Guest Post: Trends Enable Both Convergence + Divergence for Nonprofits + Philanthropy

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

McCain05 David La Piana’s five “Converging Trends" (PDF download) send a call for a new way of working across philanthropy while they pose a challenge to the prospects of joint action in our field.  At the Coleman Foundation, we’ve seen these trends shape our recent work.

Two of our recent program efforts consist of network development.  In one, ten community organizations that serve individuals with developmental disabilities built a network called Intersect for Ability (PDF download) for collaborative program development and delivery.  In another, over 100 college and university educators, known as Coleman Foundation Faculty Entrepreneurship Fellows, are establishing a community of practice to advance self-employment education in disciplines outside the business school.  Intersect for Ability just launched a wiki this spring.  A social network site for Coleman Fellows is planned for the fall.

But I’m suspicious that David’s trends – and their confluence in time – lead to any sort of convergence in the philanthropic and nonprofit community.  If anything, demographic transition, a technology-driven revolution in communication and relationship-building practice, and the busting of organizational silos enable as much a di-vergence within our sector as any type of coming together.

Divergence is not at all bad.  In many respects it is empowering to individuals, young and old, who can more easily connect with ideas and organizations that resonate with their beliefs and interests.  But divergence is messy and poses a challenge to the field of philanthropy.  Where does philanthropy find common ground when the ground is expanding and shifting?

While David is skeptical of futurists, I’ll happily play the fool.  At Donors Forum's Annual Luncheon on June 23, Nicole Robinson of Kraft said, “Philanthropy can bring the public along by demystifying the message,” helping to create opportunities for people to engage with nonprofit organizations in new ways.  Yes, philanthropy can “bring along” organizations and individual supporters to new forms of relationship.

The recent Giving USA 2010 report again confirmed the leading role of individual givers in the world of philanthropy.  Individuals provide 75% of the $300 billion in charitable contributions made annually.  Beyond this, individuals largely provide the tax payments which pass through government structures to nonprofit organizations in an even greater magnitude.

Where philanthropy may find common ground is by assisting the nonprofit community to enable individuals to radically increase their direct financial support of nonprofits with whom they can now develop relationships of a type which were not possible to form in the past.  Amidst the divergence of our interests, we might converge to create greater individual financial commitment to our sector.

~ Clark McCain, Senior Program Officer, the Coleman Foundation

Note from the Editor: Attendees at Donors Forum's Annual Luncheon in 2010 were invited to comment on the keynote by David La Piana.  We are grateful to Clark McCain of the Coleman Foundation, a Donors Forum Member, for his post. Find other posts related to this topic hereWe invite comments and guests posts from other Members, Associate Members, Forum Partners, and friends of Donors Forum.