How philanthropy can open up


Jane Dodson


What if… we were all more open? Open to the latest ideas, open to listening to others, and open to sharing what we have learnt? How much more could we achieve? How many more could we help?

This is the question at the heart of our new Open Philanthropy programme at NPC. We define Open Philanthropy as being transparent (outwardly open) and inclusive (inwardly open).

The pandemic has taught us all to do things differently. In the funding world, many have learnt that working together is better than being in competition. Networks such as London Funders and The Philanthropy Workshop have found that by working together they’ve been able to use a strong transparent evidence base to rapidly target specific areas of need. Sharing data, as with these London Datasets and 360 Giving, can accelerate strategy and light the way.

As we head into another tough winter, now feels like the right time to build on what we’ve learnt and explore how being more open can make giving more effective. If we design inclusivity into a project from the start, would we make a bigger strategic impact as a result?

We aim to find out. You can follow our thinking, experiments, and get involved yourself through NPC Labs.

Shaping the work

It may appear paradoxical to suggest that philanthropy can ever be open and inclusive. After all, philanthropy involves harnessing private wealth for societal benefit. But many funders are now wrestling with how they can be more inclusive – how they can be part of the solution rather than the problem when it comes to a lack of diversity and inclusion in society’s power structures.

What could that look like? We’re all so immersed in current practices, norms, and behaviours that it can be hard to imagine very different alternatives. But philanthropy could be very different!

The non-profit sector is of course very broad, so we’ll be focusing first on financial hardship. This issue is even more urgent now as food and fuel prices rise, adding to the pressures the pandemic has brought to many families. How could open philanthropy make a difference here?

We will ask those working in the sector – what are the key priorities, where are the gaps, and where are the opportunities?

Following a landscape analysis, we will work with others to co-design a strategy and an open funding cycle (inclusive and transparent) to pilot in the financial hardship space.

One thing that we know works, but is hard to get right, is listening to people with lived experience. The My Best Life project for example worked directly with young people to design access to key services, and there is much we can build upon from this in the wider sector. Whatever the issue, involving people in making decisions about how programmes are designed, how they are run, and how they can be improved can lead to greater efficacy, and create a powerful shift in perspectives.

We want to work with others to create a more open way of delivering funding that reflects lived experience, is scalable and replicable, and which can contribute to the wider open philanthropy movement. Along the way, we will examine how well the process is working, and what impact we should expect to achieve.                                               

Getting involved

We don’t have all the answers – that’s why openness is essential so we can bring in others who together might. We will be drawing on the work of others as well as our own research and sharing our progress as we develop the programme to create a pathway for others to follow, so please do be part of the process. There will be roundtables, workshops, and blogs to provide a chance to input and reflect. We will be humble, we will value all voices, we will listen carefully.

Join us in setting the vision – what will people say about this programme in three years? Will there be a thriving community of practice that can prioritise issues and mobilise funding quickly and effectively?

Nothing is off the table unless it’s how it has always been done. It’s time for a change. We know we can do better, and often the first steps are the hardest. Let’s take them together.

Read more about Open Philanthropy | NPC Labs (

Jane Dodson is NPC’s new Open Philanthropy Programme Manager. NPC is a think tank and consultancy helping funders, charities, and policymakers to maximise social impact.

Tagged in: Funding practice

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