Be Afraid: The Five Scariest Trends in Philanthropy

Inside Philanthropy | January 21, 2015

By David Callahan

Inevitably, the upshot of all this is a weaker voice for ordinary folks over the direction of American life.

My six-year-old son and I had a macabre idea for a costume last night: We were going to put a bullseye on his front and back, and call him a “moving target.”

Of course, second thoughts interceded: In an era of school shootings, you don’t dress your kid up as a target. Oy.

We live in scary times. And while I tend to think of philanthropy as a bright spot, with lots of well-meaning people trying to make the world a better place, I’m often unnerved by the developments I’m seeing.

Many readers will have their own list of troubling trends in U.S. philanthropy. Here’s mine.

1.  The growing push to convert wealth into power through philanthropy

Look at nearly any sector of U.S. society, and you’ll find private funders wielding growing power. Most dramatic has been the reshaping of public education by philanthropists like Gates and the Waltons, but the footprint of private money has also grown when it comes to healthcare, the environment, the economy, social policy, science, and the arts.

Whether you agree or disagree with the specific views pushed by private funders, you’ve got to be disturbed by the growing army of hands-on mega donors and foundations that seems to get more clever every year about converting their money into societal influence. Love it or hate it, the Common Core is a great example: In effect, private funders are helping determine how tens of millions of kids will be educated for years to come. And to think that we once saw public education as America’s most democratic institution!

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