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US Philanthropy Leader Warns Against Spending On ‘Fad’ Issues


5 September 2018 at 5:08 pm
Maggie Coggan
An international philanthropy leader is warning Australia not to follow in America’s footsteps by letting wealth lead to careless philanthropic spending.  


Maggie Coggan | 5 September 2018 at 5:08 pm


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US Philanthropy Leader Warns Against Spending On ‘Fad’ Issues
5 September 2018 at 5:08 pm

An international philanthropy leader is warning Australia not to follow in America’s footsteps by letting wealth lead to careless philanthropic spending.  

Larry Kramer, the president of US philanthropic organisation the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, spoke to Pro Bono News before his opening address at Philanthropy Australia’s national conference on Wednesday.

He expressed concern over the number of young, wealthy philanthropists in the US, who were funneling their money into “fad” issues because of their inexperience in the industry.  

“There’s a whole lot of things being done that I think are not very effective, and in the meantime a lot of things that are effective are finding it harder and harder to find support,” Kramer said.

Regarding concerns that “mega-philanthropy” had too much weight over American public policy, he said that philanthropy wasn’t the issue.

“It’s not that philanthropy has too much influence, it’s wealth. People with lots of money have more influence than those without wealth and that’s absolutely true,” he said.

Kramer said this new emergence of philanthropy had a tendency to “reject” previous methods, without any clear reason as to why.

“It’s like their attitude is ‘we’re going to try new things just for the sake of it’,” he said.

From what he had observed, the philanthropy scene in Australia was “quite similar” to the US, but he said this trend was something he would “like to see not happen”.

“I’m hoping that as people grow their philanthropy in Australia, they take the time to learn from experience and learn from others that have come before them,” he said.

“It’s actually quite a complicated business and instead of just rushing to grab the latest fad, it’s important to really think it through and figure out what you want to do, learn and experiment.”  

With the theme of this year’s conference, ‘Purpose. Is it enough?’, Philanthropy Australia CEO Sarah Davies believed the explorations of purpose within the industry would bring them closer to knowing “how and where” they could refine their practice to “achieve better outcomes”.

On purpose, Kramer said the “best philanthropy” came out of passion, but it was necessary to “think hard about where you can make a difference and how”.  

“As a general matter, it should or should be something that’s meaningful to whoever the philanthropist is,” he said.

Kramer added that climate change was an “existential threat”, and should be made a focus of philanthropic funding globally.  

“The effects of climate change are almost certainly going to swamp and undo gains that people make in almost everything else they’re working on if we don’t get it under control,” he said.

“If you care about immigration or poverty reduction or quality of agriculture, the political and social consequences of climate change is going to overwhelm anything that happens over the next 50 years if we don’t fix it.”


Maggie Coggan  |  Journalist  |  @MaggieCoggan

Maggie Coggan is a journalist at Pro Bono News covering the social sector.

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