Meet the Philanthropy Game Changers Taking Participation to a New Level

Brian GaworVice President of ResearchFebruary 4, 2021

Here’s a new term for you: “participatory philanthropy.”

I know that’s a bit of a mouthful—but what it means, simply, is a key shift that donors are making is to be actively involved rather than just sending money.

This has been to some degree part of all our organizations, when we invite donors to volunteer, when we bring them on trips, when we have them mentor students. But this isn’t just an extra perk for donors now. Today’s donors, and particularly the younger ones, really expect to be actively involved. And this participatory orientation is moving over even to the work that foundations are doing – rather then just dropping checks, they are more often engaging in advocacy and expertise support to their grantees.

This was a key topic on three great interviews I did this month, with four philanthropic leaders across the spectrum of charitable work. Here are the conversations.

The Ruderman Family Foundation challenges the norm with active engagement and advocacy

Shira and Jay Ruderman from the Ruderman Family Foundation join the podcast to talk about their efforts to advance a more inclusive society. The foundation has dedicated the past two decades to enhancing awareness and providing programming and services for the field of disability inclusion. And they are growing to support more needs. Jay and Shira connected to talk about how the make funding decisions, how you can best engage a foundation, what happens when a foundation speaks up on key issues, and what they see coming for the future of philanthropy. Check out Jay’s Podcast: All Inclusive with Jay Ruderman for more great insights.

Pencils of Promise takes active participation to a new level in support of global education

It’s one thing to talk about access to education, and it’s another thing to live it, to make transformative change for a diverse and global population of students. Tanya Ramos, CEO of of Pencils of Promise, is doing just that. I got her on the line to talk about the mission of Pencils of Promise, how they’ve supported the building of over 500 schools worldwide, and how we can lead as innovators for participatory philanthropy in this challenging time. Here’s our conversation.

The Junior Authors program offers a way for children to actively engage, and give while they heal

In the face of tragedy, we all want to do something. That’s the case for Susie Harder, a speech pathologist whose community was changed forever by the California wildfires. So, after she donated, she started on something new—to both help kids with the healing process and to raise more funds to support them. The result is the Junior Authors Program, where kids make a book, voting on each component. This is a great example of the shift to what we’re calling “participatory philanthropy,” where people do along with their giving. Susie describes this new way to contribute, and why it’s been successful.

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About the Author

Brian Gawor

Brian Gawor’s focus is research and strategy to help propel both alumni engagement and fundraising results of RNL clients. Brian has 20 years of higher education experience in student affairs, enrollment management, alumni engagement and...

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