Book Review: Creative Philanthropy (Fall 2006 Trust Magazine briefing)

Oct 23, 2006

If the world around them changes, why do some foundations continue with the same approach they’ve always used? They shouldn’t—if they seek to maintain and increase the scope and sustainability of their social impact.

That is the thesis of Creative Philanthropy (Routledge, 2006) by British professors Helmut Anheier and Diana Leat. They discuss how philanthropy has evolved and why foundations ought to move with the times to accomplish the most good in today’s society.

Through vignettes and case studies of organizations that follow all or some of the “rules of creative philanthropy,” they study the Trusts as well as the Annie E. Casey Foundation, The Carnegie United Kingdom Trust, The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, The Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust, The Rosenberg Foundation, The Victorian Women’s Trust and The Wallace Foundation.

The chapter on the Trusts explores the organization’s history as well as its relatively new status as a public charity: “The move to a public charity was possible because of the way in which the Trusts [was] set up. The change was designed to give a new flexibility to try additional ways of strengthening existing work,” say the authors.

They note that the Trusts chooses issues in which it can make a substantial difference or provide analysis and data so policy makers will be informed as they try and solve societal problems. Their examples include current pre-K investments and efforts on children’s health care done in the 1990s. They also highlight the Trusts’ internal workings, including Pew University (staff development) and the agenda process that prepares materials for the board.

The presentation about the Trusts must be read with caution: While the book was published this year, much of the information dates to 2004 and even to 2001, so some of the work described and the approaches are outdated. This is somewhat ironic in a book encouraging philanthropic organizations to keep pace with change.

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