BIG Philanthropy

What will be philanthropy’s “new story?”

At the Movies: Philanthropy and Pop Culture May 22, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — cjcallen @ 11:17 pm

This week I went to the movies to see Iron Man. Robert Downey, Jr., as a famed comic book character? What brilliant casting. As the executive director of an organization that cares deeply about philanthropy, I live and dream about philanthropy (I know – kinda’ sad). While enjoying the film I could not help but notice its two main messages about giving, which also reminded me of why the work that we do matters.

Spoiled Little Rich Kid (SLRK)

Tony Stark, wealthy playboy and arms dealer is a philanthropist. He hosts the annual Stark charity event, which was fabulously portrayed by the Walt Disney Hall in Los Angeles.  But what is the philanthropy about? Who is the beneficiary? Well, Stark himself – he’s the star, and the real beneficiary of his charity event is his own social status. Here the message is of philanthropy as a self-serving pursuit. Not the most flattering picture of philanthropy but certainly one that springs to mind to many people outside the sector who view it as a pastime of the elite : “Oh, you’re talking about charity ladies.”

The Hero’s Journey

Fast forward to message number two, which like most Hollywood stories is about redemption: Tony Stark, the true philanthropist or lover of mankind emerges after a traumatic event in which is heart is “rewired.” He now cares about saving people from the very weapons he manufactures. In service to his new cause, he donates time, talent and treasure and embarks on a perilous hero’s journey. His actions speak to passionate and humanitarian giving of the highest sort but would most people consider his actions philanthropy? Probably not. His extraordinary actions do not fit commonly held beliefs about the nature of philanthropy but his is the perfect “trifecta” of giving time, talent and treasure.

So let’s try to imagine that people understand philanthropy as a complicated and multifaceted part of an even more complicated and multifaceted notion: civic participation. As an organization focused on bringing out the best in philanthropy our strategies are increasingly informed and enriched by a deeper understanding of how philanthropy fits within a larger web of civic action. True givers are engaged civil players. All who give have the choice to model one of the many philanthropic stereotypes (as captured by the SLRK example above) or to embark on a hero’s journey that maximizes community benefit.

Though Stark clearly represents the elite, the essential nature of the hero’s journey he embarks on is anything but that. Unlike the SLRK version of philanthropy, the hero’s journey is more accessible because it is in the simplest terms about finding the best use of your time, talent and treasure to serve mankind.

Are you ready for your hero’s journey?


Scarcity vs. Abundance May 18, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — cjcallen @ 11:30 pm

When I was a child I received a lesson in abundance that has lasted a lifetime. We were poor and so from my limited view everything was scarce. Then I recall a night when a woman came by with her three kids asking for help. My mother took half of the milk we had in the fridge and gave it to her. This struck me – I guess there is enough after all! This was my first lesson in the power of viewing the world through a lens of abundance. This was a lesson that I learned over and over again from my mom the philanthropist.  To this day I still feel that what we need is already here and I so I neither fret or fear that  there not being enough to go around nor do I hoard.

This spring we are all being schooled in the power of abundance as U.S. donors give to relief efforts in Myanmar and China while still supporting the domestic groups that rely on their generosity. And they may not yet realize it but they can do more – if only they would put on that lens of abundance. Almost every study on charitable giving or generosity notes the counterintuitive finding that low-income people give away a higher percentage of what they have compared to their wealthier counterparts. Perhaps some of these good people who give at relatively low levels compared to their wealth are suffering from the effects of early lessons focused on scarcity and thus, their fear is understandable – it is also something they can be overcome. We can connect to inspiring stories of people who have decided to think bigger about their giving potential through the work of Bolder Giving and the 50% League



The unknown commentators in previous post

Filed under: Uncategorized — cjcallen @ 11:29 pm

Please note that the comments on social justice philanthropy gathered at the Philanthropy 2.0 reception were from different people – not me – they simply did not identify themselves. 


PLEASE BLOG-Live from the COF Summit May 5, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — cjcallen @ 11:56 pm


2008 is looking to be an exciting year for philanthropy and Changemakers. This coming year, Changemakers is celebrating its 10-year anniversary of grantmaking and advocacy to promote social change philanthropy.  In connection with our 10-year anniversary, we have launched a video project to engage leaders and stakeholders in grantmaking and community building in a dialogue to explore (1) ways to make the message of social change philanthropy relevant to our times – moving it beyond its firm “Baby Boomer” definitions and roots and (2) strategies for building a “bigger tent” for change that reaches “beyond the choir” and increases our potential impact on the sector.

Your opinion counts!  We need your insights to enhance our understanding of the movement to make philanthropy more transparent, accountable and effective at addressing the root causes of social, economic and environmental problems that our communities face. We have all learned so much over the last 10 years.  Our lessons need to be captured and used as the basis for conversation and action over the next 10 years to bring the best in us — foundations, donors, support organizations and other philanthropic entities that make up the field.


Please ponder the following questions and share your thoughts with us by participating in a videotaped or digitally recorded conversation or simply commenting on our blog:

1.     What kind of place do you dream of for those you love and for our communities?  

2.     What role do you think philanthropy can play in making that dream a reality? What do you think are the challenges for philanthropy in playing that role?  How can we address those challenges?

3.     When you hear the words “social justice” what ideas or thoughts come to mind?

4.     Is the phrase “social justice philanthropy” meaningful to you in your work? If so, how? If not, why?

5.     Do you know of examples or models of engagement in philanthropy that work?