Wednesday, March 02, 2005

What is the problem?

What is the problem in philanthropy today?

My mail pile today included reports from the Bradley Center, the Panel on the Nonprofit Sector, the Center for Effective Philanthropy and the Global Philanthropy Forum. Just sifting through this pile, it became painfully clear to me that there is no consensus on this question. Some think the problem is that the donor's intent isn't adhered to closely enough. These folks are pushing hard to make sure that institutional philanthropy pays attention to what the donor wanted long after she's dead. The Bradley Center at the Hudson Institute is working on this one. Others look at that statement and think, are you kidding me? Donor intent? That's not the problem, the problem is effectiveness or visibility or accountability or credibility or accessibility or any one of a number of other things.

I'm sure some pithy fortune cookie can say it better than I can, but I know we can't fix something until we agree on whether or not its broken and, if it is, then what it should look like when its working. Isn't it astonishing that the Senate Finance Committee, Independent Sector, countless staff people inside and outside congress, land trusts, philanthropy associations, nonprofit associations, are working away on new rules and its not even clear we're all playing the same game? What is the problem that needs to be fixed?

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