Donor education comes to Europe

Salvatore LaSpada

Eight years ago the Rockefeller Foundation began The Philanthropy Workshop (TPW), an experiment in donor education that would extend beyond New York to include programmes in Argentina, Silicon Valley and, beginning in October, Europe.

The underlying assumption is that new donors, when given the right knowledge, skills and networks, will focus and increase their giving – a hypothesis proved correct in a 1999 evaluation of the programme. Rockefeller is now about to join forces with Germany’s Bertelsmann Foundation in extending TPW to Europe. What challenges will it face as it does so?

TPW was pioneered in the mid-1990s at a time when much new wealth was being created in the US and vibrant debate focused on the intergenerational transfer of wealth. Rockefeller, a globally recognized leader in strategic philanthropy, was naturally a place where new donors turned for guidance. The Foundation believed – and continues to believe – that it could make a significant contribution to meeting this growing demand by formally offering training in strategic philanthropy and conjectured that rather than offering advice on an individual basis there would be real power in bringing together networks of new donors for joint learning and collaboration. Thus was born The Philanthropy Workshop.

The TPW model

A programme in strategic, equity-targeted global giving, TPW works with a small cohort of up to 14 donors. The programme consists of four modules, each of which combines five basic elements: seminars on the great pressing issues of the day; skills-building sessions; extensive site visits to community-based organizations (CBOs); retreats; and networking opportunities. One module always takes place in a developing country.

The skills-building sessions look at issues such as how to bring strategy to philanthropy and build consensus among stakeholders. The aim is to encourage participants to take on leadership roles in addressing big problems and inspire others to follow their lead.

Site visits to poor communities allow participants to develop the experience, language and skills they need to partner with the poor. Often they do have the solutions to the problems they confront but they typically lack the financial and social capital needed to implement them. Negotiating expectations with CBOs visited can be a challenge, however. Needless to say, any door is open to a programme which seeks to visit with a group of donors. We have tried to reduce the not unnatural expectation that they will receive funding as a consequence by paying a small honorarium for their time and generosity, but it doesn’t eliminate the expectation.

Retreats close each module and enable participants to better understand the values driving their work and approaches they are taking. Finally, networking with other participants, the programme faculty, community leaders and TPW alumni, is a cornerstone of the programme as collaboration is central to our vision for philanthropy.

The developing country module
The programme has always included a developing country module[1] because we wanted to expose participants to the wealth of experimentation and innovation found in poor communities in the developing world and thereby encourage transfer elsewhere. It also enables participants to develop the fluencies needed for working and spreading innovations across borders, and helps increase giving to the global South by giving them the tools to do so. In fact, participants each contribute $5,000[2] to a pooled fund from which they make grants to CBOs visited.

The TPW alumni association
After completing the programme, participants join the TPW alumni association, a growing network of 140 individuals who are putting into action what they have learnt. They hold an annual reunion, and small groups have joined forces in funders’ collaboratives to identify an area of common interest, devise strategies for tackling problems in that area, and pool funds for collaborative grantmaking. To date, there are four such collaboratives.[3]

Challenges of starting up

Interests vary widely in each cohort. They tend to consist of a mix of entrepreneurs and inheritors, younger and older donors, and donors with varying levels of experience. One challenge is to meet the needs of individual participants while maintaining a core curriculum of basic knowledge and skills. We sought to reduce this tension by keeping cohorts small and by serving as a resource to individual participants between modules.

Another challenge is to recruit participants when you do not yet have a track record. We relied on networks and had the great advantage of the good name and reputation of the Rockefeller Foundation.

The new programme

In our new programme, to begin in October, half of the 14 participants will come from Europe and half from North America. We will conduct the opening module in New York and the second in January in Berlin and Slubice, on the German-Polish border. The third module will be the country breakout module, which will look at the development and regulation of philanthropy, the size, scope, role and challenges of the non-governmental sector in each country, philanthropy and the public policy process, and foundation governance. They will also include intensive one-on-one consultations with senior philanthropists and NGO leaders. Participants will be able to chose between Washington DC, London, Toronto, Hamburg and Spain.

Our final module will take place in Thailand in June 2004. Here participants will make grants to local CBOs from the pooled fund of $70,000 – in what should prove a valuable exercise in collaborative grantmaking.

Establishing TPW in Argentina …

Our past experiences in extending and adapting the programme in Argentina and Silicon Valley will be instructive as we look to move across the Atlantic. We will aim to keep the grounding values and basic methodology at the core of the programme while also adapting to local contexts and concerns.

