P O S T E D B Y A L B E R T
Think of them as two armies battling against overwhelming indifference—and frequently against one another—for the soul of philanthropy.
One camp is arrayed under such banners as “metrics” and “evaluation,” and has a distinctly business school cast. The other champions a style of philanthropy concerned with social justice, and seeks to expose the root causes of our social ills.
These are caricatures, but they’re not entirely without foundation, so indulge me for a moment longer.
We fail to appreciate how closely united these two camps are in their rejection of philanthropy as usual—“beige philanthropy,” as I like to call it. Most striking, perhaps, is their primary point of contact: a shared concern for effectiveness.
Here’s how it works: Those in the Metrics camp argue that few foundations make any real attempt to hold themselves accountable. Without measuring the effectiveness of their grantmaking, they’re unable to track progress against stated goals (if they exist). Even if these grantmakers are able to see with their own eyes the good they help produce, it’s not clear that this good significantly outweighs the cost of producing it. Accountable to nobody but themselves, they end up shortchanging the communities they aim to serve.
Those in the Social Justice camp come to exactly the same conclusion but via a different path. They argue that most of the giving done by mainstream foundations is based on an incomplete or flawed analysis of what it takes to achieve goals like ending poverty or ensuring that all children thrive. These foundations content themselves with triaging society’s victims, never wondering about the causes of their victimhood, and suspecting, perhaps, that they might themselves be implicated in the crime.
It’s an easy matter to strawman mainstream philanthropy, to claim that it’s grown soft on flattery and self-congratulation. It’s a far better strategy, in my view, for those in the Metrics and Social Justice camps to make their arguments incontrovertible—to give their speculations the heft of widely shared conviction. There’s also a lot they can learn from one another.