From The San Diego Union Tribune
By Nancy Jamison
I have the good fortune to work with philanthropists every single day. Not Warren Buffett or Bill and Melinda Gates, but good people right here in San Diego County who are all, in their own ways, making a significant contribution to the well-being of our community. Nearly everyone can be a philanthropist – and you don't have to have billions.
Philanthropy – which translates from Greek as “love of mankind” – is no longer the domain of the Rockefellers and Carnegies. Today's philanthropy is much more widespread, democratic and even scientific.
And while stupendous gifts will always make the front page, wonderful hometown philanthropy happens every day, with smaller dollar amounts but huge benefits for nonprofit agencies and the people they serve. As an article in a recent issue of The Economist magazine stated, “the $1.5-billion that Mr. Buffett will contribute each year over the coming decades is only a small addition to the total contributions from the rest of us. In fact, it is just about one-half of 1 percent of the $260-billion that Americans gave to charity last year. The knowledge of how to use charitable dollars effectively turns out to be a much rarer commodity than the dollars themselves.”
In other words, while giving away money can be an easy and fun thing to do, it requires some homework to ensure that your charitable dollars will have the desired results.
Late last year, I became the executive director of a membership organization called San Diego Grantmakers. Our purpose is to connect, educate, develop and inspire a diverse group of foundations and corporations to stimulate effective philanthropy in the San Diego region.
We have 81 members – including family foundations, community foundations, independent foundations and corporate giving programs. Our members are committed to making a difference in ways that have true and lasting impact.
They carefully analyze and work with the groups that serve our most underserved populations. They study community needs not addressed by the public sector and fill in the gaps in a professional and fair manner. They anticipate trends and leverage dollars. They are working more strategically, because they know that charitable donations alone will not solve society's problems.
I hope that the focus on Buffett and Gates leads to more and better giving, and that more successful business people make similar choices about how to spend their time and money. It is not just the super-rich who can decide to donate money strategically. Current and future philanthropists can learn lessons here as well.
The Gates Foundation has systems in place to carefully evaluate the performance of its grants – and change things if it is not getting the results sought. It does so with rigorous analysis, using best practices in evaluation and benchmarking.
This is a trend in grant-making that will benefit the social sector. Nearly all San Diego Grantmakers members are exploring how to do evaluation on a scale that makes sense for them. It is not as easy as it seems in the business world, because positive outcomes mean more than just making money – and the reason the need exists in the first place is that other efforts have failed.
Gates and Buffett are partnering, collaborating, joining together to create greater benefit. This, too, is a trend in philanthropy. If I have $1,000 to give away and you have $1,000, let's give it to the same worthy nonprofit organization so that it can really accomplish something.
In San Diego, we have powerful examples of such pooled efforts and funding. The Homelessness Working Group, San Diego Neighborhood Funders, the San Diego Women's Foundation, San Diego Social Venture Partners, the Jewish Women's Foundation and the San Diego HIV/AIDS Funding Collaborative are just a few. They operate on the same basic principle: working together to understand problems and then funding together for bigger, better impact.
This collaborative approach is also known as “giving circles.” Anyone can participate – billions not required. There is a giving circle in South Carolina called Dining for Women. Friends get together for a potluck and then donate what they would have paid had they gone out to dinner. They spend the evening socializing and researching prospective recipients. It's a “Giving Club” instead of a “Book Club.” They may be giving away hundreds of dollars instead of billions – but they are still making a positive difference in the lives of others.
At San Diego Grantmakers, we believe in helping philanthropists of all shapes and sizes give in ways that increase the quality of life for everyone in our community. Ultimately we can all join the same club that Bill, Melinda and Warren belong to – the club of generous people who choose to use their personal or corporate resources in an organized and intelligent way to help others, to help our country, to help the planet. It is a club that I am extremely proud to be associated with, and I hope that even more San Diegans will join.