P O S T E D B Y A L B E R T
Maureen Robinson, the mother character in the 1960s TV series, Lost in Space, is the perfect metaphor for the future of philanthropy. Her silvery space suit and other-worldly hairdo represent philanthropy’s progressive aspirations. She’s the imagined future of a philanthropy transformed by cosmic sums of money, by networked donors and metrics-wielding CEOs.
And yet while Maureen packs a ray gun and travels from planet to planet in a flying saucer, she also plays the reassuring role of post-war housewife and mom, staying at home to prepare a nice meatloaf while her husband goes off to protect the ship from tentacled aliens. Let’s face it: she’s a bit of a throwback. It’s easier for us to imagine a world in which solid objects spontaneously shift form than one in which the basic relations of power between men and women are renegotiated.
In philanthropy, as in science fiction, we tend to imagine a future in which everything changes—except us. We’ll bring to the year 2173 our small ambitions, our competitiveness and unwillingness to collaborate, our downstream attempts to solve upstream problems. The new donor will arrive at the spaceport with an appalling ignorance of philanthropy’s past.
Foundations periodically commission consultants to picture philanthropy’s future. Perhaps it’s too much to expect these consultants to tell the truth about how eerily familiar that future is likely to be.