The value compass: the five Cs of ‘positive philanthropy development’


Michael Alberg-Seberich

Michael Alberg-Seberich

Michael Alberg-Seberich

It is always worthwhile to look over the fence of your own field. In philanthropy this should come naturally, since we deal with such diverse fields as climate change, poverty prevention, the arts or education. This work can take place in your local community, your home country or somewhere else on this planet or even in space. During this work you meet people from all walks of life like preschoolers, scientists, farmers, homeless people, government administrators and business people. Philanthropy, in the end, is about learning and developing a better understanding of issues day by day.

The importance of this dawned on me again during a recent trip to the US. Together with a group of representatives of German foundations, I had a chance to meet with Professor Richard Lerner, the head of the Institute of Applied Research in Youth Development at Tufts University. Professor Lerner’s work has been part of a series of rigorous research projects that established evidence for an asset-based approach in work with young people all over the world. This work underlines the importance of the ‘five Cs’ (competence, confidence, connection, character and caring) introduced by Rick Little, the founder of the International Youth Foundation, for the positive development of a child.

Listening to the Cs, I got the impression that they could also be the basis for a more positive, asset-based development of philanthropy. Applying the concept to philanthropy is a hypothetical mind game. Let’s try it out! The five Cs and their definitions are:

  • Competence: ‘Positive view of one’s actions in domain specific areas including social, academic, cognitive, and vocational…’

Transfer to philanthropy: Philanthropy is an extremely diverse field. Each donor should identify his or her key competences and explore them further. Based on these strengths, a more focused giving strategy can be developed.

  • Confidence: ‘An internal sense of overall positive self-worth and self-efficacy; one’s global self-regard, as opposed to domain specific beliefs.’

Transfer to philanthropy: Doubt is a way to reflect on what we do. Philanthropy often appears to be the field of doubt. We should remember that we take a risk to change things for the better.

  • Connection: ‘Positive bonds with people and institutions that are reflected in bidirectional exchanges between the individual and peers, family, school, and community in which both parties contribute to the relationship.’

Transfer to philanthropy: Philanthropy is about bringing people together and building bridges between people. A donor needs to know where she is coming from and where he wants to go. The consideration of all stakeholders, the collective, is crucial to have a lasting, systemic impact with your investments.

  • Character: ‘Respect for societal and cultural rules, possession of standards for correct behaviours, a sense of right and wrong (morality), and integrity.’

Transfer to philanthropy: There is no doubt that giving needs to be culturally appropriate. But character especially reminds us of the many ethical dilemmas that we face in philanthropy. Donors have to decide what is the right and wrong issue or problem to pursue. They take judgment calls and provoke by taking risks. To do so, there is a strong need to be grounded.

  • Caring and compassion: ‘A sense of sympathy and empathy for others.’

Transfer to philanthropy: Caring and compassion are key drivers for giving. In an impact-driven world we often forget the importance of this basic ingredient of giving. Donors need a sense for what is needed by people in need, or/and society. In the end it is about a sense of social justice and the fact that hope is a key emotional energizer for giving. In addition, empathy is the prerequisite for collaborating on an equal level with civil society partners and the specific target group of social change.

[Sources for the definition of the Five Cs of Positive Youth Development: ]

In the literature, researchers like Richard Lerner by now discuss a sixth C: Contribution. Well, what else is philanthropy about if not giving back to society in a meaningful way?

The Cs compose a checklist of the real drivers of philanthropy. They raise questions of character and value. Questions that we often forget because of our focus on impact, impact, impact. The Cs underline that giving is also about the ‘why’ and not only about the ‘how’.

Michael Alberg-Seberich is managing partner at Active Philanthropy

Tagged in: Children Five Cs Impact Thoughtful philanthropy

Comments (0)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *