28 May 2019

In episode 50, we talk to Phil Buchanan, founding CEO of the Center for Effective Philanthropy and author of a new book: Giving done right: effective giving and making every dollar count. We discuss current debates about philanthropy and what we need to do to ensure a positive narrative about the value of giving in our society as we head into the future. Including:

  • What is the core role of philanthropy within society, which differentiates it from either state or market provision?
  • A key strength of philanthropy is often argued to be its ability to drive society forward by taking risks and funding things that the state or market cannot, but how much current philanthropy does this?
  • Why has the idea that non-profits need to be 'more business-like' become so widespread, and why is it wrong?
  • One of the effects of taking an 'investment approach' is that donors can then be reluctant to fund core costs or to give unrestricted funding, why is this such a problem?
  • Is part of the problem with the 'overhead myth' that donors want some measure of the effectiveness of their giving, and in the absence of compelling evidence they are forced to rely on unhelpful financial measures like overhead ratios? What can we do to provide them with better metrics?
  • Is there a danger that the growing wave of skepticism, and even cynicism towards philanthropy, will have a negative impact on people’s willingness to give?
  • Of the current critiques leveled at philanthropy, which are potentially misguided or overstated, and which are genuinely important to heed?
  • Some argue that since philanthropy is a product of structural inequality, it can never truly be part of the solution, but do some donors and funders recognise this challenge and how are they genuinely pursuing structural change?
  • The freedom that philanthropy has to run counter to the status quo or the policies and public opinion of a particular time has been a key part of driving historic social change. How do we preserve this freedom, whilst also answering concerns that unchecked philanthropic power could end up being anti-democratic?
  • Do we need to make philanthropy more democratic, or accountable to the people and communities it is supposed to serve? If so, how?
  • Is there a challenge in balancing long-term innovation against the needs of the present? When does 'big bet' philanthropy become wasteful or self-indulgent, and how much wasted philanthropic effort are we as a society prepared to accept in the name of 'discovery'?



Phil Buchanan photo credit Charis Loh
Phil Buchanan, author of Giving done right.

About the Giving Thought podcast

The Giving Thought podcast is an exploration of trends in global philanthropy and civil society. Launched in 2017 it is recognised as an insightful and influential source of philanthropic debate.  Rhodri Davies director of our Giving Thought Think Tank hosts the podcast, discussing contemporary issues and interviewing sector experts. Episodes are also available free on iTunes and Libsyn.

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Rhodri Davies

Rhodri Davies

Head of Policy

Rhodri leads Giving Thought, our in-house think tank focusing on current and future issues affecting philanthropy and civil society. Rhodri has spent nearly a decade specialising in public policy around philanthropy and the work of charities, and has researched, written and presented on a wide range of topics. He has a first-class degree in Mathematics and Philosophy from the University of Oxford.   Read more about Rhodri