The Rise of Big-Bet Philanthropy: Changing the Landscape of Charitable Giving

The Rise of Big-Bet Philanthropy: Changing the Landscape of Charitable Giving

When philanthropists deploy big bets with ambition and discipline, they can accelerate important social change. But, deploying them more often requires better access to the best opportunities.

One of the biggest barriers is that most big-bet opportunities aren’t shovel-ready. And that’s a shame. Here’s how to change that.


The Millennial Generation

The emergence of big-bet philanthropy, like that provided by the foundation of Barbara Picower, frequently concentrates on a certain set of requirements. For instance, it’s frequently emphasized to invest money in tackling a certain issue or to seek for a precise, quantifiable impact. Results from the short term are also crucial.

Many philanthropists believe that social change requires significant time, talent, and resources. They are interested in something other than pinning their hopes on one-shot solutions.

Many of the problems philanthropists seek to address, such as poverty, racism, climate change, or education inequality, are not susceptible to one-shot cures. These are complex, long-term challenges that require a serious commitment of time, talent, and resources. The sort of philanthropy required to tackle them is very different than that pushed by big-bet enthusiasts. This philanthropy must be strategic and bold.

Social Media

Social media has transformed the way philanthropists give. Donors can now donate directly to nonprofit organizations and causes through their phones, computers, and other devices.

When executed with discipline and ambition, the big-bet approach can lead to a renaissance of giving focused on societal change. But it can also lead to philanthropy that neglects society’s greatest needs, resulting in both donors and those in need being disappointed.

To make a big bet, a grantee needs more than just an important problem and a bold leader and team. 

The Internet

For example, Dallas philanthropist Lyda Hill backed marriage equality campaigns despite seeming lost. Her big money commitment to such advocacy efforts gave leaders the time and resources they needed to sustain their fight for change.

The Internet can also help funders and nonprofits make big bets by facilitating cross-sector collaboration and compliant public fundraising. The burgeoning of such initiatives is changing the face of philanthropy by empowering many more organizations to raise funds through new channels that were inaccessible before.

A successful big-bet strategy requires three key components—an important arrival point, a credible path forward, and a role for philanthropy. 

The Global Economy

With a robust economy and increased wealth, donors have more resources to dedicate to charitable causes. The choice is whether the philanthropy community will grow its commitment to challenging and intractable problems or continue to fund more of the same.

Donors embracing big-bet philanthropy with discipline and ambition can help usher in a renaissance of impact-driven giving. However, if the approach is pursued without clarity about what enduring results a big bet could credibly achieve, it could backfire and undermine donor confidence in philanthropy.

For example, a bold philanthropic investment in marriage equality helped shift public opinion and give leaders the time needed to wage an effective campaign. 

The Middle Class

Whether they seek to make an impact in their lifetime or beyond, many of the philanthropists making big bets are interested in doing more than funding good work. They want to solve large-scale problems.

Some take an income-based approach, a popular and fairly straightforward method for defining middle-class status. For example, some scholars use a three-quintile approach and consider households between two-thirds and double the median income to be middle class.

Others focus on consumption, using a methodology that includes housing and food costs. 

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