As originally posted on www.zocalopublicsquare.org
Philanthropy in and of itself is not powerful. It is simply a conduit through which individuals with financial resources (a key source of power in society, economics and politics) manifest their desires and goals through their giving. So while I share some of the concerns and hopes for philanthropy raised by Olivier Zunz in his new history of philanthropy and by National Center for Responsive Philanthropy in its “Philanthropy’s Promise” campaign, I think the question of power goes beyond philanthropy.
Foundations and individual major donors can influence the course of political, economic and social development in our country and around the world. But the individual donors and individuals who create foundations can exert their influence in many ways, and philanthropy is just one of them.
Philanthropy has had many positive effects on our society, bringing us developments like the 9-1-1 system, widespread public libraries, and early support for the Grameen Bank and the microfinance finance movement (among the many examples documented by Joel Flieshman in his book “The Foundation: A Great American Secret”). But are philanthropic entities serving the highest interest? And as an individual donor and foundation trustee, I ask others in similar roles to address and to consider this question. Are we using our power, the power that is made available to us through our philanthropy, for the best interest of all?
Jason Franklin grew up in Newport Beach, California and now lives in New York City where he serves as executive director of Bolder Giving, a nonprofit that works to inspire and support people from all backgrounds to “Give More. Risk More. Inspire More.”
Philanthropy has a good name, but it doesn’t always make friends. Every foundation has its own mission, and these missions can be in conflict with one another. They can also, in the opinions of critics, play too large a role in democracy, usurping the power of the state and the ordinary citizen. In advance of “Is Philanthropy Too Powerful?”, a Zócalo event, several close observers of philanthropy offer their views on the same question.