Our first attempt at an international extension of TPW happened in Argentina in 1999. When the economy collapsed, it was not clear that there would be a market of participants for the programme, but enrolment in fact increased as donors saw an even greater need to leverage social change with their philanthropic dollars (now in many cases converted to philanthropic pesos at a fraction of their original value!). Looking ahead to the need to sustain philanthropy, Gabriel Berger, the visionary director of the non-profit management programme at the University of San Andres, who was running the programme, made a conscious decision to reach out more proactively to younger donors, even if their capacity to give was still relatively small. Introducing shorter but more frequent modules enabled TPW to reach out to this new group of donors, whose family and work responsibilities might otherwise prohibit them from participating. While there were clearly immediate needs to be met in the face of a collapsed economy, rising unemployment and growing social unrest, the programme made a conscious decision to invest strategically in the future by ensuring that there would be a new generation of donors in the pipeline.

… and on the West Coast

TPW/West, was launched in 2001 in response to the increasing demand for donor education on the West Coast of the US, a new global hub for philanthropy, with the collaboration of the Rockefeller, Hewlett and TOSA Foundations. As Christine Sherry, Director of TPW/West, notes: ‘TPW/West is in a unique position not only to leverage the knowledge base and expertise found at Rockefeller, but also to call on the Hewlett Foundation’s complementary strengths in programme areas like education and population, and the creativity and innovation of TOSA, a young Silicon Valley-based foundation.’

While the basic model follows the original programme, TPW/West has new themes and approaches of its own. An example is the Washington DC module, which explores a variety of current policy issues from a national perspective, links it to local non-profit initiatives in the Western US, and attempts to identify creative intersections between private philanthropy and the policy process. It has developed innovative learning modules that look at environmental issues, media advocacy, and new philanthropy trends like venture philanthropy and social capital market development.

… and now in Europe

While we are enormously excited about moving into Europe, we are conscious of the challenges we face in bringing together donors from North America and Europe. While their varied cultures will add significantly to the richness of conversations and analysis, we will need to be sensitive to differences in language, world view, working frameworks and, above all, cultures of giving. For example, a historic distrust of state authorities has led to increased private action in the US, but the view that ‘the state knows best’ is still common in Europe, causing the European non-profit sector to remain very traditional and not yet fully developed as a third pillar of society.

A further challenge is that while participants seek many of the same ends and many strategies will be applicable in any setting, contexts and legal frameworks will be quite different between countries. US giving mechanisms, donor education and networks are well developed but have only been partly transferred to Europe. Cooperation, information sharing, accountability and transparency also tend to be less developed in Europe. We need to think about how to bridge these differences. Geography is another challenge – we are very conscious of the challenges involved in sustaining a growing network which spans even more distant countries.

One way we plan to do this is by making the third module a country breakout module tailored specifically to participants’ interests. As there are few donor support systems in Europe equivalent to the affinity groups of grantmakers in the US, it becomes even more important, according to Felicitas von Peter of the Bertelsmann Foundation, ‘to open up channels of communication to the leading players in the European non-profit scene and establish networks of donors interested in similar issues’. The fact that the Bertelsmann Foundation, as the biggest operating foundation in Europe, is so well connected internationally will be a big asset for TPW, allowing it to serve as ‘mediator’ between the European and American philanthropic traditions.

In spite of the legal, fiscal and cultural differences between Europe and the US, TPW participants share a common conviction that individuals can address social and political issues. In addition, we will have a number of younger participants who have grown up as ‘Europeans’, moving from one country to another and sharing a common cultural language. While we have to be aware of cultural differences between the participating countries, the overarching questions addressed in the programme will form a shared background to the exchange of ideas and learning among participants.

1 TPW cohorts have visited Bangladesh, Kenya, Brazil, India, South Africa and Argentina.

2 In addition to tuition fees of $12,500.

3 To date, there are four such collaboratives: the Youth Justice Funding Collaborative (seeks to create policy changes in the troubled US juvenile justice system); the MexFund (supports environmentally sustainable economic development in poor rural communities in Mexico); the Islam & Civil Society Grants Initiative (supports grassroots human rights civil society organizations in Pakistan and Egypt); and the Burma Fund (supports Burmese refugees on the Thai border).

For information about TPW/West, contact Christine Sherry at

For information about the Argentine programme, contact Dr Gabriel Berger at

For more information about the new US/Europe programme, contact Salvatore Laspada at or Felicitas von Peter, Director of the Philanthropy and Foundation Division, Bertelsmann Foundation, at

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