Friday tidings to one and all. Here’s another fortnight’s worth of news for you here, as once again I was off work last Friday.
1) We start out this week with a heavyweight story about the purported rise of “crony philanthropy” in the US. An article in Forbes claims to have identified a trend similar to “crony capitalism” in which corporate philanthropic money and political goals become uncomfortably entwined. If true, this is certainly cause for concern as there is already enough scepticism about corporate philanthropy and about the undue influence of philanthropic money in general.
2) At number two this week is a story I slightly hesitate to choose, because it may seem slightly prurient, but there is some philanthropic substance to it so I’m sticking with it. It is the news that philanthropy has become a key element of the divorce case between multimillionaire hedge fund manager Chris Hohn and his wife Jamie Cooper-Hohn. It has been reported that an argument over each party’s share of their wealth hinges on the extent to which either is responsible for their joint philanthropic efforts. Having a long-standing interest in what motivates wealthy people to give (and, incidentally, having once interviewed Jamie Cooper-Hohn about the couple’s philanthropy; although I can’t claim any special insight), it is interesting (albeit depressing) to see this become a bone of legal contention.
3) At number three is an article from Forbes, arguing that “Moneyball philanthropy” shouldn’t be seen as a panacea, because it is not good at measuring the value of system-changing approaches. The “moneyball” tag refers to the book and film of the same name, about the rise of the data-led “sabermetrics” approach in baseball, and is used in a slighty tongue-in-cheek (and possibly slightly pejorative) way to refer to data-driven philanthropy. The article puts forward an interesting argument that this works well for approaches where the intervention is close to the beneficiary, but not so well for approaches that are aimed at influencing policy or achieving system change.
4) At number four is more (yes, more!) on Bitcoin and philanthropy, with an article in the Chronicle of Philanthropy about some of the emerging success stories of charities making the most of the opportunities afforded by cryptocurrencies. I realise I’m in danger of getting boring about this, but as well as being interesting, I do think that it is important that we think about what new technologies such as Bitcoin mean for charitable giving.
5) And finally, a story about (possibly inadvertently) harnessing the wilful immaturity of the web to raise a lot of money for a good cause. A man called Zack “Danger” Brown put a project on the crowdfunding website Kickstarter to raise money to make himself a potato salad. With the crushing inevitability of a video of a hamster eating a burrito, this went viral, and Zack found that he had raised over $46,000 in pledges. Obviously this is somewhat in excess of the original $10 he wanted to make a potato salad.
This has attracted controversy, as reported in this article: not only about his proposal to make a more expensive potato salad (which has led to many cries of “sell-out!”), but about what he is planning on doing with the inevitable change. His plan, apparently is to use the remaining money to support charities working in food poverty, which is obviously admirable. I’m not sure what lesson, if any, this story has for philanthropy, but it is probably something like: “no-one lost money by overestimating the maturity of the internet.”