropy: It's So Easy
March 14, 2007; Page A13

The "Wealth Report" myth that it is hard to give money away ("Paying Money to Donate Money," Weekend Journal, March 9) has been created by a philanthropic bureaucracy that gets paid to make giving (and getting) seem hard. That myth insults everyone who works for a nonprofit and all who benefit from their services.

It is also a myth that to have a big impact you have to attack a big, fancy problem. The opposite is true. The biggest bang-for-the-buck can be had locally, where budgets are modest and under enormous pressure.

It isn't the size of their fortunes that makes giving hard for some donors, but their obliviousness to the many needs staring them in the face.

Howard Junker
San Francisco"

To be clear, I think Howard has only a partial point. Strategic, big resource philanthropy is not easy, and help/research/data/analysis are good. As foundations grow larger than national economies it becomes increasingly important to be serious, careful and global in thinking. Which by now means obviates Howard's point about the importance of the small, the local, and that "which is staring [them] in the face."

And, as I have said since I got into this work - as philanthropy (and the advising businesses that serve it) grow, they need to maintain standards, humility, and a firm sense of what really matters, as well as a good deal of perspective on which problems are really hard. Yes, it is hard to figure out how to apply philanthropic resources to solve hunger, malaria, or poverty. But it is harder still to be hungry, sick, and poor.

1 comment:

Holden said...

Is giving away money hard? It all depends what your goal is.

It's not hard to help people by giving money. It is very hard to help people AS WELL AS POSSIBLE per dollar.

The question, as in the finance industry, is: are analysts providing as much benefit with their research and observations as cost with their fees? In finance, this is pretty unclear.

Capital markets are followed obsessively by a trillion people looking for any edge. There's ample evidence (i.e., mutual fund performance less fees) that it's overkill.

In charity, where the money goes seems 99% determined by personal contacts, fundraising strategy, and glossy brochures. Seems obvious to me that the need is for more analysis, not less.

That doesn't change how CRAZY it is that all of these charity analysts are as tight-lipped as financial analysts, when it makes 1000% less sense to be so. If you're hired to figure out how to help people, and you lock what you find in a vault, you aren't serving your client well.