WELCOME TO THE DECEMBER 2022 NEWSLETTER!
Ho ho ho Philanthropoids,
I don’t know about you, but this year I really feel more than ever like I’m staggering towards the end-of-year finish line. So I’m definitely looking forward to a well-earned break over the festive period. (Though I do have a nagging concern at the back of my mind that pinning all my hopes on a 2 week holiday to recharge my batteries sufficiently for 2023 is perhaps a bit optimistic…)
I thought about making this edition of the newsletter a big look back over what has happened in philanthropy and civil society in 2022, but I will hold my hands up and admit that I didn’t really have it in me to try and condense the vast reams of news we have seen this year into a pithy summary. Maybe next year.
Instead, here’s a little look at some of the interesting philanthropy stories that have been in the news in December, plus a brief update on what we’ve been up to at WPM.
All the best and hoping you have a great festive season, whatever your plans!
PHILANTHROPY IN THE NEWS
Giving Tuesday continues to grow & evolve
The annual day of global generosity took place this year on 29th November, and once again appears to have been a big success. Having started life as an antidote to the consumerism of Black Friday and Cyber Monday, Giving Tuesday has evolved over the last decade into something much more interesting IMHO: a day of “radical generosity”, which pushes us to expand the ways in which we define “philanthropy” and which has positioned itself at the forefront of challenging some of the technocratic received wisdom that often dominates the nonprofit sector. Long may it continue.
Mackenzie Scott’s philanthropic yield?
Speaking of challenging the philanthropic status quo, Mackenzie Scott was back in the news this month. Following her latest tranche of big gifts only last month, Scott made the announcement that she has finally given a name to her philanthropic vehicle (Yield Giving) and created a website that includes a searchable list of all her grants to date.
This has been welcomed by many, who up to now had seen a lack of transparency as the one big failing in Scott’s philanthropy so far. However, others (like Vox Editor Dylan Matthews) have raised questions once again about whether Scott’s approach to giving is genuinely effective, given that she appears to have donated significant amount to large federated nonprofits like the United Way and YMCA. (As I argued in this article, this may come down to a fundamental difference of opinion about the purpose of philanthropy, and what constitutes “effectiveness”, but there is still plenty more to say on this).
Elon Musk’s favourite charity is…. Elon Musk?
Elon Musk has barely been out of the news in the last month, as his chaotic ownership of Twitter continues to lurch from one self-created crisis to another. However, one story that might have been a bit missed in all of that noise was that a tax filing finally solved the mystery of where the $5.7 billion that Musk had apparently given to charity went. In actual fact, it turned out not to be much of a mystery as the vast majority of the money went to Musk’s own foundation- which won’t have surprised anyone familiar with his somewhat tepid and sporadic approach to philanthropy so far. This does immediately make the Musk Foundation one of the biggest players in the philanthropy landscape (in terms of assets, at least), but it is far from clear at this point what its core aims and approach are. (For more on Muskovite philanthropy, check out this piece I wrote last year).
Philanthropy getting serious on climate
There was an interesting article from Robb Report this month about the growing number of big philanthropists and funders beginning to focus far more of their efforts on combatting the climate crisis. Most philanthropy watchers would argue that there is still far more to be done, as the amount of funding going to climate issues is still only a small percentage of the overall total, but it is encouraging to see evidence of a greater sense of urgency.
Big Names in Asian Philanthropy
Forbes Asia published its latest annual “Heroes of Philanthropy” list, highlighting some of the biggest and most prominent donors in the Asia-Pacific region this year. This list is always worth reading to get a more global perspective on philanthropy. However, as economic and population growth in Asia continues, there are also suspicions that we may see the global centre of gravity of elite philanthropy start to shift more towards the region, so it also feels a bit like a glimpse into a possible future…
SBF & EA: The Drama Continues…
We covered the Sam Bankman-Fried story and its implications for EA at some length in the last newsletter, so I don’t intend to rehash that here. Suffice to say that the story has certainly not gone away, and there have been a few notable developments in the last month.
Perhaps most eye-catching was the news that SBF has now been summarily removed from the pages of the Giving Pledge (partly, one suspects, because his reputation is so tainted, but also for the more practical reason that he just doesn’t have that much money anymore…) I like to think that this was accompanied by a ceremony in which SBF was stripped of his honours - a bit like the scene in Mary Poppins where Mr Banks has his suit sleeves ripped and the top of his hat punched out by the Partners of the bank where he works – but I suspect it was more mundane than that.
In other news that may further undermine the reputation of philanthropic funding for journalism, it emerged that SBF had given large amounts of money to crypto news platform The Block in exchange for favourable coverage. This reportedly included a $16m donation to buy an apartment in the Bahamas for The Block’s CEO, Michael McCaffrey - something which has shocked and angered many of the news outlet’s other employees.
In wider EA news, there has been an ongoing steady stream of comment and analysis about the implications for EA’s future prospects. The most interesting of which, IMHO, came from Vox Editor Dylan Matthews (himself a keen EA advocate, albeit of a different stripe to the Longtermist SBF types that have dominated recent coverage), who wrote a reflective piece outlining his own views on where EA goes from here. There was also an interesting interview on NPR with historian Rutger Bregman, who is broadly EA-sympathetic but had some pointed criticisms of the way the movement has gone recently.
Philanthropy Takes Stock
There was a good article in Barron’s this month, looking at some of the key issues and themes in philanthropy over the past year that might shape debates in 2023. My view of the piece might be swayed slightly by confirmation bias, as many of the things it details are ones that I heartily agree are important and which I have written about myself, but it is well worth a read (and it is always interesting to hear from Ford Foundation president Darren Walker).
