1st Edition

Philanthropy in Practice Pragmatism and the Impact of Philanthropic Action

By Ekkehard Thümler Copyright 2017
    234 Pages
    by Routledge

    234 Pages
    by Routledge

    Philanthropic foundations are experiencing a crisis of professional identity. They attract considerable hopes due to an unusually high degree of independence and freedom of manoeuvre, which theoretically places them in a privileged position to find novel solutions to societies’ most severe and intractable problems. However, the field is said to suffer from a pervasive lack of orientation as to how these aspirations can be realized. Compared to other professions, it can be said that there exists neither reliable knowledge nor established practices which might guide the strategy development and the daily practice of foundations. This void is frequently filled by changing fads which present easy to grasp recipes and often make bold promises of how foundations can change the world.

    Yet, none of them has ever met these expectations. Philanthropy in Practice shows how philanthropic organizations can effectively address this predicament. Drawing on the public philosophy of Pragmatism, it argues that, to be effective, they need to go for the solution of social problems of middle range.

    The book puts at center stage the crucial role of niches in terms of bounded, protected and stable social spaces which are rich in resources. They render possible the experiments required to develop effective interventions and facilitate the retention of novel solutions to social problems. The model builds upon, and is illustrated by four in-depth case studies from the UK, Germany and Switzerland.

    With its sharp analytical eye and substantial evidence, Philanthropy in Practice will reshape the way we think about the questions of what impact philanthropy can reasonably hope to achieve, and by which means.


    1. Introduction: Contemporary Philanthropy and its Problems

    PART 1: Theory

    2. Pragmatism and the Evolution of Intelligent Social Action

    3. Mapping the Space of Social Problems

    4. A Contingency Model of Problem Solving Strategies

    5. The Role of Niches in Processes of (Social) Innovation

    Part 2: Case Studies

    6. The Chance: Opening the Doors to the Labour Market for Disadvantaged Youth

    7. Foundation Interkultur and the Intercultural Garden Movement: Catalyzing Emerging Practice at the Grassroots

    8. The Nuffield Foundation and the Nuffield Council on Bioethics: Organizing the Provision of Nonpartisan Expertise

    9. The Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust and the Campaign for Freedom of Information: Campaigning for Access to Files

    Part 3: Analysis

    10. From Experimentation to Exploration: The Pragmatic Model of Action in Philanthropic Practice

    11. Explanations for Social Impact: The Door Opener Mechanism

    12. Towards a Model of Philanthropic Niches and Intelligent Niching

    13. Conclusion and Outlook


    Ekkehard Thümler is Director of the Program "Personal Development" at the Joachim Herz Foundation in Hamburg, Germany.

    "This book is a contribution to the literature on civil society organisations, their formation and the contribution they make to concepts of philanthropy and social change. It provides a newly oriented framework and theoretical understanding of the role of philanthropic organisations, and more specifically of how they make decisions about what constitutes effectiveness and achievement of social change. It is a relevant text for anyone grappling with these ideas as well as those who wish to interrogate possibilities of new theories around organised philanthropy."

    Beth Oppenheim, International Society for Third-Sector Research and The Johns Hopkins University 2018