More from the GA: Council on Foundation’s Gunderson is bullish on philanthropy

One of the hidden gems of this year’s GA proved to be a nighttime cocktail hour with the Council on Foundation’s president Steve Gunderson, in which Gunderson, who served for 16 years as a Republican Congressman from Wisconsin, said unequivocally that we are about to enter a golden age of philanthropy.

Gunderson iterated a notion that I keep hearing in the nonprofit sector – that there is a difference between old school charity, which is essentially a gift made out of some sense of responsibility, and philanthropy, which he defines as a strategic investment in social change.

And as more philanthropists come to realize this, the sector will be quite well positioned to become a more important player as we try to figure out global and local problems – despite that foundations lost an estimated $200 billion over the past year and a half.

The country is facing huge social needs, and the government now is looking to the private philanthropy world – and to the hundreds of billions of dollars stored in foundations – as a primary way to help out the American people. And to do so, it is looking for the private philanthropy world to not only give money but to help the government guide its own giving.

In the past six months, Gunderson said that he has been to the White House for more meetings than he had been in all his years as a Congressman.

And why? Because philanthropists can help the government with the four C’s as he called them: They can connect foundations with government agencies, they can communicate needs, they can help with capacity building and they can create convene-ings.

“The most important resource that philanthropy brings is the ability to convene, it is not really the money, it is the ability to convene,” he said.

So what’s next for philanthropy, according to Gunderson?

  • First, he said, the philanthropy will come to the self-realization that it is not about donor service, it is about change. “Philanthropy is in the change business. It is in the solutions business,” he said.
  • There will be a dramatic growth in global philanthropy, “because you can’t have a global economy without global philanthropy.”
  • Philanthropy will become more diverse, and will serve a much more diverse population locally. Philanthropists will be pushed to serve the country’s most underserved and needy groups, he said.
  • A new, swift–acting  philanthropic model will emerge, because foundations are viewed as old and slow.
  • There will be greater public-philanthropic partnership. “The government will look to us for help in connecting the dots in a way that we have not seen in the past.”

In all, Gunderson said that the next 2-4 years will be incredibly significant because the Bush tax cuts will expire, the government will pass permanent inheritance laws and the market will likely bounce back. “I have a sense of optimism, hope and possibility,” he said.

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