Charity Commission Chair vows to support philanthropy efforts
The Charity Commission Chair, Orlando Fraser, gave a speech at a recent Beacon Collaborative event (which I happened to be at), in which he called on wealthy individuals in the UK to give more and vowed that the regulator would do whatever was in its power to support efforts to boost philanthropy. In reality these powers are pretty limited, but narrative is in itself very important when it comes to developing a culture of giving. And after a number of years in which successive Charity Commission chairs have taken an oppositional stance to civil society (and often shown themselves to have little understanding of how it works), it was encouraging to hear Fraser give a pretty considered and nuanced view of various issues (including the importance of protecting charities rights to campaign). I guess watch this space?
Further Attacks on Charity Campaigning
Orlando Fraser’s views on charity campaigning are unfortunately not shared by everyone, including a group of Conservative backbench MPs who this month put out a report urging the government to “defund” charities who speak out against government policy. The report by the Conservative Way Forward group accuses organisations such as the National Lottery Community Fund, Stonewall and the Refugee Council of being “politically motivated” and says that all government funding for them should be withdrawn. Many of the organisations named in the report responded strongly- challenging its assertions and also demanding clarification of numerous factual errors. It is unlikely that this report will get taken seriously in itself, but it will add to a mood music about the campaigning role of charities that has been highly negative for some time and may well lead to further government action in the future that places the vital advocacy role of charities under threat. (For more on the historical background to arguments about charities and politics, see this WPM article).
Getting Twitchy: Platforms and charity legitimacy
There was a related story this month that points to an issue that I think is going to become increasingly big in the future. It was reported that the live streaming platform Twitch has taken the decision to remove a registered charity (The LGB Alliance) from its list of approved charities following a complaint from a user. The LGB Alliance has been controversial since it was set up in 2019 as a direct response to the LGBTQ+ rights charity Stonewall’s inclusive stance on trans people. This controversy was further intensified in 2021 when the Charity Commission allowed the group to become a registered charity despite noting that they had used ‘inflammatory language’ on social media.
Putting aside the complexities of this specific case, however, the fascinating thing about this latest story involving Twitch is what is suggests about the role of commercial platforms in shaping giving in coming years. If more and more giving takes place on commercial platforms, as seems likely to be the case; and if those platforms are willing to go beyond what the laws and regulations of particular jurisdictions say in terms of deciding which organisations are allowed on their platform, then those platforms become the de facto arbiters of charitable legitimacy. I suspect this will come in for further scrutiny and challenge over the coming years, as people question the implications of handing over this kind of responsibility to for-profit entities.
(NB: for more on the growing influence of platforms in giving, check out this episode of the Philanthropisms podcast).
WHAT WE HAVE BEEN DOING
As ever, here’s a brief update on what we’ve been doing at Why Philanthropy Matters over the last month that you may have missed:
Predictions for 2023: For the last episode of the Philanthropisms podcast of the year, I made my annual effort to come up with some ideas about the trends, themes and events that might shape philanthropy and civil society in 2023.
Too Much Philanthropy News! On the year’s penultimate episode of the podcast I tried to get my head around one of the busiest months for philanthropy news I can remember, including a deep dive on Sam Bankman-Fried and EA, Jeff Bezos’s big pledge and Mackenzie Scott’s latest gifts.
Disagreeing with Peter Singer: I also managed to get quoted in an article for Canadian news outlet CBC, pondering whether the SBF fallout would have a long term impact on EA. I said it would, and it turned out the main interviewee giving the counterpoint was renowned philosopher Peter Singer. Which was quite a turn up for the books!
Alliance Event - 2022 in Review: At the start of December I was lucky enough to take part in the keynote panel for an Alliance magazine event at the Aga Khan Centre in London, looking back at what has happened in 2022 in philanthropy and civil society alongside Fozia Irfan of BBC Children in Need, Jo Swinson of Partners for a New Economy and Liubov Rainchuk of Zagoriy Foundation. You can read a write-up of the discussion here, or watch a video of the whole thing.
The Longtermist Fundraiser: This month I also decided to tackle some of the issues around EA and Longtermism in a far less highbrow manner, by making a tongue-in-cheek sketch imagining what it might be like if a Longtermist organisation did face-to-face fundraising at Christmas…
New book! Exciting on a personal level, but also justifiable as news about philanthropy, is the fact that this month I received the final cover proofs of my forthcoming book. It is called “What is Philanthropy For?” and will be out through Bristol University Press in March 2023. (You can even pre-order).
The last month or so has seen the release of a couple of really interesting reports that are well worth checking out:
The annual Blueprint report from Lucy Bernholz is always a must-read, and the 2023 edition is no exception. This time round Lucy has invited guest essays from some of her colleagues at Stanford PACS (including one from Aaron Horvath on impact measurement that I particularly enjoyed). So do check it out.
The Dorothy A. Johnson Center at Grand Valley State University also put out a great report on Philanthropy 1992-2022 looking back over the last 30 years of developments in philanthropy. This is mostly focussed on US philanthropy, but there’s lots that should be of interest for readers anywhere (apart from anything else, the US still tends to set the direction of travel on philanthropy issues, so it is important to understand what is going on there!)
There is also an intriguing report from the Good Ancestor Movement titled “Wealth Management: Tradition vs New Imperatives”, looking at how the private client and wealth advisory industry can evolve to become a force for driving new ideas around wealth, redistribution and justice.
Not a report, but no less important, is a powerful on-the-ground Critique of EA from African farmer and NGO leader Anthony Kalulu, who argues that “Effective altruism is worse than traditional philanthropy in the way it excludes the extreme poor in the global south”.
Well, that’s all for this time. I hope you all have a good festive period and manage to get some R&R so that we can all come back ready for whatever 2023 is going to bring…