Collaborative philanthropy: possibility or pipe dream?

Organizations and business leaders around the world always stress the importance of teamwork but in the realm of philanthropy, most people act alone. Yet as the world’s challenges become increasingly complex and interconnected, a joint approach might be more effective to promote the common good than “going solo.”

But is collective philanthropy a viable option?

Diverse views to philanthropy

The very nature of giving and the plurality of perspectives make joint philanthropic cooperation an especially challenging endeavor. After all, divergent opinions often emerge within the same family or family-run business. As one family-business leader shared, “Business success demands a return on your capital, but in philanthropy, there are literally 360 degrees of doing good.”

So how do business families manage opposing philanthropic views when they arise? Is there a need and willingness to engage in philanthropic collaborations outside the family realm? If so, what system would family firms implement and how would they channel their philanthropic interests?

To shed light on this issue, my colleagues Rudolf Repgen and Tarek el Sehity and I spent several months conducting in-depth interviews with 30 heads of top-tier business families, most based in Central and Southern Europe.

Through our research, we observed a diversity of philanthropic approaches that could potentially serve as the foundation of future philanthropic collaborations.

Core findings

Based on the feedback we collected, most family-business leaders were interested and aware of a two-pronged approach to philanthropy, with two especially relevant take-aways.

First, they clearly appreciated the power of combining financial, social, and professional resources to bolster the positive ripple effect of philanthropic actions. In fact, some even showed a greater disposition to allocating resources to a common cause if they were able to engage with a trusted network.

Second, interviewees expressed a manifest interest in engaging with like-minded peers to discuss how to best align values and perspectives of their philanthropic approach. Some also expressed fears of philanthropic initiatives transmuting into unintended litmus tests for family unity and shared purpose, and further complicating already-complex family dynamics.

In my view, these concerns further underscore the need and appeal of peer forums outside the family domain to exchange insights and ideas. The potential of this type of community is enormous but its realization is far from straightforward. What aspects should business families consider when exploring philanthropic partnerships?

Our investigation uncovered three distinct approaches, which we’ll explore in my next post.