Philanthropy is a little bit like the Döberitzer Heide in the state of Brandenburg: wide and open. Donors often enter the field because they want to give back to society, or perhaps they are passionate about a cause… and/or their tax advisor. Many people have written articles about the reasons for giving.
But how do foundation CEOs, project managers, third-sector analysts and philanthropy advisors end up in this sector? Looking at my own biography I sometimes wonder how I ran ashore in philanthropy-land following a degree in North American studies and anthropology and my first job with an education NGO. Yes, there are some hints there and I had some useful skills on board for exploring the land but nevertheless I would not have been able to tell you at the end of the university that philanthropy-land was the land I wanted to travel to. Talking with other people in the field I get a sense that this experience is true for many. There may be variations between countries with a stronger philanthropic tradition and others, but overall you hear similar career stories.
It is also true that the professionalization of the field is growing. There are various university programs for not-for-profit management that also cover aspects of philanthropy. In Germany you get a sense that this is one of the fields with the highest growth rates of masters programs: Berlin, Heidelberg, Munster, Osnabruck, Friedrichshafen, etc. It looks like we do not have to worry about the future of field.
It is interesting that the landscape also includes a great variety of further education institutions. The Association of German Foundations and the Stifterverband run a foundation academy that offers a variety of certified courses. In addition faith-based welfare organizations offer special foundation management courses because they often run many foundations under their umbrella. Such a diverse landscape must also reflect a demand for such expertise.
In December I was asked to teach a session at one of the latest additions to this landscape. Last autumn, the Stiftungszentrum Munich, the Fundraising Akademie and Phineo launched a further education program for philanthropy advisors. The target group of the program is people that advise or want to advise individuals, families, foundations and corporations on their giving. An interesting feature of this program is that it combines knowledge on the field with skills and tools. What are the skills you need to work in philanthropy? Managing a project? Leading a focused conversation? Analysing a not-for- profit? Empathy? The program in Munich is a pilot and still running. It will be interesting to see how the curriculum will be adapted after the first class ends the course.
I am wondering whether I would have taken different roads in philanthropy-land after such a program? Would it have helped me to avoid some of the mistakes I have made that actually turned out to be some of the biggest learning experiences? It will be interesting to see how philanthropy will change through this diverse landscape of educational programs and its graduates.
Michael Alberg-Seberich is managing partner of Active Philanthropy