Wealth transfer and Philanthropy | City of Ideas

Posted 03/06/2013 by Paul S. Grogan

report_coverSchervish and Havens note that while the recession of 2007 to 2009 hit everyone across the wealth spectrum, it was those with the least who suffered most. While households with more than $1 million in assets lost about 16% of their net worth in the recession, those with less than $100,000 in net assets lost 76%. The reason? While assets, which include homes, lost substantial value in the recession, debts were unchanged. The more leveraged you were, the greater the risk.

The economic impact of the recession and its divergent impact on ethnic groups in Boston is well documented by our Boston Indicators Project, and the place of Boston and Massachusetts as among the most unequal places in the country is well-documented in our 2011 Poverty Report and elsewhere

But in a time of a widening economic divide, the wealth report also gives those of us in philanthropy an opportunity – in the rising number of donors who want to take on issues in their lifetimes. It is that sea change in the amount of “lifetime giving” that will drive a rising tide of philanthropy in the next 50 years, and those foundations and nonprofits that adapt to this new paradigm of giving will be those who can make the greatest difference.

One way we at the Boston Foundation look to do that is by paying greater attention to our donor-advised funds, which give the donors power over their philanthropy, with the resources of the Foundation to help them in their choices. Our merger with The Philanthropic Initiative last year adds another exciting dimension to that effort.  TPI gives those individuals, families, corporations and others who want to fully embrace strategic philanthropy an opportunity for a much deeper engagement to better understand their goals, design philanthropic programs and measure their impact in a strategic way.

But as we pursue these large and important initiatives, we must also remember that sometimes the much more personal connections between a donor and those touched by their philanthropy can do powerful things. At the end of today’s forum (watch the video here), Paul Schervish talked about our ‘moral biographies’, the product of our capacity to help others, and our aspiration to help, and in turn strengthen others’ capacity and aspiration. It is built on those personal connections we can create.

To do that effectively, it is incumbent on those of us seeking funds to make the case for giving as compelling as possible and to connect donors personally with those who are the results or potential results of their gifts. A number of people in the event today noted the power of our “Boston by Night” tours, which take visitors into some of the neighborhoods served by our Streetsafe Boston initiative, and give them first-hand contact with our group of highly-trained Streetworkers and some of the young men with whom they are working to build meaningful relationships that can interrupt the violence and resolve conflicts. Those tours have generated as much heartfelt support for the program as any stack of success data could hope to achieve.

The first-hand experience of “Boston by Night” builds connections that complement data, assessment and other measures of impact. And each must play a role if we are to tap into the capacity of donors, nourish their aspirations and create the impact we hope to achieve.

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