Giving is Changing as Philanthropy Faces More Scrutiny

By Emily Schwartz Greco

What would you say are the biggest factors making philanthropy much more visible?

In recent years, many people have discovered the power of very wealthy people, and their giving and their salience in our society. They are questioning it.

I’ve seen a growing interest in philanthropy. I’ve seen a growing critique.

I’ve seen growing interest in philanthropic themes outside of the nonprofit sector, with businesses, but also governments that are increasingly opening up liaison offices to deal with or engage with private philanthropists at the same time.

I think that kind of parallels the growing consciousness of the inequality in our society, and the concentration, not only of wealth, but often concentration in industries. I think also, globally, there’s been a realization that classical models of the welfare state are under a lot of pressure. As economies around the world have generated wealth, that’s often come with certain people receiving disproportionately large amounts of wealth.

The question is, what are they going to do with it? Will they follow the models of the Carnegies and the Rockefellers?

And you see philanthropy much more often on the cover of The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Atlantic. You’re seeing new podcasts like Vox’s Future Perfect. They’re all covering philanthropy.

There are a lot of celebrities involved, like (Amazon founder) Jeff Bezos. And there are negative examples: (financier, pedophile and alleged sex trafficker) Jeffrey Epstein, the Sacklers (a family that has have given millions to arts and other institutions and also owns the opioid manufacturer Purdue Pharma) and others becoming very controversial for some of their bad actions. I wouldn’t say that all the Sacklers were necessarily bad actors, even if, obviously, Epstein was. I think the abuse of position that wealth affords is what creates an intensity of interest.

You’re seeing greater visibility of philanthropy where extremely wealthy, extremely prominent, people have a lot of capacity to give. They end up doing things that capture a lot of attention, and they are capturing our imagination right now.

I’m seeing that as a generally positive thing. People are thinking about philanthropy even though sometimes their entry point is not one that we might want to see. I’m not sure what the impact is going to be on philanthropy, but part of me thinks it’s good to have some attention on it. Read more…