Catalytic Philanthropy

Our guest blog this month comes from Ninne Court, a student from American School of London who joined Habitat for Humanity GB as a volunteer this summer. Ninne explores the concept of catalytic philanthropy, and how it can drive innovation.


Catalytic Philanthropy: What is it and how will it change the face of charity? 

Catalytic Philanthropy – a seemingly odd pairing of two words, but one that may revolutionise the way charity works.


What is it? 

Many of us have donated money to charity before. We see the act of transferring funds from one account to another as a good deed, an act to help others. And, in almost all situations, it is: without charity, many communities would be significantly worse off. However catalytic philanthropy takes that notion of charitable giving one step further. Its goal is to drive social and systemic change that has benefits beyond what money can buy.

The term ‘catalytic philanthropy’ was first used by Mark Kramer, who had identified the core issue with modern day philanthropy, which is that money sometimes isn’t enough to resolve damaging cycles within the community. His article, Catalytic Philanthropy, was inspired by an initiative by Thomas Siebel, who through relentless advertising managed to reduce meth use by 72% among adults in Montana, a state that had the fifth worst level of meth abuse in the United States. His approach was so successful because it targeted the issue at the source, using media to discourage teenagers and older adults from beginning to use the drug in the first place, which was more effective than simply funding drug support organisations.

asl philanthropy

How does it change philanthropy? 

Although most of us cannot engage in the hands-on approach that catalytic philanthropy often needs, Mark Kramer’s take on philanthropy is important to consider for anyone interested in any kind of charitable act, whether it involves writing a check, or truly engaging in the catalytic approach. This approach will not necessarily change the experience of donating money to charity, but it certainly should change one’s mindset and thought process while donating. Transparency and legitimacy are fundamental aspects of charities that enact valuable change. Kramer’s first and arguably most important conclusion is that philanthropists need to “take responsibility for achieving results”, rather than just trusting that their money will be used in a valuable manner. Additionally, he emphasises the need for educated donations – rather than conducting surface level research about a charity itself, it is essential for philanthropists to have broad knowledge about the issue that charity is tackling, and understand whether their initiatives are valuable enough to deserve a donation.

Arguably the most crucial takeaway from the concept of Catalytic Philanthropy is that it reminds us of the most important part of giving in the first place, which is to help enact change so that people can live better lives, and as philanthropists, part of our responsibility is to ensure that our donations achieve that goal.



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