If only this were the last word on “venture” philanthropy!

This is the smartest, ballsiest response I’ve seen to the omnipresent nonsense about how what’s wrong with philanthropy and charity is that they’re too soft-hearted and how all the problems of the world could be solved if they were just more rigorous and did their “due diligence” and brought other failed concepts and consultant buzzwords over from the for-profit sector. What refreshing thoughtfulness and appropriate humility. Bravo, Mr. Scanlan!


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2 Responses to “If only this were the last word on “venture” philanthropy!”

  1. Anita Bernstein Says:

    Rare for me to disagree with the Nonprofiteer, but after clicking on the link, that’s what I did.

    Scanlon reports a power struggle ca. 2007 in his organization, the Public Welfare Foundation, where he had one set of priorities and buzzwords (“direct service,” “empowerment of the poor”) and the people who beat him had another (“strategic philanthropy,” against “scatterization”). Like the Nonprofiteer, I prefer the Scanlon set, but it’s not self-evident that every organization should. Scanlon says he and PWF used to take pride in being “risk takers” and now he thinks the better posture is to be a “believer.” What’s the difference? He lost the fight on whether PWF should pull out of international initiatives, a point on which reasonable funders could disagree.

    There’s probably a case to be made for Scanlon’s position but, to me anyway, Scanlon didn’t make it.

    • Nonprofiteer Says:

      Fair enough, and I don’t discount that Scanlon has his own axe to grind in the broader conversation. But one of the few good arguments for having social services provided by nonprofits (instead of the government) is that they are apt to be smaller, more locally-controlled agencies with a better grasp of the community’s needs. And the whole venture philanthropy posture is that only the rarest of the rare nonprofits deserves any philanthropic support whatsoever, and that it’s the job of philanthropy to starve out the others while lavishing support on the deserving. This posture almost guarantees that big agencies better able to withstand a business-style “due diligence” will be supported while smaller, more innovative (and probably more representative groups) get left out in the cold–all in the name of efficiency. Given the extent to which government is now controlled by people whose obsession with efficiency trumps values like fairness, it’s more important than ever that an alternative–not just a clone or a relative, but an utterly different approach–survives and is well-articulated by someone whose prior access to money makes him harder to dismiss than the poor people who are getting left out in the cold by his venture-minded colleagues.

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