In business, breakthroughs come from revolution, not evolution. Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, and Steve Jobs are hailed as geniuses not because they came up through the corporate ranks, tweaking existing products, but because they came out of nowhere with ideas and products that broke new ground. When these entrepreneurs started out, they didn’t have the resources of giants like IBM, but they shared a key differential: vision.
Philanthropy, like the tech industry circa 1980, is ripe for “disruption.” Given the immense problems facing the world–environmental degradation, ethnic conflict, hunger, disease, and poverty—there is urgent need for vision. We need revolutionary ideas that would never come out of the IBMs of philanthropy.
Nonetheless, entrepreneurial individuals often don’t apply the principles to their philanthropy that made them successful in business. Instead, they take a traditional grantmaking approach: Solicit applications from multiple nonprofits, and fund whomever writes the best proposal. If you happen to fund a nonprofit that runs a successful project, then you are a successful funder. If not, cross your fingers and try again.
Entrepreneurial philanthropy stands this conventional model on its head, putting you in the driver’s seat: It’s not about funding nonprofits; it’s about solving social problems. You pick a problem that you want to fix. Then, you figure out the best ways to attack it, and, instead of inviting all comers to apply, you go find the best organization or person to carry out your agenda.
This “funder knows best” model has detractors as well as proponents. Critics contend that it gives too much power to donors and disenfranchises nonprofits, treating them like mere contractors. Of course, the road less traveled is rarely the smoothest.