Humanism in Change Efforts

In the recent Chronicle of Philanthropy article, “Grant Makers Must Lead With Their Hearts as Well as Their Heads,” the topic is philanthropy but the ideas and values apply to any social change effort.  This article takes off from the David Brooks column I recently blogged, and calls for an integrated approach, a mix of humanist and technocratic orientations and approaches.

As a technocratic approach has become more common in philanthropy over the past 15 years, it has brought many benefits, to be sure: It typically involves experts applying business and social-science principles to help foundations define their goals clearly, devise focused strategies, measure results rigorously, and work closely with grantees to improve performance… Yet despite the best intentions, technocracy can sometimes become too much of a good thing.  Grant makers fall along a continuum: At one end are humanists—who tend to have altruistic beliefs, adopt a responsive and intuitive grant-making style, avoid intervening with grantees much, and use qualitative evaluation primarily for learning—and technocrats are at the other. Most are somewhere in the middle and shift over time.

Neither the humanistic nor the technocratic approach has cornered the market on making philanthropy more innovative or effective. In fact, the dynamic tension between the two is rich territory that has not been fully mined.

Grant makers can enhance their work by aligning keen passions with feasible strategies, blending control and flexibility, and mixing numbers and stories in evaluations. The best grant-making leaders are not only analytical, objective, and expert, but also self-aware, collaborative, respectful, and intuitive—and are able to adjust the mix based on a given circumstance.

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