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Giving in Challenging Times

July 25, 2017

In 2008, we released a guide called “Giving in Challenging Times,” to provide donors with guidance and support as our communities felt the effects of the global financial crisis. Nearly ten years later, we see a different type of crisis – a crisis of confidence in political institutions and an unraveling of the social compact in many countries. Diaspora and migration have displaced millions. The role of philanthropy itself is under threat in many places – both because some governments are clamping down on civil society and because elite institutions are trusted less.

In our first Giving in Challenging Times guide, we quoted a Dutch proverb: “In prosperity, caution; in adversity, patience.” That adage is just as pertinent now. We recommended that donors take their time to carefully “review, recalibrate, and recommit” – an approach that also makes sense now.


Turmoil offers donors an opportunity to step back and consider their strategy in a new light. And while initially it’s hard to see where to focus, we’d suggest that donors stick with the issues and regions you’ve been deeply committed to because that’s the core of your commitment.  But in your review,  pay close attention to two factors. First, prioritize the grantees who may be most at risk. Second, consider whether your philanthropy’s ultimate beneficiaries now have different needs and priorities. Look for ways to hear their voices directly.


If you decided your giving is no longer the right fit for these times, cast a fresh eye on other ways to achieve your goals. This could mean stepping out of your comfort zone to support new grantees, forge new partnerships, or take an entirely different approach to giving. And right now, there is no shortage of creative approaches to philanthropy; from the swiftly rising trend of impact investing to the choice of spend-down giving to the focus on leadership. Donors have more tools than ever before to achieve impact.


While the sense of urgency now is palpable, take time to review your own motivations, values and priorities. What are you most committed to achieving? How can you engage your assets beyond grantmaking? Keep the long term in mind –the issues that created the challenges we face took many years to develop, and will take time and patience to address in a sustainable way.

Regardless of where you are on the political spectrum or in the world, divisiveness and mistrust are pernicious and perilous. Anything we in philanthropy can do to make connections, learn from others and focus broadly on how private resources create public benefit will help move us forward.

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