I grew up, like most people, believing that giving is a way of showing concern and compassion toward people in need.  The conference I attended yesterday at Northeastern University reminded me that in these lean times it is about much more than that.

Many of the top brass from Boston’s philanthropic community came together to discuss “Funding Social Impact in the New Economy.”  There were several key take-away messages.  Far and away the most important one for me was this: philanthropy nowadays can no longer be simply about charity; giving is absolutely vital to our economic prosperity.

Lots of details underlie this message.  Cutting to the chase, three points matter most:

  1. The U.S. is experiencing unprecedented – and rising – economic inequality.
  2. The stark financial and social costs of this inequality reverberate across our educational,
    criminal justice, and healthcare systems.
  3. Government lacks the resources, and often the political will, to address this inequality.  Indeed, government policy has often been a key contributor to it.

The mandate for philanthropy in the foreseeable future, therefore, is how to fill in for government in addressing this problem of mounting importance.  It will be quite a challenge considering that total annual giving – at around $300 billion – is just a fraction of government expenditures.  But, this is a challenge we must take on; it is – plain and simple – a matter of economic necessity!