Who gives? To whom do people give? These are questions that are raised during many conferences on philanthropy. Some people claim that giving is an elite phenomenon, even though surveys again and again document that giving is, overall, a crowd sourcing phenomenon. The coin given by the person on the street makes the difference for most civil society organisations.
The other side of the coin is the ongoing debate over whether foundations and wealthy donors really reach the needy. Which are the underserved communities in our societies? In the USA this discussion has resulted in various research projects. One example is the project ‘Criteria for Philanthropy at its Best’, by the National Committee for Responsive Grantmaking in Washington, DC. The project lays out a set of guidelines to help foundations to ‘operate ethically and maximize the impact of their dollars’. This January the Association of German Foundations presented a mapping study on how and where foundations support socially underserved youth in Germany. Let’s hope that this debate helps to refocus some of the national and international giving.
Givers and recipients are crucial ingredients of the giving equation. Two current stories from Europe show that this equation is (often) taken seriously. In one case, technology, the crowd and entrepreneurship are the drivers for change. In the other case, the drivers for change are a crisis and legacy.
Deutschland rundet auf (Germany rounds up)
The countdown is running. On 1 March, every consumer will be able to round up at 37,875 cash registers at more than 11,785 retail stores in Germany. The shopper can give up to ten cents to support the growth of social enterprises in Germany. If just one out of a hundred of the 50 million consumers in Germany gives one cent this way, Deutschland rundet auf will collect €2 million for charitable causes. In 2012 the organisation will focus on the support of underserved children and youth in Germany.
Technology allows an easy transfer of the funds from the cash register. A guiding principle of the founding team is that every cent collected will be passed on to the grantees. The participating retailers pay a partnership fee to take part in the scheme. This fee covers the overhead of Deutschland rundet auf and is based on a solid business idea. The organisation is a good example of how giving can be made easy for everybody. The coming months will show whether ‘rounding up’ becomes a shopping habit.
Current grant of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation
The budget crisis in Greece is in the news every day. It is too bad that in such times encouraging news is not picked up. I was startled by a news item on the website of the European Foundation Centre at the end of January. The Stavros Niarchos Foundation, founded in 1996 after the death of the Greek businessman Stavros Niarchos, announced a €100 million commitment to support people in need and future generations in Greece now. The grant is a direct reaction to the crisis in Greece. It is aligned with a set of flexible but clear criteria to ensure the impact of this ‘economic stimulus’. It is a noteworthy effort based on the legacy of a foundation, and it is a bold step. It is an effort to support citizens that have suddenly become part of an underserved community.
These two stories demonstrate the strengths of new and old philanthropy. They show that in the end we need both large and small donors committed to society. It is good when we all can give no matter how big or small the amount. Every penny, every cent can have an impact. It is important that donors stay flexible and open-minded towards the world that we live in. It is the only way philanthropy can serve those in need.
1 Declaration of interest: Active Philanthropy, the organization the author is a partner of, has a professional relationship with Deutschland Rundet Auf.
Michael Alberg-Seberich is managing partner at Active Philanthropy