LEADERSHIP IN PHILANTHROPY

Currently independent philanthropy

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Currently independent philanthropy is playing a pivotal role in addressing many of the deep-rooted problems in our country including poverty, inequality and unemployment.

Within an environment of swirling negative sentiment, fake news and rampant corruption, philanthropists are looking for ways to nurture understanding, empathy and cooperation among different communities.

As the challenges that society faces grow more complex and diverse, the role of philanthropy becomes ever more important in helping invest innovatively in sustainable solutions. There is the need for philanthropic practice to move from palliative to transformative. Philanthropy’s role is transforming from simple grant making to being change agents. Effective philanthropy is about change but in order to make an effective significant and lasting change, a philanthropic organization must be a leadership organization.

Strong leadership in philanthropy exhibits certain behaviours and methodologies which allow for maximum impact.

Most importantly, leading philanthropic organisations focus on the root causes rather than the symptoms within the area of need in which they are investing. They conduct in-depth research and evaluation of the situation, the beneficiaries, the problem they are wanting to address and the proposed solutions and their impact.

They ensure that all stakeholders are involved in this process. In particular they seek meaningful engagement with the community members in the area in which they are investing in, to ensure they are getting a holistic view of the scope and complexity of the need they are trying to fulfil. This is a proactive rather than reactive process whereby they are looking to permanently change the conditions that lead to the problem that they have decided to focus on.

Strong philanthropic foundations not only seek collaboration with the communities and beneficiaries which they are supporting but also actively seek out collaboration with other funders. They look for funding partners who are investing or have the potential to invest in the same areas of focus thus scaling the impact of their investment. Their work is strengthened through collaborative projects between philanthropy and civil society, business and government. Collaboration between funders has been advanced through the emergence and growth of philanthropy networks, such as the local forum, the Independent Philanthropy Association of South Africa (IPASA). IPASA, the only independent philanthropic network in South Africa, provides a forum where independent funders can meet in an environment of trust and mutual respect and learn from each other and work together to create greater impact. IPASA equips philanthropic foundations and individuals with the knowledge and networks to ensure that they can make informed funding decisions and change their practises and perspectives where necessary.

Leadership in philanthropy requires innovation and courage. Philanthropic leaders are prepared to take risks either in trying new ways of funding, or in funding non-traditional or high-risk projects and organisations. They are constantly looking at innovation that can transform society. In fact, independent philanthropic organisations and philanthropists are the best placed to take risks in their funding activities as their actions are not guided by a corporate or government agenda but rather by the individual or the foundation founder’s vision.

Part of this courageous behaviour requires the boldness to transfer some of the funder’s power to their beneficiaries. Leading funders realize the importance of including beneficiaries and communities in their decision-making and attempt to learn about how they can share their power as a funder. Trusts and foundations can have many sources of power. Their wealth, independence, status, privilege and knowledge all give them power over the organisations and beneficiaries they fund. This creates an unhealthy power balance which does not allow for an open and equitable partnership. Forward thinking foundation leaders engage in participatory grant-making where there is a sharing of decision making power about grants with the stakeholders who will be impacted by those decisions. This ensures that the people most affected by the funder’s decisions are inputting into this process.

Another noteworthy practise of leading funders is that they are prepared to fund the core costs of the organisations they are supporting. Traditionally, especially in South Africa, funders generally do not fund a non-profit organisation’s operational costs, preferring to fund the projects rather than the organisation itself. This places the organisation in a tricky situation in that in order to deliver effectively on the projects they are implementing they need a strong organisational structure and experienced, highly skilled employees to oversee the projects.

This is not possible without sustained committed operational funding. More forward-thinking funders are not only prepared to fund these core running costs of the organisations that they support but they are also prepared to invest in the organisation’s leadership to build their capacity to deliver. Funding for the leaders of these organisations is critical to ensure the organisation’s sustainability and effectiveness. Funders who support training and development of these leaders are investing in the long-term sustainability of the organisation they are supporting.

The leading philanthropic foundations are transparent about their work and their funding. Information about the funds they manage, their funding focus areas and the projects which they invest in is publicly available. Through this behaviour of being transparent as to the amount of funding they are investing and what they are doing with their funding, they encourage other funders to invest more and invest more wisely. This has been seen through the efforts of the likes of Bill Gates and Warren Buffet with their Giving Pledge which they founded 10 years ago, where they encouraged other wealthy philanthropists to follow in their footsteps in giving away the majority of their fortunes. Locally Patrice Motsepe, South African billionaire and mining tycoon followed suit and joined the Giving Pledge in 2013 encouraging other South African billionaires to do the same.

Leaders of effective foundations through their behaviour are working on changing the insular and exclusive nature of philanthropy to become a more open and collaborative one. This in term will result in the creation of a learning sector that is transparent about successes and failures and that understands that such shared knowledge will ultimately drive innovation and impact more quickly

In summary, leadership in philanthropic organisations does not differ from traditional leadership. Effective philanthropy requires leaders that are well versed in the business model, legal and regulatory framework, and political climate in the areas and communities in which they operate. In addition, philanthropic leaders ensure that they conduct a thorough assessment of how best their funding, knowledge and networks can make a difference. They collaborate with others in their strategic decision-making and action plans. The philanthropic leaders are open to risk, and have a disruptive mindset, innovative thinking and a philosophy driven by entrepreneurial insights and creative opportunities.

Tony Blair captured this importance of leadership in philanthropy well when he said: “the best philanthropy is not just about giving money but giving leadership. The best philanthropists bring the gifts that made them successful—the drive, the determination, the refusal to accept that something can’t be done.” Strong leadership in philanthropy is vital to real positive change in our country through innovative and inclusive investment in solutions in response to our society’s many challenges.

To find out more about the work and membership of the Independent Philanthropy Association of South Africa, please visit: www.ipa-sa.org.za

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