Social Compact in a Changing World

Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisor’s report,Social Compact in a Changing Worldaddresses

  • The response of private philanthropy to the rising tide of scrutiny
  • How foundations have adjusted their social compact as a result; and
  • Strategies foundations have adopted over time to become more responsive and accountable in fulfilling their respective social compacts.


When, in the early part of the 20th century, John D. Rockefeller tried to set up a national foundation, increasing public distrust of extreme wealth contributed to the US Congress turning him down. Not much has changed in the 100 plus years since. Today, some public intellectuals, opinion leaders, and other public figures continue to criticize private philanthropy.

At the center of this debate is the “social compact,” an entity’s explicit or implicit agreement with society about the value it creates. Social compact encompasses concepts such as accountability, legitimacy, transparency, and public trust. For governments, corporations, nonprofits and philanthropies, the social compact can change as a result of shifting external circumstances, political and economic conditions, or prevailing views on private wealth and public responsibility. A philanthropic organization’s social compact can also reflect shifting notions of how it views its role in society, demonstrates value, interacts with stakeholders, and expresses accountability.

This report, Social Compact in a Changing World: How Foundations are Grappling with Growing Scrutiny and Critique, explores the social compact as applied to philanthropic institutions, and how those entities are interpreting shifting social norms and adjusting to new realities.

Read our full publication here: Social Compact in a Changing World