Philanthropists must move beyond the hierarchy

The president at one of the largest US philanthropic institutions believes there is a misnomer that philanthropists must stick to a strict hierarchy when addressing global problems.

Speaking at the Philanthropy Australia National Conference this morning in Melbourne, William and Flora Hewlett Foundation president Larry Kramer said there are a lot of worthwhile causes inside the perceived constraints of what philanthropy should do.

"There's a notion or premise that there's a strict hierarchy of things that philanthropists should focus on and all of us are obligated to work on those things. I just don't agree with that," he said.

Kramer highlighted global issues such as poverty, education and diversity are indeed noteworthy causes and need attention, but philanthropists have a much broader scope to address the matters that particularly draw their interest.

"I do believe the best philanthropy is motivated by passion. Passion alone may not be enough but it is the place to start," Kramer said.

As president of the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, Kramer oversees more than US$9 billion in assets and awarded more than US$400 million in grants in 2017.

"You should pick from among the many problems that objectively matter to you. That in itself should be based on whether you have an obligation to do research, to listen to others and to learn as much you can to make informed choices," he said.

Kramer added that in the US he has seen a lot of philanthropy that's being done thoughtlessly, without any vision and without any real plans. He said philanthropists must know the problem or passion they are trying to address but also "how to do philanthropy" - which is two distinct skillsets.

Opening the conference to more than 500 delegates, Philanthropy Australia chief executive Sarah Davies said managing the trade-off between head and heart is a never-ending balancing act. The conference theme in 2018 is "Purpose: Is it enough?"

"Passion doesn't always serve purpose. So how do we nurture our personal connectivity to a cause without sacrificing our objectivity," Davies said.

"Do we follow our own agenda or do we listen to communities to make decisions instead of us. How do we stay motivated and brave and resilient without our passion and our empathy consuming our mind and our body. And without the feeling of emotion, how do we build those critical and authentic relationships and partnerships that give life to our ambition and our goals?"

Kramer said it's important to maintain perspective of what philanthropists can and cannot do. He said the resources available to philanthropy globally are miniscule by comparison to the problems which need to be addressed.

Organised philanthropy in the US granted about US$40 billion last year. Global GDP last year was $135 trillion, Kramer added.

Read more: Flora Hewlett FoundationLarry KramerPhilanthropy Australia National ConferenceSarah Davies
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