How could philanthropy do a better job of meeting today’s challenges?
By ditching the jargon, getting over its aversion to paying for fund-raising costs, and tackling the kinds of goals that capture people’s imaginations, according to speakers at today’s kick-off of the annual Council on Foundations meeting here.
Just shy of 1,000 people are attending the council’s conference, the year’s largest event for grant-making professionals.
Tony Proscio, a consultant to foundations, talked about how jargon prevents foundations from getting their message across to the public about what they do and what they seek to accomplish.
Overused terms like “expanding conceptualization,” “capacity building,” “access,” “awareness,” and “partnerships,” have “gone dry,” he said.
What word or words does Mr. Proscio like?
“Verdant,” for one. Namely, the “verdant” that appears in the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s tagline: “The MacArthur foundation supports creative people and effective institutions committed to building a more just, verdant, and peaceful world.”
“Any other foundation would have said ‘sustainable,’” which is the go-to word that everyone uses, said Mr. Proscio. “Anything lives longer than a gypsy moth and it’s sustainable,” he said, yet it doesn’t evoke the same imagery as “verdant.”
Support for Fund Raising
Dan Pallotta, a former fund raiser and the author of the book Uncharitable, talked about how donors could accomplish more if they helped finance bigger and more innovative charity fund-raising efforts instead of focusing all their money on programs.
“The more we spend on fund raising, the more money we can generate for programs,” he said. “Funding programs annihilates our potential to fund programs.”
Said Mr. Pallotta: “What we need is a venture-philanthropy movement to find the best fund-raising entrepreneurs, the best fund-raising ideas, in the same way that the venture-capital movement finds and funds Groupon and Google.”
And Claire Gaudiani, a professor of philanthropy at New York University, asked people in the audience to imagine a July 4, 2026—the 250th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence—in which philanthropy had successfully tackled some of the biggest challenges facing the country today.
For example, she asked, What if “we decided in 2011 that we’re going to eliminate the killer poverty that traps the bottom 15 percent” of Americans?
Imagine what could be accomplished if “something of everything we did would focus on eradicating that transgenerational poverty,” said Ms. Gaudiani.
Even foundations that aren’t involved in equity and justice issues ought to care about tackling endemic poverty, she said, because it’s so costly to the country.
The philanthropic effort involved would, by the year 2026, have “truly delivered on our founders’ intent,” she said. (To read more about her idea, see this opinion article from The Chronicle‘s archive.)