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ShaperTalk: Innovation in Philanthropy

A Discussion with Shapers Katie Boswell and Matthew Marshall
From open data and online giving markets to lean philanthropy and learning from failure, what are the big trends shaping philanthropy in 2015?
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On Wednesday, June 3, 2015, San Francisco Shaper Katie Boswell and visiting Atlanta Shaper Matthew Marshall hosted a ShaperTalk on "Innovation in Philanthropy." A summary of the discussion is below: 
Why Innovation?
  • Innovate = “Make changes in something established, especially by introducing new methods, ideas, or products” (Oxford Dictionaries)
  • ‘Innovation’, like ‘change’, is a neutral concept - it is not inherently good and may have negative impacts or unforeseen consequences
  • Danger of following ‘fads’ because they are new and glamorous, rather than because they are based on evidence
  • Innovation needs to be meaningful and needs to have a purpose, i.e. to maximize social impact of philanthropy
    • Focus on both attracting more money as well as spending it more effectively
Trends in Philanthropy
  • Balancing funder power:  from “listening to grantees” to more radical power shifts such as participatory grantmaking
  • Collaboration:  recognizing common goals and “collective impact”
  • Open data:  from making nonprofit data available in machine-readable format to “data labs” that measure the impact of programs on beneficiaries
  • Lean philanthropy:  flexible and iterative approaches
  • Online giving markets:  crowdfunding, e.g. New Story Charity
  • Transparency:  nonprofits sharing spending details (e.g. New Story Charity accounts for every cent) - Shapers were concerned that pressure to spend less on overheads can be a negative influence; on the other hand, recent revelations about the American Red Cross in Haiti show the need for nonprofit transparency and accountability
  • Impact investing:  foundations are increasingly making program related investments to complement their grantmaking
  • Social impact bonds:  foundations provide layer of capital with sub-market or zero returns to leverage additional capital from commercial investors - but some concern that charitable foundations shouldn’t be subsidizing commercial investors’ risk
  • Shared measurement:  common indicators & tools, e.g. outcomes frameworks
  • Diaspora philanthropy:  engaging diaspora communities in philanthropy, e.g. One World Children’s Fund
  • Sharing economy - is this really influencing philanthropy?
  • Gamification - Shapers had some concerns about gamification of philanthropic issues
Further Reading

NPC (2014) 10 Innovations in Global Philanthropy

Lucy Bernholz (2014) Philanthropy and the Social Economy: Blueprint 2015

Gabriel Kasper & Justin Marcoux, 8 Common Innovation Traps, SSIR April 2015