Catalytic Philanthropy

An article in the Stanford Social Innovation Review presents a concept it dubs, “Catalytic Philanthropy.” The article urges philanthropic donors to consider that, at times, the best vehicle for their money and energy might not be existing nonprofits. Instead, they should consider applying all of their assets–talent, ideas and effort in addition to funding–to causes they care about.  There’s much to both question and affirm in this thesis. But for leaders of orphan ministries and other nonprofits, Catalytic Philanthropy need not be a threat to resist but a vision to harness.

The bottom line is that most philanthropic donors acquired their wealth through remarkable creativity, expertise and innovation. Every nonprofit, even the very best, could benefit greatly by drawing upon these capabilities, perhaps even more than through a donor’s dollars. This is not a time to be paralyzed by fear that innovative donors will start plowing their money into their own initiatives. It’s a time for nonprofit leaders to build opportunities for donors and other talented individuals to engage not only with dollars, but by applying their other unique assets as well. Of course, this is much easier to say than do. But the impact will likely reach far and deep—for effective ministry, robust engagement of supporters, and much more besides.

Interestingly, the article also carries a strong argument for cross-sector alliances that help otherwise “competitive” nonprofits join in coordinated initiatives.  This provides a great description of the role of the Christian Alliance for Orphans, from initiatives like Orphan Sunday to the many partnerships that are being built among member organizations:

Despite their often-heroic efforts, these nonprofits face severe limitations. Each nonprofit functions alone, pursuing the strategies that it deems best, lacking the infrastructure to learn from one another’s best practices, the clout to influence government, or the scale to achieve national impact… Collaboration throughout the sector is almost impossible, as each nonprofit competes for funding by trying to persuade donors that its approach is better than that of any other organization addressing the same issue…Building alliances that create the conditions for a solution to emerge and take hold is a very different pursuit… Systemic reform requires a relentless and unending campaign that galvanizes the attention of the many stakeholders involved and unifies their efforts around the pursuit of a common goal.