Personal Philanthropy: Best Practices for Making the Biggest Impact
Monday, April 23, 2007 / 10:15 am - 11:30 am
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Moderator
Nicholas Stonnington, President, Stonnington Group LLC

Speakers
Robert Davies, CEO, International Business Leaders Forum
Douglas Mellinger, Vice-Chairman and Founder, Foundation Source
Bradley Whitford, Actor; co-founder, Clothes Off Our Back Foundation


Private-sector philanthropy, as moderator Nicholas Stonnington, president of the Stonnington Group, said, is a hallmark of the United States, evidenced by the fact that 86 percent of Americans contribute their money (for a total each year of approximately $260 billion) and more than 50 percent contribute their time to charitable causes. Getting people to give their resources is clearly not a challenge for America's foundations and philanthropies. Rather, the panelists agreed, the challenge lies in individuals and foundations thinking strategically about how and where to make the strongest and most meaningful impact.

The not-for-profit landscape is changing dramatically with the advent and expansion of the Internet and the rise in the numbers of people donating portions of their fortunes rather than bequeathing their assets in wills. More nonprofit groups and foundations are being formed, with half a million NGOs created in China and India in the last year alone. This evolving landscape provides tremendous opportunities for people to make a global impact. When an audience member asked how to humanize philanthropy that has gotten "big and impersonal," actor Bradley Whitford, co-founder of Clothes Off Our Back Foundation, responded that "there needs to be a balance between long-time wise philanthropy and short-term inspirational and tangible philanthropy."

As the world and charitable giving landscape changes, individual roles must also change. But does society need more nonprofits? Mellinger noted that many nonprofits are small, with no infrastructure, and wondered whether people should work with an organization already in existence, which could greater impact with additional resources.

Panelist Robert Davies of the International Business Leaders Forum, feels that as the world becomes smaller, the problems will become more global, increasing the need for individuals and foundations to take a broader world view. These include problems such as slavery, health, and the environment, among many others.

Foundation must keep three objectives in mind. First is to be strategic. Second is to realize that one can make a much greater impact in less developed countries. Third, organizations need to remember that it is often "not the cash that cracks the problem -- it is what you put alongside the money that makes a big difference."

This idea was echoed by Douglas Mellinger, who said, "While many people are very charitable, very few are philanthropic. ... Many people spray and pray." He felt that people hope their cash will do good but ultimately outsource their decision-making to whichever charity they contribute to.

Still, he said, he senses a shift occurring; people are becoming more thoughtful about how they give their time, money, expertise and resources.

People need to think about the social return on their investment, rather than just the financial return of their investment, said Mellinger. This starts by identifying the root cause of the problem and will ultimately lead to the sustainability of change and engagement of the family, rather than just throwing money at a problem.

Whitford brought a unique perspective to the panel as he discussed the power of celebrity to raise awareness and bring the spotlight to issues. After 9/11, he said, the entertainment community began to feel pressure regarding awards shows and whether they had a place in the changing world. Some in the industry felt they had a responsibility to use their visibility to enact change. He and his wife, actor Jane Kaczmarek, wanted to spend their celebrity responsibly. He and the panelists agreed that in a shrinking world, the line between philanthropy and self-interest can begin to blur. They also shared a similar goal: to determine how an individual and a foundation can best bring about meaningful change in a complex and changing world.