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Several weeks ago, Dan Pallotta sent me a Harvard Business Review article entitled, “Audacious Philanthropy,” which was authored by Susan Wolf Ditkoff and Abe Grindle. Similar to what the authors and Dan have stated, I too have seen that almost isn’t good enough any longer when it comes to addressing the toughest social challenges. As was noted in the article:

“Many of today’s emerging large-scale philanthropists aspire to similarly audacious successes. They don’t want to fund homeless shelters and food pantries; they want to end homelessness and hunger. Steady, linear progress isn’t enough; they demand disruptive, catalytic, systemic change—and in short order. Even as society grapples with important questions about today’s concentrations of wealth, many of the largest philanthropists feel the weight of responsibility that comes with their privilege. And the scale of their ambition, along with the wealth they are willing to give back to society, is breathtaking.”

Donors are indeed tired of nonprofits that think small and leaders who are not willing to put it all on the line. It is no longer acceptable to merely want to take a short-sighted view of change. As I’ve written about in the past, major donors and global philanthropists are looking to eradicate the intractable social challenges that have been vexing humanity for generations.

This desire to make a significant and scalable social impact has also trickled down to general gift donors. People are looking for results in the era of massive amounts of information, transparency, and accountability. As the HBR article stated, “Audacious is incredibly challenging. Yet, history has shown it can succeed.”

What Does Philanthropic Audacity Look Like?

When I set out to establish a nonprofit many years ago, I knew I wanted to make a difference, but not just in my local community. If you know my biography, then you know that I was able to grow the organization to scale in fewer than five years from a budget of zero to one of more than $70 million when I left the charity.

But, I’m not the only one, and candidly, the nonprofit sector is starving for leaders of all backgrounds, generations, ages, and abilities who do not think small. The authors of the HBR article studied fifteen social movements, and they found that although it’s not easy, systemic and scalable change can be accomplished.

  • Anti-Apartheid Movement: Institutionalized oppression in South Africa of nonwhites ended in the 1990’s after a relentless effort of activism over the course of 40 years.
  • Hospice Care: This type of palliative care began in the late 1940’s, and today more than 60 percent of people at the end of their lives receive hospice services.
  • National School Lunch Program: By 2012, approximately 31 million children in the United States, which is more than half of all students in public schools, were receiving a free or reduced-price meal at school.
  • Public Libraries: Andrew Carnegie invested in libraries in the early part of the 20th Century, before the digital age, and advocacy for libraries helped provide 96 percent of Americans access to free libraries.

And now, as I write this article, you have to wonder what will be happening in the coming months and years ahead with gun violence in America––the levels which are uniquely an American problem. We see Generation Z high school students, led by the survivors of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, seeking to change the gun laws in our nation so that schools become a safe learning environment once again. These young students are galvanized, active and mobilized to do what others before them have not done.

The 4 Attributes of Success

The authors of the HBR article discovered four patterns that provided success to the fifteen social movements they studied for success for audacious philanthropy and social change:

  1. Almost 90 percent of efforts to make an impactful difference took more than 20 years, with the median being 45 years.
  2. 80 percent of the time, the government had to be involved with funding and changes in policy.
  3. In almost 75 percent of the circumstances, there was significant collaboration between multiple entities, such as private, public and government groups.
  4. In 66 percent of instances, there had to be a significant infusion of money, of $10 million or more in a single or few gifts to provide momentum and energy.

The reality is that today’s challenges are different than those in the past. We have global income inequality, it’s essential for our students around the world to be immersed in technology-based learning, and we know that vast amounts of money and technology will shape a world in the coming years, unlike anything we have ever seen. However, there are opportunities for leaders who have a vision and are not afraid to disrupt, challenge the status quo and seek to look at problems in new ways with the resources available in the 21st Century.


Author of “Get Off the Couch: Grip & Rip and Break the Barriers Holding You Back in Life” (Free Digital Download)

© 2018 Wayne Elsey and Not Your Father’s Charity. All Rights Reserved.