If you’ve heard it (or read it) once, you’ve heard it a thousand times: ‘Today’s donors are different.’ Left at that, the statement would be true, if innocuous and obvious. Every generation of donors will be different from those who came before, shaped by their unique historical context, inevitably quite different from that of their forebears. Unfortunately, the statement is almost invariably followed by (say it with me now!): ‘They care about measuring impact.’
That simple sentence includes two bold implicit claims. First, that earlier generations of philanthropists did not care about impact enough to measure it. Second, that some large new set of philanthropists genuinely care about impact enough to materially change the way they operate.
Did earlier philanthropists really not care about impact?
When caught up in discussions about impact measurement and new metrics it’s easy to lose sight of what a literally incredible claim the first is. Pause for a moment and try to imagine a foundation president, programme officer or large private donor of any era handing over a cheque to a charity and saying, ‘Do whatever you want with this, we don’t really care’.