A Philanthropist’s Guide to the Future

Posted by Michael & Susan Dell Foundation on May 22, 2017

Presented by the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation

The points of entry have grown more diverse, the attitudes more humble and inclusive, the tactics more sophisticated.

This belief came from our own experience, based on what we were seeing in the field. But were others experiencing the same thing? What did they see happening? Were there opportunities emerging for a new wave of philanthropists?

The more we asked questions like these, the more we felt it was time to document the trajectory of social impact work — to get specific about the attitudes, strategies and sentiments that are shaping its future. On the one hand, we wanted to broaden our perspective and get better at our own work. But we also wanted to provide some context, some common footing, for anyone who wants to make an impact but feels stuck, stymied, confused about where to start, or simply curious about what it means to achieve social change.

To get a full lay of the land, we surveyed 692 social impact professionals about why they work, how they work and what they think will enhance their work. For deeper insights into their mindsets and experiences, we interviewed 15 of our survey respondents, including social entrepreneurs, experts from NGOs, government officials, nonprofit leadership and people who’ve lived in the face of urban poverty and have found a way out.

Here’s an interesting insight: In our survey, 71 percent of respondents said it’s useful to learn what makes each other successful in achieving impact. That’s a number we expected and understand. But 76 percent said it’s useful to learn about each other’s failures and pitfalls. And that should catch our attention.

Why are people more interested to hear what’s not working? We want that information because it’s immensely instructive. We all want to know which pitfalls we can avoid in our own work. Most of the time, though, each of us has to find out for ourselves: Only 14 percent of respondents feel that their peers often share their failures. We’re running in parallel, but not in sync.

We hope this report can start to change that. There’s a new calculus for identifying problems and mobilizing solutions. And a stronger consensus than you might assume. Adapting to these shifts, and embracing each other’s lessons earned, will make everyone — us included — more effective.


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