Pledging for what?

Caroline Hartnell

The backdrop to putting this issue of Alliance to bed is the Gates-Buffett Giving Pledge, described on the Pledge website as ‘an effort to invite the wealthiest individuals and families in America to commit to giving the majority of their wealth to the philanthropic causes and charitable organizations of their choice either during their lifetime or after their death’. At the time of writing, 40 American billionaires had already signed up; Fortune magazine estimates the Pledge could generate as much as $600 billion in charitable giving.

Is this as good as it sounds? In an article for the Chronicle of Philanthropy titled ‘The Gates-Buffett Giving Pledge won’t do much good unless it changes philanthropy’, Pablo Eisenberg poses the key question: ‘Who will provide the leadership to increase the quality of philanthropy, not just the amount of money given?’ An editorial in the UK’s Guardian newspaper (7 August), while acknowledging the role of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in bringing ‘a new focus and a lot more cash to the fight against poverty and the diseases of poverty in sub-Saharan Africa’, points out that the vast majority of recipients of large individual donations, in the US and the UK, are arts foundations and universities. Unless these patterns change, the new wave of philanthropy will do little to solve global problems of poverty and inequity.

Another issue, according to Betsy Brill in her latest column for Forbes magazine, is the extent to which donors ‘choose to "spend down" their endowments within a specified timeframe thus providing funds directed at current needs’.

Enter the small but growing band of philanthropy advisers – the subject of the special feature in this issue of Alliance. Do they see it as their role to help steer their wealthy clients in the direction of solving global issues? Balancing social with donor needs is probably ‘the major factor that makes a donor services organization creative, innovative and relevant’, according to Olga Alexeeva. This is also the subject of an article called ‘Building a relationship of equals’ in which nine philanthropy advisers from around the world talk candidly about what happens when either good practice or their own views conflict with the wishes of the client.

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Seeking scale

Caroline Hartnell