Philanthropy Infrastructure at a Glance: How to Grow and Strengthen the Field?

Organizations supporting philanthropy have been around for over a century, but only recently have seen a more significant growth in number of institutions. At WINGSForum 2017, WINGS launched a new research publication, Infrastructure in Focus: A New Global Picture of Organizations Serving Philanthropy – which shows that growth within the philanthropy infrastructure field started in the 90’s, saw a peak in the year 2000, and then stabilized after 2010 while philanthropy volumes kept growing worldwide. With a median budget of US$ 800,000, these institutions are engaged in knowledge activities, hosting conferences and other events, promoting peer learning and training/ capacity building, advocating for the field and other activities to create a positive environment for philanthropy to operate and accomplish its mission with greater impact.

To keep strengthening the field, the WINGS study suggests 6 takeaways for reflection:

  1. Build a strong infrastructure for philanthropy where it is most needed

The distribution of philanthropy infrastructure organizations is highly unequal around the globe, with a high concentration of institutions in the Global North, and the variation in size of philanthropy infrastructure organizations’ budgets is big. The smallest budget the study found is $58,000 and the biggest $42 million. North America accounts for almost 80 per cent of expenditure on philanthropy infrastructure and its institutions have the highest median budget compared to other regions. These variations, together with others presented in the report, make the case for strengthening philanthropy infrastructure in places where it is most needed, keeping in mind that these varieties in the philanthropy infrastructure are both a cause and an effect of the maturity of institutional philanthropy.

  1. Focus on the activities most needed to build philanthropy

A very wide range of activities are undertaken across the sample, with knowledge management-related activities being the most prominent. To be really effective in developing philanthropy, institutions supporting it need to concentrate in addressing the critical issues considering regional and local context specificities.

  1. Engage in advocacy to build a more enabling environment

The study identified a global trend toward advocacy related activities. Of the organizations that responded to the survey, 35% noted being extremely engaged with advocacy and 32% are moderately engaged. When compared to the previous WINGS study launched in 2014, 2017’s findings state that advocacy is a more frequent activity, coming before affinity groups. This finding echoes the current trends that are observed in most parts of the world concerning growing restrictions on funding, heightening control and diminishing latitude funders and other civil society organizations.

  1. Recognize evaluation as a high priority for philanthropy infrastructure organizations

Although 87% of respondents report doing internal and/or external evaluations, it is not a high institutional priority for most philanthropy infrastructure organizations; in fact, it ranked among the least important activities for survey respondents. Given the importance of assessing and communicating results for the institution’s learning and for making the case for field of philanthropy infrastructure, it should be a higher institutional priority for organizations supporting philanthropy. During WINGSForum, WINGS and DAFNE launched 4Cs, a framework that provides infrastructure support organizations in the philanthropy field the base to plan and assess the difference that they intend to and do make.

  1. Ensure the long-term sustainability of philanthropy infrastructure organizations

Given that building a positive environment for philanthropy is a long-term task, the financial sustainability of philanthropy infrastructure organization is crucial. Survey respondents felt themselves to be financially sustainable and did not see the issue as a major concern. Only 31 said to feel good about their financial sustainability, and 6 said to feel very good, against 22 who said to have some concerns. Despite this, financial sustainability is one of the biggest challenges that surveyed philanthropy infrastructure organizations face in relation to achieving their short-term goals. Almost 60 % cited the need to change the sources of their funding and their sustainability strategy as one of their highest priorities. National foundations are the most common funders for philanthropy infrastructure organizations, though there are some regional variations. In MENA and Sub-Saharan Africa, international foundations are more prominent funders than national foundations. The dependency on foreign resources, especially in the light of the shrinking space for civil society, shows the necessity to develop local resources for philanthropy infrastructure in some regions.

  1. Build the partnerships that are needed for a more effective philanthropy

Collaboration is crucial for philanthropy infrastructure to increase its effectiveness and especially for the small ones that are trying to have a larger impact. Building the foundations for collaboration is one of WINGS purposes. Survey results suggests that partnership and collaboration are common among WINGS members, and a great majority have a partnership or collaborate with at least one other WINGS member. 43 out of 63 survey respondents have five or more partnerships with other members.

About the study

WINGS’ new report Infrastructure in Focus: A New Global Picture of Organizations Serving Philanthropy was developed from the survey responses of 63 WINGS members, along with results from surveys done with 19 academic institutions and 8 foundations supporting philanthropy infrastructure, the report shows a new global picture of organizations serving philanthropy presented in the 2014 report. It includes for the very first time the perspective from academic/ education institutions that teach and/or research philanthropy and funders of philanthropy infrastructure as first effort in the compilation of a more comprehensive picture of the contribution of these institutions to the field of philanthropy. The study has the purpose of increasing knowledge and understanding about the infrastructure of philanthropy, raising awareness of its importance, reflecting about what is needed to expand and strength philanthropy infrastructure and building the capacity of the field.

We invite you to download the Report and the Infographic at WINGS Knowledge Center and see these and other findings.

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