Frequently Asked Questions

Q. What is High Impact Philanthropy?

High Impact Philanthropy means getting the “good” for your philanthropic “buck.” It is the process by which a philanthropist makes the biggest difference possible, given the amount of capital invested. Click here to learn more.

Q. What does the Center do?

The Center for High Impact Philanthropy provides actionable and evidence-based guidance for individuals who want to ensure that their philanthropic funds make the greatest possible difference in the lives of others. We provide guidance to such impact-focused donors in a variety of ways: through public channels such as our blog, website, and social media that offer free access to much of our donor investment analysis; through donor intermediaries such as philanthropic advisors, wealth managers, and online platforms for giving; and directly through donor education programs and select consulting engagements.

Q. What makes you different?

Our position as a nonprofit located in a university setting allows us to access and bring together academic research, field experience, and informed opinion. We are able to present this integration of information in a way that can translate existing knowledge for the entire field of philanthropy. Instead of rating individual nonprofits or implementing strategies for donor clients, we focus our efforts on analyzing and highlighting successful models that donors should look for when seeking to make the biggest impact.

Our scope is global and not limited to any one social sector issue – for example, we have published work on global health, education, and the economic downturn. While our guidance has been helpful to a wide range of donors, our target audience is high net worth donors and their advisors, a segment that disproportionately influences the flow of philanthropic capital.

Q. How do you choose the projects you work on?

Multiple factors determine which projects we work on at any given time. They are:

  • Potential for social impact and whether there is an opportunity for private funds to make a difference. We make sure that what’s at stake is significant. We ask ourselves the question, with good information and better guidance would funders be prepared to act?
  • Our Capabilities We also focus on whether our team and our network are well positioned to give good guidance in a reasonable time frame. This involves our assessment of our collective skills, training, expertise, and partnerships, as well as our available financial resources. We do not rank causes and do not choose projects to simply advocate for causes.
  • Funder Interest Certain topics – how to measure and manage to impact, how to help in the immediate aftermath of a disaster, and in the US, how to improve education – typically generate high level of funder interest and therefore represent areas where our guidance might make a bigger difference.

Q. How can I directly support the Center’s work and its mission?

The Center for High Impact Philanthropy is not an endowed center. Additional financial support will allow us to expand our impact and further our mission of advancing the field of high impact philanthropy. Specific examples of how you can directly engage with our work include:

  • Hosting a donor forum to disseminate knowledge on approaches for high impact philanthropy
  • Supporting the launch of our analysis into new sectors
  • Funding Penn undergraduate and graduate fellows to work at the Center on addressing social impact and philanthropy issues

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact the Center at 215.573.7266.

You can make a gift to the Center for High Impact Philanthropy online by visiting the secure payment site at “Giving to Penn.”

Q. Do you teach?

Yes. We teach on the undergraduate, graduate and executive level both at the University of Pennsylvania and around the world. We also offer donor seminars and educational workshops throughout the year, both domestically and abroad, most recently in the US, Singapore and Colombia. Finally, the Center has also partnered and advised other organizations on their social impact educational offerings.

Q. Is your research only about cost-effective impact? Is there any room for innovation?

Innovation and research & development can be high impact opportunities. In a way, philanthropic funds are especially suited to innovation since funders can take on projects with a high level of risk or uncertainty that neither private commercial capital (with its required financial returns), or public financing (with its accountability to taxpayers/voters), can undertake. Our guidance often points to where philanthropic capital for innovation can be especially effective. However, assessing the potential for impact and the cost-effectiveness of such opportunities requires a different analytical approach than estimating the results and cost-effectiveness of a direct-service activity.

Q. Do you make grants?

We do not make grants, are not a source of funding for other nonprofits, and do not provide guidance on fundraising.

Q. How do you know that the Center is having an impact?

Ultimately, success to us means enabling more money to do more good. In order to understand our own impact, we rely on multiple indicators, including:

  • Indicators of consumption and awareness of our work (e.g, web visits and downloads; citations and shares within the philanthropic sector, through social media, and in the mainstream press)
  • Indicators of quality and utility (e.g., inquiries from international academic centers and consultancies, references in books and other publications; inquiries from funders and their advisors; requests for speaking, teaching, and advising)
  • Indicators of influence (e.g., peer referrals; survey results that indicate use; reports from funders and nonprofits regarding the influence of our work – from both survey results, as well as unsolicited feedback; educational program assessments; tracking of Center alumni and their roles).

Q. What is the Center’s relationship with Penn?

The Center is housed in Penn’s School of Social Policy & Practice (SP2) and governed by the Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania. The Center does not raise money for Penn or its programs, nor is its focus in any way limited to the University of Pennsylvania, its faculty, or alumni. However, because of this relationship with Penn, the Center has access to Penn’s invaluable resources such as libraries, world-renowned professors conducting cutting-edge academic research, and smart and passionate students who contribute to our work as research assistants.