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Welcome to the Giving Thought Podcast, a bi-weekly exploration of trends in global philanthropy and civil society from the Charities Aid Foundation’s in-house think-tank, Giving Thought.

In each episode your host Rhodri Davies (formerly with co-host Adam Pickering) explores a big issue, theme or trend and analyses what it means for philanthropy and civil society around the world.

Be sure to check the show notes for each podcast and find blogs, reports and videos from Giving Thought and do get in touch if you have questions or suggestions at

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May 28, 2019

In episode 50, we talk to Phil Buchanan- founding CEO of the Center for Effective Philanthropy and author of a new book: Giving Done Right: Effective Giving and Making Every Dollar Count. We discuss current debates about philanthropy and what we need to do to ensure a positive narrative about the value of giving in our society as we head into the future. Including:


  • What is the core role of philanthropy within society which differentiates it from either state or market provision?
  • A key strength of philanthropy is often argued to be its ability to drive society forward by taking risks and funding things that the state or market cannot - but how much current philanthropy actually lives up to this billing?
  • Why has the idea that non-profits need to be “more business-like” become so widespread, and why is it wrong?
  • One of the effects of taking an “investment approach” is that donors can then be reluctant to fund core costs or to give unrestricted funding- why is this such a problem?
  • Is part of the problem with the “overhead myth” that donors want some measure of the effectiveness of their giving, and in the absence of compelling evidence they are forced to rely on unhelpful financial measures like overhead ratios? What can we do to provide them with better metrics?
  • Is there a danger that the growing wave of scepticism, and even cynicism towards philanthropy, will have a negative impact on people’s willingness to give?
  • Of the current critiques levelled at philanthropy, which are potentially misguided or overstated, and which are genuinely important to heed?


  • Some argue that since philanthropy is to some extent a product of structural inequality, it can never truly be part of the solution – but do some donors and funders recognise this challenge; and how are they genuinely pursuing structural change?
  • The freedom that philanthropy has to run counter to the status quo or the policies and public opinion of a particular time has been a key part of driving historic social change. How do we preserve this freedom, whilst also answering concerns that unchecked philanthropic power could end up being anti-democratic?
  • Do we need to make philanthropy more democratic, or accountable to the people and communities it is supposed to serve? If so, how?
  • Is there a challenge in balancing long-term innovation against the needs of the present? i.e. when does "big bet" philanthropy become wasteful or self-indulgent, and how much wasted philanthropic effort are we as a society prepared to accept in the name of "discovery"?


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