Is philanthropy progressive?

27 March 2018

We explore whether philanthropy is progressive i.e. is it a means for moving society forwards or a tool for defending the status quo? Including:

  • The case for: On what grounds can we claim that philanthropy is progressive? We look at cause areas associated with progressive ideals, and the rich history of philanthropic support for campaigning. And could the very process of philanthropy also be seen as a tool for social progress?
  • The case against: We ask whether conservation and heritage causes are, by definition, not progressive. We also consider the long traditional of opposition to progressive causes being supported by philanthropy; and highlight evidence that wealthier people are more likely to hold conservative political views. We also ask whether philanthropy itself undermines progress by adding to inequality and power imbalance in our society.
  • Remedies: What can we do to ensure philanthropy is progressive? Should this actually be a goal, or should we simply accept that philanthropy reflects the balance of views of donors? Are there ways in which we can change the mechanics of philanthropy in order to make it more democratic and thus more reflective of the views of wider society?

About the Giving Thought podcast

The Giving Thought podcast is an exploration of trends in global philanthropy and civil society.  Since launching in May 2017, the podcast has become recognised as an insightful and influential source of philanthropic debate. 

In each episode Rhodri Davies, Director of our Giving Thought Think Tank, and guests, take a contemporary issue in philanthropy and civil society and break it down into three manageable chunks, giving an overview of the extensive work they have done on the subject.  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



Speaker profile: Rhodri Davies

Rhodri's specialist areas include philanthropy, history of philanthropy, the future of giving, Blockchain/Bitcoin and charity, artificial intelligence and giving, augmented/virtual reality and charity and the science of charitable giving.


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Giving Thought think-tank

Giving Thought is where we consider the key challenges facing civil society globally, explore how and why people give, and test radical new ideas that could shape the future of charity.