Philanthropy Action

Analysis, Interviews, and Reviews


Does the world need a publication about poverty-focused philanthropy? We thought it did two years ago when we launched Beyond Philanthropy under the umbrella of Geneva Global. And we still think so now that we are independent. It is no easier now than it was two decades ago for donors to determine where best to invest the money they give – in the hundreds, thousands or millions – to truly help alleviate the burden of poverty. The philanthropy sector needs more intelligent discussion from the donor perspective.

One of the things that almost everyone agrees on is that philanthropy does not accomplish nearly as much as it could. The unique structure of an industry based primarily on altruism leads to some skewed results. We believe part of that skewing happens because market dynamics are not actively in play. Donors have little access to information on what works. Nonprofits are not subject to the same kind of productive competition that forces for-profit companies to make better products or provide better service. Nor is it always entirely clear who the “customer” is in the relationship: Is it the donor or the end recipient? Thus a lot of money goes to areas that are either trendy or emotionally resonant, but not necessarily effective.

Our vision is for philanthropy to evolve into a sector that is more thoughtful and effective, in which everyone involved gets more. Donors get more done with their funds, effective non-profits find it easier to raise necessary resources, beneficiaries get the most out of the altruism that drives the industry. We want to see money move to places where it does the most good and away from where it does the least. In short, we want philanthropy and, by extension, philanthropic initiatives to behave more like a market. We recognize that markets have failings and aren’t appropriate or feasible in all situations. Where they aren’t, we want the available alternatives to be based on knowledge about what is truly helpful.

The two bedrocks of well-functioning markets are trust and information. Historically in philanthropy there has been too much trust built on shaky foundations and not enough information. The trust existed out of wishful thinking and a lack of alternatives, but it is eroding now, not just on account of the recent high-profile nonprofit scandals, but because of the lack of follow-up insights into what donor money does, for whom, to what end.

Our mission, then, is to help correct the information vacuum in philanthropy and to serve as part of the knowledge infrastructure required for an efficient market to develop. It is important to note that our concerns focus wholly in the domain of knowledge, not data. The annual report of the Gates Foundation, or the details of who gave how much to whom are much less interesting to us than informed analysis of best practices in, for example, microfinance. Others, we hope, will provide the data – our role is to help make sense of what that data means, to the end of helping donors, small-scale and large, make better decisions.

Poverty will remain our area of focus. More specifically, we intend to write about economic development, health, education and human rights, as well as the sources of money for poverty interventions, including philanthropy, foreign aid, and social investing. The Poverty Action blog is just the beginning. In short order, it will be a full website, the flexibility of which will allow us to complement the blog content with opinion pieces, reported articles, interviews, reviews, lists and other media. For those who know our work from Beyond Philanthropy, thank you for sticking with us; for new readers, welcome. Together, we can change philanthropy for the better.


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