Donor Education Learning Community

Lowell Weiss

In its insightful report What’s Next for Philanthropy, the Monitor Institute highlights ‘acting bigger’ as a critical imperative for philanthropists who aspire to solve the world’s ‘wicked problems’. Advisers and educators who seek to help these ambitious philanthropists face exactly the same challenge.

Thanks in great measure to the pioneering efforts of The Philanthropic Initiative founder Peter Karoff and others, there are now many organizations that help individual/family donors practise effective philanthropy. But this still-nascent field lacks the things that mature industries use to ensure consistent high quality and build demand over time: it has no accreditation, no core standards, no coordinated attempt to build awareness of the need for donor education. We can and should act bigger.

This is why the Hewlett Foundation is supporting, through a grant to the Association of Small Foundations, an initiative called the Donor Education Learning Community. The group consists of a diverse group of 20 practitioners representing programmes that provide peer-based education, membership organizations that support family donors, philanthropic advisers and community foundations. This is still a small subset of the organizations that provide donor education and advisory services, but we have plans to broaden the group in the coming months.

Our mission is ‘to strengthen the field of donor education so that it can help more donors achieve deep impact, thereby increasing the collective power of philanthropy’. We are developing a preliminary set of common principles and practices that we believe to be the core tenets of effective philanthropy, and we’re eager for help in improving them. We don’t believe there is a single formula for effective giving, but there are common denominators of effective practice that we believe donors should learn – and that donor educators should teach.

We are also beginning to create an assessment tool for determining whether donors are increasing their knowledge and strengthening their practice over time. Additionally, we plan to create an open-source library of materials that could inform donor education and advice, thus helping to reduce duplication of effort and identify the critical gaps in knowledge.

For more information

Contact Lowell Weiss, president of Seattle-based Cascade Philanthropy Advisors and facilitator of the Donor Education Learning Community, at

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