The world of philanthropy conjures images of well-heeled men and women donning tuxedos and furs at fancy galas. The stereotype is well-deserved - generations of wealthy patrons lavishly contributed money and prestige to a select group of foundations over the generations, creating a robust yet exclusionary system steeped in tradition and ego.
But like the United States, the very nature of philanthropy is changing. What was once reserved for the upper crust is reaching across socioeconomic borders and inviting a more diverse population to the table.
“Wealth is not new. Neither is charity. But the idea of using private wealth imaginatively, constructively and systematically to attack the fundamental problems of mankind is new,” John Gardner, founder of Independent Sector, famously said of philanthropy, which dates back several centuries to the Ottoman Empire.
The word philanthropy comes from the Greek meaning “love of mankind.” Philanthropy first gained traction in the 1500s when the wife of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent opened a charitable organization in Jerusalem to support orphans, widows and the poor, according to the National Philanthropic Trust. Around the same time, wealthy families in China donated privately to various causes, afraid their generosity would be seen as political.
As philanthropy became more common among the upper classes, a top-down effect developed. The rich saw themselves as the patrons and benefactors of the poor, who were stuck in their social class and could hope for no way out. But as class divisions dissolved, so did the idea of patriarchal philanthropy. Instead of donors acting like fathers and mothers of a people, philanthropy became a kind of civic opportunity in cities facing hardship.
In 1975, almost 22,000 foundations accounted for $1.94 billion in annual giving. By 2011, there were more than 81,000 foundations that contributed nearly $49 billion, according to the Foundation Center
. Assets for endowments and foundations have also swelled, growing from $30 billion in 1975 to more than $660 billion in 2011.
But the nature of philanthropy is quickly changing as society evolves. While private donors still make up the largest source of charitable contributions in the United States - totally approximately 75 percent of all philanthropy - social media, community organizations and financial institutions are playing an increasingly larger role.
Websites such as Kickstarter and GoFundMe represent so-called free market philanthropy where average people can contribute to various causes, from personal medical funds after an accident or unexpected illness to political causes. For example, the crowdfunding page for Standing Rock, whose members are protesting the building of the Dakota Access Pipeline across Native American lands, has raised $1.5 million by more than 36,000 people in six months. Some people have contributed as little as $5, while others have given $200 or more. This kind of philanthropy is accessible to anyone with a computer and checking account, paving the way for a more democratic approach to fundraising.
“You don’t have to be Bill Gates to be a philanthropist,” says Alexandra Aquino-Fike, vice president of development for Hispanics In Philanthropy, or HIP. “You can give $5 and still be a philanthropist.”
Hispanics in Philanthropy, or HIP, was founded in 1983 as a kind of networking support group for Latinos working at private foundations. What started as a safe space to push, behind the scenes, organizations into becoming more diverse has turned into a global grant-making entity focused entirely on serving Latinos communities.
In 2011, HIP and the Foundation Center teamed up to analyze what percentage of total grant dollars were going towards Latino communities and found that less than 2 percent of funds nationally were allocated to Latino-serving organizations.
“That was very disappointing and very shocking, but not completely unsurprising,” Aquino-Fike says.
As a result, HIP decided to raise their own money and create their own grants to serve Latinos in the United States and Latin America. They have partnered with established foundations to identify exciting opportunities to invest in the Spanish-language community, which is only growing in number and influence thanks to booming birth and immigration rates across the country. HIP considers Latinos “the best business investment you can make” as Hispanics represent the future workforce.
“The return you’re going to get by investing in the Latino community is transformative,” Aquino-Fike says. “Now more than ever, given what’s happened this week [with the presidential election], we’re ready to double down on Latino leadership and the Latino voice, making sure we put out a true narrative of the contributions of our community, the generosity of our community.”
HIP teamed up with more than 30 local organizations between 2002 and 2014, giving out more than $4 million in grant dollars to Philadelphia-area nonprofits. These included 12Plus, which works to increase education equity, and Norris Square Neighborhood Project, a bilingual learning center in North Philadelphia.
“In Philly, the Latino community is very far from the center of the city,” Aquino-Fike says. “It felt super poor and super isolated. But the groups there are getting more organized and feeling stronger.”
Despite these gains, traditional philanthropies remain at the forefront of charitable giving in Philadelphia. They have a long and robust history dating back to the founding of this country. Currently, there are 618 possible grants to chose from in the City of Brotherly Love, totalling approximately $111.5 million. That money comes from 233 funders and will go to more than 5,000 recipients, Foundation Center reports
. These grants are divided into five main topics - campaigns, elections and voting; civic participation; government; media and other.
By far the biggest chunk of philanthropy - about $64 million - goes towards journalism, which shouldn’t be surprising given the city’s current relationship between big donors and big media. In fact, Philadelphia’s largest media outlets are part of a network created when local philanthropist H.F. Gerry Lenfest donated his holdings of the Philadelphia Inquirer, Daily News and philly.com to the nonprofit organization Philadelphia Foundation. The new structure allows philanthropy to fund local journalism - foundations, private corporations and other wealthy benefactors can now contribute money directly to specific journalistic projects and endeavours.
