Transformational Philanthropy: A Prescription for Re-imagining Ourselves and the World

(This is an extended version of a piece written by Tom Callanan, Maryann Fernandez and Gerard Senehi for Inspired Legacies)

The world is facing critical challenges that require a significant transformation in the way we live our lives. The need for deep change and the conditions to make it happen exist today, just as they did during the Italian Renaissance (rebirth) that pulled 14th Century Europe out of the Dark Ages and into modernity. Surprisingly, the Renaissance was catalyzed by just three elements: a group of approximately 200 philosophers, scientists and artists, the invention of the printing press, and the funding of a single family—the Medici.

During the past few years, a group of donors and advisors have begun to practice and articulate a type of “transformational philanthropy” that aims to do nothing less than shift the course of history.

What does the path towards achieving this kind of philanthropy and change look like? Here are seven ideas for you to practice and see how this affects you and your philanthropy.

BE BOLD. Few of us would sell our house, move into a smaller one and donate the proceeds to help address hunger. That’s what the Salwen family did after a chance encounter with a homeless man. What they found was that the move transformed their lives and brought them into closer alignment with their deepest values. (

What is a bold move you can make?

CREATE DEEP PARTNERSHIPS. Bold action is best accomplished though a deep and trusted partnership between the donor and grantee organization. Uber-fundraiser, Jennifer McCrea, talks with her closest philanthropic partners almost every day. While this may seem counter-intuitive, it is a step towards moving beyond a transactional relationship – where it’s only about the money – and getting into each other’s lives where you build greater trust, commitment, passion, and a shared capacity for inspired action. (

How can you partner more deeply?

ENGAGE THE OUTER AND INNER. Transformation usually requires shifting both exterior systems and inner values and ways of thinking. Reversing the AIDS epidemic in Africa, for instance, requires getting people to take medication and use condoms (outer change) which depends on their shifting cultural belief systems and values (inner change).

What new values and ways of thinking need our support?

EMBRACE THE EVOLVING NATURE OF TRANSFORMATION. Like a child whose mind and self keeps transforming, and like the human trajectory that has always transformed and embraced new aspects of humanity, there is always another new frontier. Guided by your intuition, creativity, and passion for the possible, transformation is never static.

How can you make space for new possibilities to evolve, even in the most strategic plans?

CO-CREATE THE FUTURE. Philanthropy is not merely a way to solve problems: it’s also a very powerful way to co-create the future. Partner with your grantees to create a shared vision for the future, not just short-term goals. Then watch how that vision inspires everyone to let go of personal agendas, release pre-existing ideas and constraints, and cross boundaries to engage together.

What vision of the future do you share with others, and how do your relationships support that goal?

SHAKE THINGS UP! GO BEYOND YOUR COMFORT ZONE. As Einstein said, “Problems cannot be solved by the same level of thinking that created them.” Changing your thinking rarely happens when you’re behind your desk. Going beyond your comfort zone enables you to think differently about yourself, the issues and your role in the solution.

Many people talk about the transformational power of travel. On a recent trip to a rural village in Ghana, Maryann Fernandez visited part of a cocoa cooperative made up of over 40,000 small farms. They directed their own community development from the fair trade premium received for their crops. Do you know what they were discussing during a village meeting? Succession planning! (Hmmm, that was both wonderful and unexpected.) Transform your giving and the world by being open to adjusting your approach. (

How can going beyond your normal path bring you to a new understanding of an issue, yourself and your role in the solution?

BE CONSCIOUS THAT YOU ARE PART OF THE WHOLE. There was a global outpouring of support following the earthquake in Haiti. While many not-for-profit organizations had experienced a dip in funding due to the economic downturn and focused full attention on their most pressing needs, in a unique move, Malaria No More (MNM) stopped fundraising for malaria for one week and tapped their networks to raise money for Haiti. MNM decided that it was more important to lend their time and skills to another pressing issue as part of a greater community. (

How can generosity and a shared vision for better future for everyone build a stronger sense of community solidarity worldwide?

Through these practices, there is the opportunity to expand the reach of philanthropy by not only impacting the people being served, but also in transforming the donors, the social change agents, and the field of philanthropy itself.

(To download a copy of Inspired Legacies’ booklet: Trusted Advisors for the Next Generation – A Guide for Wealth Management and Living Legacies, please visit



TOM CALLANAN recently retired after 15 years as senior program officer at the Fetzer Institute. He is now a philanthropic advisor helping individuals and foundations craft comprehensive giving strategies that include the “why,” “where,” “when” and “how” of effective philanthropic investments.

MARYANN FERNANDEZ leads high net worth individuals and families out of the boardroom and into the field. As Founder & President of Philanthropy Indaba, a unique consultancy that develops customized philanthropic journeys and opportunities for learning and service, Maryann brings donors closer to a deeper exploration and understanding of themselves, each other, and the world in which we live. (

GERARD SENEHI has been an activist for cultural evolution for over 25 years, supporting initiatives that effectively address the evolution of our collective interior: values, worldviews, and perspectives that shape and define our shared culture. He is currently creating an institute that will serve as a resource catalyst to support projects, research and education that enhance our ability to create the future at the level of culture. (


~ by Maryann Fernandez on June 1, 2011.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: