It’s that time of year when we think of giving back – to those we love and to those in need. As I reflected on this topic myself, I was brought back to my 2020 interview with Aneil Gokhale, Director of Philanthropy at the Toronto Foundation. In our conversation, Aneil Gokhale shared his thoughts on what needed to be different in philanthropy. At the time, Aneil shared that there were three things we needed to get people to think about differently:

1. Be grateful for administrative costs: We have big problems to solve in our world and don’t we want the best people working on them? Why is it ok for the CEOs and fundraisers at the hospitals and universities to make good salaries and not those looking to solve for climate change, food insecurity,   

2. Multi-year commitments: Most times organizations are caught in a race for annual funding. What if we let organizations know they have money they can count on? This way they can do more long-term planning.

3. Valuing qualitative data: The world tends to over-index on quantitative data. Qualitative data, or “thick data” as I like to call it, tells you so much more about an organization and its impact than numbers do.

Did you know that in Canada, 66% of giving goes to just 1% of charities? It speaks to how pervasive inequity is. It shows up even in the way we give.

When I work with organizations to improve innovation and implement Design Thinking, we used an exercise where we focused on outliers and lead indicators. Today, I ask myself, what are the outliers and lead indicators that could demonstrate that philanthropy is shifting? The two I can think of are the Giving Pledge and one billionaire who sent waves throughout the world of philanthropy in her approach to giving. 

First, let’s start with the Giving Pledge. If you don’t already know, the Giving Pledge is an open invitation for billionaires to publicly commit to giving the majority of their wealth to philanthropic organizations. It started with Bill Gates and Warren Buffet recruiting 40 members in 2010. Today, the Giving Pledge has more than 200 signatories. It is estimated that there are about 2,700 Billionaires in the world. This means that in 12 years 7% of billionaires have signed the pledge. The estimated value of the pledge has moved from a projected $125 billion in 2010 to $600 billion in 2021. This, for me, is reason to celebrate. 

The second indicator to me that philanthropy is changing was the action of one billionaire, MacKenzie Scott. Scott is the former wife of Jeff Bezos and the 17th richest person in the world. Thus far, she has donated $8.5 billion to 780 organizations in unrestricted funds. That means that these organizations can spend the money in any way they deem appropriate. When you read articles about Scott’s approach, experts say it’s almost unheard of for donations to be given out with no strings attached. 

Scott is quoted as saying that her team is “attempting to give away a fortune that was enabled by systems in need of change.” In one fell swoop this woman billionaire has upended philanthropy. She provides significant donations and trusts that organizations will use them responsibly. Although this has been done before, it has never been done at this scale. 

Although the vast majority of us are not in a position to give away the majority of our estates, we can follow the advice of my friend Aneil and then take some notes from MacKenzie Scott. 

So here is the updated list that was started by my friend Aneil Gokhale:

1. Where possible, provide Operational (Core) Funding. 

2. Where possible, make multi-year commitments. 

3. Explore qualitative data.

4. Give and encourage others to give unrestricted funds. 

Link to original conversation with Aneil Gokhale: