“We believe philanthropy is changing. The points of entry have grown more diverse, the attitudes more humble and inclusive, the tactics more sophisticated.”

“Once considered the exclusive province of the wealthy, philanthropy now invites — and even demands — a mix of money, time and talent.”

US-based Michael & Susan Dell Foundation recently surveyed 692 social impact professionals about their work with the intention of documenting the trajectory of social impact work and “to get specific about the attitudes, strategies and sentiments that are shaping its future”.

“On the one hand, we wanted to broaden our perspective and get better at our own work,” the Dells explain in A Philanthropist’s Guide to the Future.

“But we also wanted to provide some context, some common footing, for anyone who wants to make an impact but feels stuck, stymied, confused about where to start, or simply curious about what it means to achieve social change.”

The Dell Foundation’s investigation confirmed that philanthropy is changing in five distinct ways:

– its role of is shifting, from one that focuses on capital to one that focuses on competence

– the motivation is shifting, from passion alone to a mixture of passion and pragmatism

-the approach to problem-solving is shifting, from staging interventions to pursuing innovations

– relationships between social impact leaders are shifting, from coordination among peers to full-on collaboration

– the scope of work is shifting, from quick fixes to long-term involvement.

Managing risk through accountability is a key component of the report’s findings, as noted in the ‘From interventions to innovation’ chapter which underscores the importance of capturing the right data at the right time.

“There is a difference between being data-driven and data-intelligent,” notes Maryana Iskander, CEO, Harambee Youth Employment Accelerator. “The question is not: Do you have data? It is: How do you use your data? Are you learning the right things?”

The report ends by looking at the top three traits of the most effective philanthropists of the future, calls for “stubborn patience” and highlights the importance of targeting systemic change and long-term perspectives, noting that “the only impact that counts is impact that lasts.”


Read A Philanthropist’s Guide to the Future online or download a pdf copy. 


About the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation: For more than 15 years, the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation has worked relentlessly to help children living in urban poverty. Since 1999 it has committed more than US $1.32 billion to help move every child closer to the opportunities they deserve in life to achieve more. Read more about the work of the Foundation here.

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