What You Should Know About Philly Philanthropy's New Breed of Bean Counters

Carla Robinson calculates a $130 million decrease in annual Philadelphia area giving since 2003, and observes that Philadelphia's four largest philanthropic foundations have cut their total amount of giving by 30% during the same period. These cuts have altered the culture of philanthropy in the city. Area non-profits that prove their efficacy with data, she argues, will likely be this sea-change’s lone survivors.

Philly arts and culture organizations have seen the larger cuts in proportion to other sectors. But they also have an easier time providing the evidence of progress that donors now demand. They can count things like “ticket sales and memberships, and come up with imaginative new ways to build and engage a larger audience,” writes Robinson.

Frazierita Klasen of The Pew Charitable Trusts, who we have profiled here at Inside Philanthropy, explained that donors struggle to “identify the programs that are going to produce the most meaningful change... The question is, how” best to do that. For better or worse, the answer is often hard proof. (See Pew Charitable Trusts: Philadelphia Grants).

For Pew’s arts funding, it also means doing something that makes many artists cringe: playing closer to audience demand. As long-time Pew CEO Rebecca Rimel told the Inquirer last month,

If any organization produces high-quality products that consumers wish to see, then they are going to flourish… They are doing a lot of very innovative things to meet audiences where they are. People today are not used to time-bound and place-based experiences. They are used to getting things where they want it and when they want it. Without arts consumers, arts groups are not going to flourish.

So shed a tear on behalf of artistic integrity. But this new emphasis on “tangible results” means something entirely different for social service oriented non-profits. Rather than fostering the existence of something good, social service providers often seek to eradicate something bad. Take for example homelessness or hunger.

The prospect of “building a larger audience” for such amenities isn’t the first thing you’d want to run boasting about to your donor. For this and other reasons, it's harder for these types of organizations to provide the same kind of concrete data required to keep their donors’ minds at ease than those in the arts.