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Latest Philanthropic Trends: Interview with Debra Kahn

Monday, August 11, 2014   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Amy Seasholtz
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Ideas, connections and funding for impact 
                                                            August 2014

Latest Philanthropic Trends: Interview with Debra Kahn

Debra Kahn, Executive Director
Philanthropy Network Greater Philadelphia

Debra became Philanthropy Network's fourth executive director in 2008. Debra previously served as a Principal at the public issues consulting firm GoldsmithKahnAssociates, LLC; Philadelphia Secretary of Education from 2000-05; and Executive Director of Philadelphia Futures.  Debra currently serves as Vice President of the Board of Directors of Philadelphia Playwrights, Trustee of the Christopher Ludwick Foundation, and Advisory Board Member of the Charles Ellis Fund.


Fairmount VenturesWhat recent trends have you seen in the philanthropic world?


Debra Kahn: We are going to issue a new regional giving study in November based on a survey of our members we conducted earlier this spring. I can’t give a sneak preview right now, but I can say that as we’ve seen nationally, funding from foundations and other sources is increasing.

We’ll report where the money is being allocated and how it’s being delivered. Top of mind for funders is the impact and social return on the money being invested.


Fairmount VenturesWhat trends have you seen nationally that might be applicable to the Greater Philadelphia region?


Debra KahnFinding ways to collaborate effectively—among funders and with nonprofits and government—because issues are too complex to address alone.

Another trend is changing demographics, especially a younger generation and more diversity, along with new forms of philanthropy, including the explosion in Donor Advised Funds, beyond foundation, corporate and individual giving. This also includes online giving, where it’s fascinating to me to see the kinds of funds that can be generated for social ventures as well as pure nonprofit philanthropic purposes. That’s something to watch.


There also is a renewed focus on place-based funding to create change in a geographic area and then possibly look to scale up. The role of philanthropy beyond funding - in convening, supporting research, providing volunteers and other types of assistance - is also getting attention.


Fairmount Ventures: How can nonprofits who are dealing with more competitive funding opportunities make themselves more appealing?


Debra Kahn: It’s first about doing the homework-like research and following the guidelines for the best match. It’s about developing relationships. And it’s about telling in a cogent and convincing way – with numbers and stories – the achievements and impact of their organization. Nonprofits should also be open about the challenges they face.


Funders want an honest relationship. They know things aren't always perfect. 


Last but not least, it goes back to the business of collaboration and working in a complementary way. It’s a diverse landscape out there and rarely is only one organization acting on a specific issue.


Nonprofits should be able to differentiate themselves while acknowledging other players in their space - and better yet, aligning in ways that make sense.


This demonstrates an organization has a strong sense of the landscape, that they can articulate the impact they are having and they understand why their approach and contributions matter to the issue, population and location they serve. If a nonprofit can’t make that case, it may be time to think about new approaches that will provide greater public benefits.


Fairmount Ventures:  What are some challenges funders commonly have that most people aren’t aware of?


Debra Kahn: Funders want to be well informed. They know they can’t be effective in their work unless they are in the know about issues and best practices. Philanthropy Network helps fulfill this important educational role for members.

Funders see the increasing financial need and service demand from nonprofits since the start of the economic crisis and they are even more careful to assess how to use their dollars in what they consider to be the most effective way. Funders also want to encourage grantees in the same or similar fields to work together more strategically without being heavy-handed about it


Fairmount VenturesLast fall you hosted the Sparking Solutions Conference. What can this year’s attendees expect see?


Debra Kahn: Last year we entered the conference as Delaware Valley Grantmakers and left as Philanthropy Network Greater Philadelphia. We won’t see any rebranding this time since the new name and look are working really well for us! But we are excited to host this year’s conference, Sparking Solutions 2.0, the largest gathering of funders, government, and nonprofit leaders throughout the region.

We’ve zeroed in on five issues where philanthropy plays a catalytic role in sparking change: reading by 4th grade; reducing hunger and fostering healthy eating; preventing and ending homelessness; access to quality health care; and youth safety. We will look at developments in the past year, have leaders of collaborative initiatives share their experiences, and explore ways to grow our collective impact.

Our aim is to showcase progress, help overcome the obstacles and inspire continued action.