The 85-year-old Lenfest is one of the region’s leading philanthropists. He has contributed roughly $1.3 billion over the course of his life to more than 1,100 organizations. His career in journalism started in 1970 when the former lawyer became the publisher and editorial director of Seventeen magazine. In 1974, he purchased two local cable stations, Suburban and Lebanon Valley, which he then sold to Comcast Corporation 2000. In 2014, he bought at auction the Philadelphia Media Network, home to the Inquirer and its partners, for $88 million. His donation of PMN to the Philadelphia Foundation, which he endowed with $20 million to start the experimental Institute of Journalism in New Media, was meant to create an independent laboratory in which to study the future of journalism. The institute “will invest in and support innovative news initiatives nationwide, with a special emphasis on opportunities in metropolitan areas such as Philadelphia,” its mission statement reads.
“Of all the things I’ve done, this is the most important,” Lenfest said in January. “Because of the journalism.”
At the head of Philadelphia Foundation is Pedro Ramos, the first Latino to hold such a post in the region. Ramos has vowed to support social mobility in Philadelphia, and to promote education, inclusion and equality. Currently, the foundation administers 900 charitable trusts and gives more than $20 million in grants and scholarships. These include several Latino organizations, such as Taller Puertorriqueño, Congreso, Asociación Puertorriqueños en Marcha (APM), Esperanza, La Comunidad Hispana, Norris Square Community Alliance (formerly Norris Square Civic Association), Artistas y Músicos Latino Americanos (AMLA), Aclamo, Juntos and the Philadelphia Latino Film Festival (PHLAFF).
Seeing Latinos such as Ramos serve in high offices signals the kind of change many philanthropies have worked towards in recent years. The Knight Foundation, which has offices in Philadelphia and several other cities in the U.S., invests in journalism, the arts and civic engagement. The latter has been especially important for the foundation, created by a pair of brothers who were former newspaper publishers, as it works to encourage broader participation across socioeconomic lines. Its Knight Cities Challenge, for example, invites individuals and organizations to apply for a piece of a $5 million grant that is spread across 26 cities, including Philadelphia. The idea is to present innovative and engaging idea to attract and retain talent within communities, expand economic opportunities and encourage robust civic engagement. Anyone can apply for these grants, and winning guarantees funds for one year of implementation. Past winners in the Philadelphia area include a plan to beautify Francisville public swimming pool, thereby making a community space feel engaging and inviting. The city liked this idea so much that the Department of Parks and Recreation plans to expand these so-called pop up pools, with their upgraded furniture and art installations, to other pools in the city.
“We ask challenging questioned about what our city will look like in the next 10 years,” explains Patrick Morgan, Knight Foundation’s Philadelphia program manager. “We have to help ensure that a broad civic table looks like the makeup of our cities, looks like Philadelphia.”
When it comes to philanthropy, representation matters. HIP was founded on the idea that if they could get more Latinos onto boards and working behind the scenes, then more communities would receive precious resources in the form of grants. Without this kind of representation, Spanish-language communities run the risk of continued disenfranchisement or worse.
“This is a historic moment,” Aquino-Fike says. “We need to build the leadership in our community so we can strengthen the movements that are already happening and to protect members of our community.”
Understanding that many Latinos live in low income areas, HIP encourages people to contribute small amounts here and there. The organization created a hashtag, #LatinosGive, to give people the opportunity to participate in their own style of philanthropy, from giving monetary contributions to organizing grassroots movements. The idea is to capitalize on Latinos’ “spirit of generosity” and spread awareness that many organizations need financial backing.
“Latinos are generous,” Aquino-Fike says. “ We give back every single day in a myriad of ways from our time and money.”
Note: Join HIP on November 29 when they celebrate Giving Tuesday. Use #LatinosGive on social media and show what you’re doing to empower communities.
The Philadelphia Foundation
One of America’s oldest community foundations (founded in 1918), The Philadelphia Foundation (TPF) is committed to improving the quality of life in the Pennsylvania counties of Greater Philadelphia (Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery and Philadelphia). A foundation and a public charity, TPF connects philanthropic resources to societal needs. TPF manages assets of approximately $370 million and more than 900 charitable funds established by its fund holders. It distributes about $25 million annually to nearly 1,000 nonprofits as grants and scholarships, and promotes greater philanthropy and stronger nonprofits in service to community needs. To learn more, visit www.philafound.org.
Knight Foundation is a national foundation with strong local roots. We invest in journalism, in the arts, and in the success of cities where brothers John S. and James L. Knight once published newspapers. Our goal is to foster informed and engaged communities, which we believe are essential for a healthy democracy.