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June 25, 2022
Philanthropy Reconsidered Details an Evolving Field
George McCully
George McCully
The central questions of philanthropy ”“ how can, and why should, we do good? ”“ remain, but the essential paradigm of American philanthropy is changing. George McCully expertly explores this transformation in his new book, Philanthropy Reconsidered, and offers strategies to help charitable organizations manage the flux.

McCully, founder of the Catalogue for Philanthropy offers a detailed analysis of the state of American philanthropy, drawing on more than 25 years of involvement in philanthropy ”“ as a fundraiser, executive director, trustee, and advisor to nonprofits.

Major forces are changing the way we think about and practice philanthropy in the United States, and hence the need to reconsider approaches to philanthropy, according to McCully. They include globalizing communications, which enables even the smallest nonprofits to exponentially expand their reach at small cost; new types of donors emerging from the globalizing economy; greater and more sophisticated donor education aimed at cultivating the new donor classes; and the blurring of the nonprofit and for-profit sectors (e.g., Paul Newman’s prepared food business, which generates profits that he uses to support philanthropy).

Although change frequently disrupts, it needn’t be bad. In the case of philanthropy, things look pretty good. For example, McCully notes that while average adjusted gross income in the U.S. increased 39% between 1997 and 2000, average itemized charitable deductions, which account for about 80% of all charitable giving, grew by 62%.

Armed with a formidable historical perspective, McCully distills the new paradigm of philanthropy (which he says is still emerging) with a clarity and completeness that will enlighten and energize readers.

Here’s how the new, twenty-first century model of philanthropy compares along several key dimensions with the old, twentieth century model, according to McCully:
  • Technology: Old ”“ Relied on the post office and telephone. New ”“Relies on the Internet.
  • Institutions: Old ”“ Private foundations led; philanthropic community divided into occupational constituencies. New ”“ Donor-advised funds and private foundations multiply. Virtual philanthropy builds in cyberspace.
  • Practices: Old ”“ Telemarketing, direct mail, and competitive grantmaking dominated. New ”“ Donor education gives rise to venture philanthropy, giving circles, and other modes of charitable support.
  • Language: Old ”““Giving back.” New ”“ “Making a difference.”
Perhaps among the best news that McCully reports is the evolving relationship between fundraisers and donors. Under the new philanthropic paradigm, the relationship between the two groups becomes collegial, moving away from a more confrontational approach.

“The job of the fundraiser is as a philanthropic advisor,” he writes, “helping donors to be better philanthropists, to gain more satisfaction and personal fulfillment from philanthropy as a lifestyle.”

By helping the donor get involved with issues that concern the donor, he suggests, the fundraiser becomes a philanthropist, that is, “loving the human development of the donor.” It sounds like a worthy goal with the potential to multiply the possibilities for both parties.

Philanthropy Reconsidered is available by clicking here.

Reviewed by Peter Lowy

September 2008
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