Co-creating a new narrative for philanthropy in Europe


Liana Varon


PEXForum 2020 brought together European philanthropy networks and regional, global thematic networks in Madrid for the first time. Hosted by the Spanish Association of Foundations (AEF) and Donors and Foundations Networks in Europe (DAFNE) and facilitated by the Sense Tribe, the Forum offered a rich content and thought provoking discussions in a highly interactive environment!

In his opening speech, DAFNE Chair Felix Oldenburg set the stage for the discussions emphasizing that today philanthropy is more threatened and needed than ever. Oldenburg claimed the main challenges philanthropy faces today are the urgent and complex problems we face, the political climate and the changes brought by digital disruption. He highlighted that even under these circumstances the potential growth of philanthropic giving as wealth increases, the emerging models and methods of philanthropy and the possibilities for cross sector cooperation continue to be the opportunities we can cultivate.

Philanthropy networks and support organizations work to strengthen the role, recognition and impact of their members and philanthropic sector at large. Accordingly, the Forum focused on three main topics: communications, advocacy and data. Participants were invited to think about ways to enhance collaboration in the philanthropic sector, advocate for a more enabling environment that will help philanthropy thrive and join their forces to develop ways to work with actors from the public and private sectors and civil society to tackle the complex problems of our time.

From a broader perspective, many of the discussions at the Forum was also a call to make a compelling case for philanthropy and foundation sector at a time where there is an increasing scrutiny and criticism against why it exists, how it operates and if it is effective at all. In this sense, communications, advocacy and data can also be considered as effective tools to redefine and effectively communicate the value proposition of philanthropy, to present its impact and to advocate for a better legal and fiscal environment that will support its growth. My main takeaways from the Forum were:

  1. It is possible to co-create a narrative for philanthropy. One that focuses on its historical role, that talks about its shared values and the ways it touches our lives. A narrative that tells the story of different philanthropies without only focusing on the philanthropic giving by the wealthy.
  2. Our response to the criticisms on philanthropy can also become a part of the story we tell. Like in the example of the “Foundations – a good deal for society” study done by Swiss Foundations and PWC which initally started as a response to the criticisms that foundations are used as a tool to evade from taxes.
  3. While it is not sufficient by itself, data must be an essential part of our narrative when we want to advocate for and communicate philanthropy. In this sense, Ariadne and Candid’s Advancing Human Rights Initiative not only presents the volume of global grantmaking in support of rights based organizations but also looks at its impact from a broader lens.

Looking back at the PEXForum 2020, I am thinking that there is great value behind this call to co-create the narrative of philanthropy that will help us get more connected. A narrative that talks about our shared values, causes we support and what unities us; but at the same time that reflects on the criticisms especially the ones that questions the way we operate.

Overall, PEXForum 2020 was a vibrant and wonderfully curated event that provided an opportunity to discuss many topics that will play a significant role in the future of philanthropy and I am looking forward to the next gathering in Istanbul!

Liana Varon is Coordinator at the Support Foundation for Civil Society

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