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The Year in onPhilanthropy: The Biggest Stories of 2006

By Tom Watson on December 20, 2006No Comment

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The Year in onPhilanthropy: The Biggest Stories of 2006
By: Tom Watson, 12/21/06


When the great histories of American philanthropy are set to paper a generation from now, 2006 will be remembered as the Year of the Titan – a time when massive sums were committed to noble causes and the very definition of “philanthropy” began to change from the top down.

You know the big names, of course – philanthropists rivaled Tom and Katie for magazine cover dominance – yet some of the big stories flew under the radar of the national press. All year, onPhilanthropy walked the giving beat to bring you coverage that wasn’t “from” either the giving or the getting side, but rather the perspective of the entire sector. Yes, philanthropy truly is a sector, both a consumer marketplace and a vital driver of causes – and perhaps that was the biggest trend of all in the last year.

Here are onPhilanthropy’s Top 10 stories of 2006 – we welcome your alternatives, of course!

1. Warren Buffett

Back in June, we wrote this line: “If you were looking for the starting line in the super-hyped ‘transfer of wealth’ between one generation and the next and its direct implications for American philanthropy all you had to do was  listen to Warren Buffett today.” And that lead holds up. The mega-investor’s mega-gift is a no-brainer as story of the year.

Buffett’s commitment of $37 billion to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is the largest gift ever, and a clear, brilliantly-lit marker on the philanthropy landscape – both an inspiration and a challenge to two different generations of Americans. It also raised questions of scale, of governance, and of effectiveness. As our own Dr. Susan Raymond wrote:

“You face both a challenge and an opportunity.  The challenge is that, in 40 years, governments of the industrialized world have spent $2.3 trillion on foreign assistance.  Most recent studies have shown no relationship between that expenditure and real economic growth or self-reliance.  The opportunity is to show that private philanthropy can do a better job.”

Transfer of Wealth Begins With Hand-off From Buffett to Gates

An Open Letter to Warren Buffett:

2. Clinton Global Initiative

In only two years, former President Bill Clinton’s CGI has become the go-to conference for real change and cross-sector cooperation. More than 55 former or current heads of state, First Lady Laura Bush, and a who’s who of philanthropists gathered for three days of peace, love, and understanding in New York – and CGI came away with more than $7 billion in commitments to change the world. More than one analyst commented that CGI has become a government-in-exile – both in terms of the U.S. Presidency and the United Nations. The big question: how the commitments will really work in the out years.

Clinton Global Initiative Special Report

3. Google

What to make of the emergence of as a for-profit philanthropy? Hard to say – and it may be hard to say for quite a few years. Nonetheless, Google’s hard charge into philanthropy and its dominance of new media makes this a very big story indeed. As Dr. Raymond remarked: “How is this “philanthropy?”  The end is socially driven, but the means are the beauty of capitalism carried out largely in the marketplace. Clearly, The End of Definitions is upon us. This is a good thing.  Change reflects the adjustment of institutions and intellects to the realities of life.”

Google’s Philanthropy: The End of Definitions

4. Richard Branson

The book-end to Google’s “philanthropy” was Sir Richard Branson’s “giving,” which he announced at the Clinton confab. All the profits from Virgin’s transport businesses will be ploughed back into developing alternative fuels; much of the funding will go to for-profit companies, some owned by Branson. Yet, he could just put the profits into his pocket. Again, “philanthropy?” Who knows. Philanthropic? Yes. Effective? Time will tell. We’ll be watching.

Virgin and Google: But Is It Philanthropy?

5. Celebrities

Bono and Friends would be an excellent title for this year’s philanthropy record, if there were one. It was hard to turn around without seeing another celebrity embracing philanthropy, traveling to Africa, fighting disease or poverty or oppression.

We Still Haven’t Found What We’re Looking For

6. Senator Charles Grassley

Senate hearings on potential changes in the regulation of nonprofits, led by frequent nonprofit critic Grassley, a Republican from Iowa, had the sector wondering about big changes in Federal law. As onPhilanthropy contributor contributor Paul Firstenberg noted: “These developments would seem to carry a clear message: tax exempt organizations should move quickly to get their own house in order before changes are legislated.”

Preparing Nonprofit Directors for the Coming Changes in Governance

7. Cause Marketing

Consumer products of all shapes and sizes and their brand managers discovered philanthropy this year, as cause marketing exploded. It’s everywhere, from the corner grocer to the biggest of big boxes to online stores and luxury peddlers. Back in June, we wrote: “Remember the phrase, ‘you are what you drive?’ You can apply it to what you eat, where you live, what you wear, watch or listen to – and how you give.” Marketers understood this in 2006 more completely than ever before. And nonprofits, a Changing Our World study found, are now spending billions to reach consumers.

Modern Philanthropy: Bring Out the Consumer Brands

Consumer Philanthropy: Nonprofits Spend Billions to Reach Consumers
Changing Our World Pegs Marketing Spending at $7.6 Billion Annually

8. The Nobel

Contributor Bodi Luse nailed it: Mohammad Yunus calls Grameen a social business enterprise. What he means by this is different from the typical definition of social enterprise as a business created by a nonprofit to generate income. Grameen, on the other hand, is a for-profit business whose purpose is to create profits for a social purpose. It’s an interesting distinction.

Business for Peace
9. Blogs and Media

You’ve seen the magazine covers, the special segments on television, the sections in the newspaper, the philanthropy columnists. Heck, philanthropy made the cover of the Economist twice in one year! Philanthropy hit the mainstream media this year, but it also found a big place in the blogosphere – 2006 was the year of the philanthropy blog; indeed we launched two blogs here. Citizen media written and consumed by participants, not by sideline observers helps to change the public conversation, and it’s changing what we’ve come to think of philanthropy.

Special Coverage of Blogs

Future Leaders in Philanthropy Blog
10. Don’t Compete, Collaborate

If there was a cliche of the year in philanthropy, it was “collaboration.” Even Bill Gates doesn’t want to go it alone in backing causes – he’s looking for partners. Bill Clinton’s gathering of bigshots was all about leverage and collaboration. Truth is, with a million nonprofits plus religious organizations and international philanthropies all looking for donor dollars – as well as solutions to the world’s ills – we’d better all collaborate, because there clearly isn’t enough money to go around.

Milken Lessons: Collaborate Across Sectors

And on that note, we wish you a happy and peaceful 2007 – and what the heck, let’s collaborate! We’d love to hear your ideas, concerns, and thoughts.

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