What have we learned?

Nilda Bullain

The moon has a shadow side but since we always see only the bright side we could only guess what the other side was like and we had to go on a journey to outer space to really see it. As for philanthropy, we do see its shadow side almost as often as the bright one, but we don’t often talk about it. Alliance has been brave enough to explore and invite us on a journey around the shadow side of philanthropy. I had the privilege to be among the first to go on this journey, and I must say I enjoyed it very much. Here is what I came back with.

A typology of murky figures

Michael Lerner looks at a range of different players in the ‘foundation food chain’. I particularly liked his expression ‘the self-appointed foundation strategist’. This is the one who lays out the war plan for NGOs to resolve the great social problems of our time. This led me to think of further typical figures I have encountered in the foundation world. While well-meaning, these types can do much harm, so beware.

The activist programme officer – who micromanages the grant, follows every step of the way and intervenes in every decision (eg what should be on the agenda for an event and who should be on the list of invitees or what should be included in the data collected from beneficiaries). This could be because, as often happens with intermediary grantmakers, they need to report to their own donors and are constantly concerned about something going wrong; or because the person would in fact like to do the job him- or herself – their main reason for not being in the NGO world being pay levels and job security.

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