philanthropy trends

A Global Culture of Giving is Emerging

Jul 2012

The practice of philanthropy has begun a sea change in the last decade, one that make take at least the next decade to be fully resolved. From our vantage point, we see emerging a global culture of giving. Several forces drive this development. First, flows of technology, travel and capital have created an explosion of awareness about global matters both around the globe – AIDs, poverty, lack of education – as well as awareness that matters are global – climate change, migration, terrorism.

Second, in many, many countries we’ve reassessed the role of the public sector, either by belief or of necessity. In many places government resources are shrinking. More critically, the belief that governments and multilateral institutions will solve problems has been deeply shaken and often abandoned.

A new set of expectations has emerged from these changes. First is that the ultra-wealthy should be actively involved in philanthropy – not just generous, but informed and committed. Second, we now look to the private sector – whether for-profit or nonprofit or a hybrid – as the engine of innovation and change. In fact, we are re-defining philanthropy to include impact investing, social enterprise, and crowd-sourcing.

What are the indicators of this global culture of giving? Think about all the programs about philanthropy that banks, multi-family offices, consulting firms and other service providers now offer on virtually every continent. Note that the World Economic Forum now has sessions on philanthropy and impact investing. Look at the reaction that the Giving Pledge is getting around the world – it may be criticized in some places, but it’s being discussed. The idea of not passing all one’s wealth on to children used to be largely an American perspective, but now we hear people from many cultures and regions express an intent to apply a significant amount of their wealth to social change rather than dynastic strength.

These donors are getting involved earlier in their lives, and bring their intellectual, social and human capital along with their financial capital. They are willing to be make big bets – but are focused on measurable results, leverage and scale.

As these global culture of giving spreads over the next decade, we’ll be faced with some fascinating challenges and opportunities – some if which may be hard to tell apart. Among the risks we need be aware of is the sad fact that impact assessment is still more an art than a science. If we can’t move that field further forward, many new donors will walk away in frustration (and many billions in funding will leave no trace behind). There will certainly be too many new programs created by the desire to be innovative, and we’ll have to try to refocus the discussion on what’s effective. And expectations for philanthropy may be unrealistic. Most of the money for social change is still in the public sector.

But the positive developments could be remarkable. With some good stories to tell and some real results to graph, the global culture of giving could expand rapidly in a virtuous cycle, spread by the technologies of social media – along with older technologies like conversations on yachts and golf courses.
© 2012, Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, Inc.


Melissa is the founding President and CEO of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, Inc., an innovative nonprofit philanthropy service launched by the Rockefeller family in 2002. Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors’ mission is to help donors create thoughtful, effective philanthropy throughout the world. RPA develops strategic plans, conducts research, manages foundations and trusts, structures major gifts, coordinates donor collaboratives, and provides regranting and fiscal sponsorship services. RPA also publishes, convenes and speaks about innovations in thoughtful, effective philanthropy. Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors annually manages or facilitates over $250 million in giving to more than 25 countries. It has offices in New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Chicago and will be opening its London office in January 2017.

Melissa has led Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors since its inception, building it into one of the world’s leading philanthropic advisory, grantmaking, research and project management services. Under her leadership, RPA developed and published the “Philanthropy Roadmap” series of donor guides with support from the Gates Foundation. She developed and leads RPA’s research initiative, “The Theory of the Foundation,” and is the author of three reports in that initiative.

A frequent speaker, Melissa has been a guest lecturer at universities across the U.S., Europe and Asia including Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Duke, IMD (Lausanne), Oxford, Sun-Yat Sen, and Beijing Normal universities. As a widely-recognized expert in philanthropy, Melissa has been profiled in the New York Times and the Stanford Social Innovation Review. Recent articles she has authored appeared in the Foundation Review and in the International Family Offices Journal. Her ideas and views are featured in the Economist, Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Financial Times, and the Chronicle of Philanthropy. She has been interviewed on the Today Show, NBC Nightly News, NPR, BBC Radio, CNBC-TV, and Bloomberg TV.

Melissa is a director of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, the Adrian Brinkerhoff Foundation and the Foundation Center. She serves on the Advisory Boards of the Marshall Center for Philanthropy and Social Entrepreneurship at the London School of Economics and the Tamer Center for Social Enterprise at Columbia University, and is an adjunct Professor at Columbia University’s Business School.

Melissa holds a B.A. from Harvard University and a Ph.D. from Stanford University. She’s now proud to have majored in Folklore and Mythology.