High impact philanthropy

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High impact philanthropy is the practice of philanthropy with the intention of maximizing social good. The aim is to make the biggest difference possible given the amount of capital invested.[1] Philanthropists who give in this way are less interested that their dollars go to a particular organization and more concerned that what they invest yields a result in an area of particular interest to them.[citation needed]

Current practice[edit]

High impact philanthropy begins with a philanthropist’s personal commitment to making a change in the world and caring enough about a particular issue to remain engaged in the long-term and focused on best practices that make a difference.[2] The resources that a philanthropist then gives are directed towards efforts that bring the desired positive change to fruition. The result might be getting one more student to graduate from high school on time or ensuring that an additional child receives treatment for malaria in time to save their life.

Donors seeking to achieve a high impact with their dollars typically attempt to understand the context of the area in which they wish to give as well as the goals towards which they should be contributing. In addition, they ask how success will be measured and how much change costs.[3] A number of organizations have sought to establish metrics for determining social impact:

  • Giving What We Can’s cost-effectiveness approach, first identifying the most promising causes, then the most promising interventions within these causes and ultimately recommending the most effective charities implementing them. GWWC focus on averted DALYs per dollar, a measure to quantify the time and seriousness of disease burden that can be avoided through donations.[4]
  • Center for High Impact Philanthropy’s cost-per-impact, a “back of the envelope” estimate that links desired outcomes to costs of delivering a program [5]
  • Acumen Fund’s best available charitable options (BACO) analysis which compares net outputs over the time of an investment with the best charitable option [6]
  • Robin Hood Foundation’s monetization approach that converts impact into dollars [6]
  • Back of the Envelope Guide to Philanthropy's Leverage Factor approach which is a rough monetization scheme.
  • REDF’s Social Return on Investment (SROI)

High impact philanthropy differs from other types of philanthropy in that the outcome maximizes the social good of their philanthropy. Many philanthropists do not give in the attempt to maximize social good. Obligatory giving, reciprocal giving, giving to an issue that has affected one's personal life and giving for notoriety may not be high impact because the emphasis is not consciously centered on social outcomes. “Good intentions and generosity are not sufficient in practice and they ought not to be in philanthropy,” according to Richard Gelles, Dean of the School of Social Policy & Practice at the University of Pennsylvania.[7]

Foundations claiming to focus on high impact philanthropy[edit]

Some of these foundations include:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "What Is High Impact Philanthropy?" Center for High Impact Philanthropy. School of Social Policy & Practice, University of Pennsylvania. 24 April 2007.
  2. ^ "Katherina Rosqueta Defines High Impact Philanthropy". Big Think. 12 June 2009.
  3. ^ "’Mustaches for Kids’: Charities Adopt Private Sector Models to Tap New Funds". Knowledge@Wharton. 24 June 2009.
  4. ^ "Methodology"
  5. ^ Center for High Impact Philanthropy, School of Social Policy & Practice, University of Pennsylvania.
  6. ^ a b “Interview – Paul Brest, Jed Emerson, Katherina Rosqueta, Brian Trelstad and Michael Weinstein”. Alliance Magazine. 1 April 2009.
  7. ^ Richard Gelles, Ph.D., Dean of the School of Social Policy & Practice, University of Pennsylvania. Quoted on Center for High Impact Philanthropy website.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]