Kat Rosqueta in Stanford Social Innovation Review: For impact, rethink the fundamentals

Kat Rosqueta, founding executive director of the Center for High Impact Philanthropy, writes on the need to rethink who we’re talking about when we talk about philanthropy in her piece “Philanthropy Needs to Focus on ‘Who,’ Not Just ‘How'” in Stanford Social Innovation Review’s 20th-anniversary edition. Her piece appears beside the work of some of the world’s leading researchers, thinkers, and practitioners in the social impact space. Read on for an excerpt from the piece.

Since I came to the University of Pennsylvania to launch the Center for High Impact Philanthropy, there have been many developments in how philanthropy is practiced. These include the growth of donor-advised funds, new technology platforms that integrate everyday giving into our purchases, the emergence of effective altruism, and the rise in popularity of giving circles, to name just a few. All of these are innovations in how we practice philanthropy.

But for philanthropy to contribute to social innovation and produce sustainable, positive change, we need to rethink who we’re talking about when we talk about philanthropy. Who do we consider a philanthropist? Who receives philanthropic support? Who has the power to decide where philanthropic resources flow?

Who Do We Consider a Philanthropist?

Today, people still associate the term “philanthropist” with a wealthy businessman giving away huge sums of money in highly visible ways to large nonprofit institutions. For philanthropy to advance the kind of sustainable, positive change we all seek, we instead need to embrace the word’s original meaning.

The word philanthropy comes from the Greek “philia,” meaning love, and “anthropos,” meaning human. Yet, “love of humanity” is not the connotation many people have when they think about philanthropy. This was made clear to me more than 15 years ago when we were conducting interviews for our center’s first publication. Though our team considered her a philanthropist, one interviewee insisted she wasn’t, explaining that she was “just someone who saw a need, wanted to help, and could.”

If we embrace that interviewee’s description of herself and the original meaning of the word, then I see philanthropists everywhere. If we further broaden philanthropy to include gifts of time and talent, both formal and informal, then the resources available for social innovation are significant, as is the potential for more lasting change. That’s because our commitment to causes deepens the more we identify and feel a personal connection to them.