Don’t you find that all the new philanthropic terms are confusing? I sure do. Philanthrocapitalism, tactical philanthropy, strategic philanthropy, etc, etc. There are Blogs and magazines named with these terms, and their authors are always attempting to define their preferred phrase and why both its concept and the phrase they’ve chosen to describe it is better than another’s. An easier way to think about approaches to philanthropy was posted by Sean Stannard-Stockton on his Tactical Philanthropy Blog.
[One philanthropic approach is] focused on creating and sustaining an environment within which great nonprofit organizations can thrive, while …[another] philanthropy funder focuses on developing the initiatives, goals and approaches that they believe are most likely to succeed.
This difference was illustrated extremely well in a Stanford Social Innovation Review post by Amy Sample Ward where she used the difference between gardening and landscaping as an example:
The Gardener creates an ecosystem open to change, available to new groups, and full of fresh opportunities to emerge naturally. The approach is focused on organic collaboration and growth for the entire community. The gardener is simply there to help, cultivate, and clear the weeds if/when they poke up.
The Landscaper creates an ecosystem that matches a preconceived design or pattern. The approach is focused on executing a preconceived environment, regardless of how natural or organic it may be for the larger area. The landscaper is there to ensure that everything stays just as planned.
Do you fund organizations managed by innovative and creative leaders? Are you willing to risk your grant dollars on interesting or unusual efforts? Do you let any and all nonprofits (within your focus area) apply? Do you encourage collaboration among your grantees and others in the field(s) that interest you? Then you’re a “gardener.” (Stannard-Stockton would call you a “tactical philanthropist”.)
Have you thought deeply about “what works” in your field? Do you have your goals identified, your approaches chosen, an initiative developed around these goals and approaches, and a portfolio of grantees that fit into those molds? Then you’re a “landscaper.”
Neither of these descriptors matter much -- what does matter, though, is that you understand your approach to grantmaking and giving, whether you’re excited to see what self-seeds or prefer to place your flowerpots just so.