About this blog

This blog began in 2010 as a platform for me to explore the relationship between philanthropy and democracy. I still like that topic, so I’ve preserved the original statement of intent below, as it – and what I wrote on this blog between 2010 and 2014 – definitely helped shape my current thinking.

Now, this blog reflects my emerging thinking in developing and executing on a strategy for the Ford Foundation’s Philanthropy program.

Global disclaimer: The opinions on this blog are my own and do not necessarily represent the views of my employer, the Ford Foundation, or my prior employer, TCC Group (for posts written when I worked there (June 2008-April 2015).

Original Statement of Intent for “The Blog Briefly Known as ‘Democratizing Philanthropy?’,” April 2010

In the story of the fox and the hedgehog – the fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing – I’m definitely a hedgehog. Or as we say in political science, I’m a lumper rather than a splitter. The hedgehog-y lump that provides the organizing framework for what may at times appear to be disconnected musings is this:

Democratizing     Philanthropy     Questionmark

All three parts are important. “Democratizing” because I’m trained as a political scientist, which means I’m interested in the distribution of power. “Philanthropy” because my career is foundation consulting and my passion is making philanthropy more accessible to communities. “Questionmark” because, well, I don’t know; my starting point is uncertainty. And I’ll write outward from that.

So the prevailing mode of this blog will be to raise questions. There are two of those implicit in the title that I plan to explore, and that I hope you, Dear Reader, will join me in exploring:

  1. What is the role of philanthropy in a democratic society?
  2. What does it mean to democratize philanthropy?

For a couple of years now, I’ve been burrowing away like a good hedgehog, reading tons of blogs, articles, and research about my twin interests of philanthropy and comparative politics, trying to find the glue that would cohere a lump sufficiently lump-y to serve as the kernel for a blog of my own, and if I’m lucky, the irritating grain of sand that will one day yield a pearl of wisdom. (As you’ll learn, I mix metaphors with gusto.) And I think these two questions are that kernel, that lump, that grain of sand.

The first question gets into what we mean by  a democratic society, what the quality of that democracy looks like, and how philanthropy contributes to or detracts from that democratic ideal and reality. This gets into topics of accountability, transparency, and the relationship with government. For the most part, the type of philanthropy I plan to look at under this first question is institutional philanthropy: the world of foundations, public charities, donor-advised funds, etc. To a degree I’ll look at individual giving, particularly as it relates to the metaphor of a philanthropic market. The relationship among markets, communities, freedom, and democracy will occupy a fair amount of my attention in this area.

The second question as I’m seeing it is much more about the individual side. What does it mean to make giving more democratic – more grassroots, more accountable to communities? I’m involved in a giving circle, the NYC Venture Philanthropy Fund, so these topics are near and dear to my heart. By necessity, exploring the second question will touch on what it means to make institutional philanthropy more democratic. Here the two questions start to bleed together. And here I get a chance to talk about topics like diversity, equity, and inclusion, which are ones I’ve worked on professionally in the past.

So the field is set, the game is afoot.

P.S. Oh yeah, the title. Turns out “democratizing philanthropy” is more popular than I thought, so for now, this is The Blog Briefly Known as “Democratizing Philanthropy?” Suggestions for a permanent title are welcome!