The Art of Philanthropy: Giving — and Then Giving Space

By Brenna Kehew Sculley

by Celia Cooksey

1200Giving is essential in creating communities and supporting initiatives that you believe can help shape the future you want to see. In a world often marred by challenges and inequalities, philanthropy shines as a beacon of hope and compassion. It’s not merely an act of giving; it’s an art form that involves strategic thinking, empathy, and a genuine desire to uplift humanity.

The National Philanthropic Trust defines a philanthropist as “anyone who gives of their time, talent or treasure to make positive change happen for humanity regardless of their wealth or status.”

In her book, Jean Shafiroff shares what she has learned in her life as an American philanthropist. She details how though philanthropy is a big word, it can be practiced in small ways anywhere, and anyone can become a part of building lasting change. Successful philanthropy requires not only financial resources but also time, skills, and influence. The art of philanthropy involves leveraging these resources to maximize impact. Whether through volunteering, mentorship, or advocacy, philanthropists play an active role in driving positive change. By using their expertise and networks, they amplify the reach of their initiatives, inspiring others to join the cause and contribute their own talents.

For years Forbes has highlighted five key habits that characterize effective philanthropists, emphasizing the importance of strategic giving, empathy-driven decision-making, measurable impact, collaboration, and the ability to inspire broader societal change through philanthropic efforts. These habits showcase how philanthropy is more than simple charity, evolving into a strategic and compassionate art form that aims to create lasting positive transformations.

Another key piece in giving is trusting in the organization and people to which you have supported, and finding a way to give them space to excel.

Funding creative endeavors can present a particular challenge in stepping back, as it is a unique form of giving that shapes our culture. Michael Sy Uy, a lecturer and associate director of undergraduate studies at the Harvard University Department of Music, details in his book Ask the Experts that from the end of World War II through the U.S. Bicentennial, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the Ford Foundation granted close to $300 million in the field of music alone. In deciding what to fund, these three grantmaking institutions turned to music composers at elite institutions, professors from prestigious universities, and leaders of performing arts organizations to help shape what they funded. The significance gave voice to Western art composers put in charge of directing large and unprecedented channels of public and private funds, but in doing so they also determined and defined what was meant by artistic excellence. They decided the fate of their peers and shaped the direction of musicmaking in this country.

As Jami Duffy, executive director of Youth on Record, wrote in an open letter in January, funders must release grantees from “the tight grip of applications, reporting, marketing requests, required trainings, and cohort models.” As so many have called for, there can be great value to unrestricted, multiyear funding. This is not to say that you shouldn’t have a say in how the funding you give is used, but there is something to be said for creative freedom in giving.

The art of philanthropy is a testament to the boundless potential of human compassion and empathy. It is a strategic and impactful endeavor that transcends mere charity, aiming to create lasting change and uplift those in need. Through the lens of this art, philanthropists harness their resources, expertise, and influence to nurture a world where everyone has the opportunity to thrive. As the tapestry of philanthropy continues to weave stories of hope, collaboration, and transformation, it reminds us that each act of giving is a brushstroke on the canvas of a more compassionate and just society.

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