Philanthropy's Current and New Stakeholders

Building a Common Vision for an Expanded Future

Millennium Communications Group, Inc.

1999, 23 pages. Final report of collaborative research project, Millennium Communications Group, Inc., 58 Salem Street, Andover, Massachusetts 01810.

Although its main focus seems to be on exploring ways of expanding philanthropy among new donors, Philanthropy's Current and New Stakeholders: Building a Common Vision for an Expanded Future also offers some interesting — and disturbing — observations on how traditional philanthropy is viewed.

The Millennium Communications Group, Inc. study was commissioned by the Forum of Regional Associations of Grantmakers for its members and the grantees of its New Ventures in Philanthropy Initiative to develop strategies to strengthen connections between existing foundations and their communities and stakeholders and to provide assistance for those working on planning and implementation of the Forum's New Ventures project. Research, which included focus groups and individual interviews, was done in six communities or regions of the country.

The disturbing part of the report — at least for current grantmakers — is that successful grantees (those that had received funds and represented a broad range of the nonprofit world) had more bad than good to say about organized philanthropy. Words used to describe foundations: intimidating, burdensome, isolated, risk-averse, inconsistent, mysterious, and white. Rarely used words: thought- provoking, creative, or innovative.

Leaders from policy organizations, state and local government, the media, business, and higher education did not have negative things to say about foundations — they simply said they knew very little about them. These leaders said they rarely encountered foundation representatives and knew little about the work of foundations.

“Policy leaders, and to a lesser extent the media, felt that this information/relationship ‘vacuum’ was dangerous to foundations, especially in an environment of fiscal scarcity and periodic flare-ups over tax exemptions and payout requirements,” the report said.

The research also included conversations with financial advisers and with entrepreneurs who had created (or were creating) wealth through companies they had started and grown.

The report concludes that one of the challenges facing the Forum and its members is how to create a new contemporary philanthropy hybrid of the traditional — “viewed by many as isolated, arrogant, sluggish, and overly transactional but also comprehensive in the funding areas it touches and concerned with ‘fairness’ in the sense of sustaining a long term concern for justice and equity issues” — and the new — conveying “agility, energy, action, and personal caring but also seen as somewhat eclectic, market driven...and not as concerned with underlying systemic issues and challenges.”

The report summarizes preliminary presentations and reports made over the course of the project that focus in more depth on the topics raised in this summary document.

Review by Deena Epstein, The George Gund Foundation.