Strengthening the relationship between charitable work and research

What topics should and can be explored that are essential to the work of philanthropy? How will we shape this close collaboration between philanthropy and research and how will we finance it? I wrote a framing paper for this conference titled “Imaging the Future of Philanthropy Research in Europe” and delivered the opening speech.

On September 23, 2022, the International Conference on Philanthropy Research took place in Turin with the attendance of approximately 30 representatives from the world of European funds and 30 from the world of Philanthropy Research in Europe. Almost 4 years ago I started preparing as a consultant for Compagnia di San Paolo. Since 2020, we have had a steering committee for the actual organization of this conference. In addition to Compagnia, Philea and ERNOP were also part of it.

Why this conference?
The aim of the international conference was to further strengthen the relationship between philanthropy and philanthropy research. What topics should and can be explored that are essential to the work of philanthropy? How will we shape this close collaboration between philanthropy and research and how will we finance it? I myself wrote a “framing paper” for this conference entitled “Imagining the Future of Philanthropy Research in Europe” and delivered the opening speech.

The foundation was laid by Philea and ERNOP
Fortunately, the foundation for closer collaboration between philanthropy and philanthropy research was already laid when a Memorandum of Understanding was signed in 2019 between the European Foundation Center (now Philea) and ERNOP. This document states: “The EFC believes that academic research on philanthropy can further assist in defining and professionalizing the European philanthropy sector, increasing its impact and enhancing its legitimacy.” ERNOP recognizes the need for the academic director to pay attention to its practical implications. Researchers must design research projects that are rigorous and relevant to philanthropic practitioners without losing academic quality.

The importance of research for philanthropy is now more important than ever
However, there are a number of reasons why the close relationship between philanthropy and philanthropy research is more important now than ever. in my book “Philanthropy Returns to the Drawing Board” I will go into detail about it. Money faces a new reality. grow in number and size; They become more important and are seen as partners in solving complex problems in cooperation with each other and with governments; They become more visible. In short, philanthropy has become more relevant and wants to be relevant. The agenda of many funds is ambitious. However, there is a paradox in philanthropy, because at the same time as it is increasing in importance, we also see that there is mistrust in society and that there is criticism. Questions are being asked about the appropriateness, the source of charitable funds, transparency and, more broadly, about the legality of charitable work. What is their “operating license”?

In my book, I go into detail about this discrepancy and the question of how the sector should deal with it, but in the context of this article I just want to point out that practical research into the philanthropic workplace in democracy versus players. Like government and business is important. There are many other topics that require deepening, such as: impact assessment, the relationship between funds and their beneficiaries, mission-related investment, and knowledge of the root causes of problems before donations are made. In short, in the current era characterized by turmoil, such as Covid-19 and the war in Ukraine, a strong research infrastructure is needed to promote critical money thinking, support new trends, unfold and contribute to the fashion phenomenon. to “good judgment”.

Despite the positive developments, there are challenges
While I see philanthropy and philanthropy research growing toward each other, it’s not just about cakes and eggs. I would like to point out two main challenges. First of all, philanthropy research needs data and data from the day-to-day practice of money. If the trusts believe that research can learn something from everyday practice and that they, the money, can benefit from applied research, then in my view, the money should be more generous in making the data available for research.

The second challenge is how to fund charitable research. Funds tend to be willing to pay primarily for research that is directly relevant to the questions that arise at the fund level. But in my view, philanthropic research has two other goals and should be funded as well. First of all, this is about researching matters that are not yet directly relevant. Presumably, they’re around the corner and haven’t even appeared on the money’s radar screen yet. As an example, mention the potential importance of behavioral economics and artificial intelligence to philanthropy. Philanthropy should value this research role, which I refer to as the “watchdog function,” and put discretionary funding on the table for that. The same must also apply to the role of charitable research as the alter ego of charitable work, the louse in the fur. For example, I might mention that funds sometimes continue their mission in terms of content for a long series of years, using the same strategies and tools, without critical examination. Research could keep money sharp in this regard. Both the watch job and the fur lice require a lot of free funding for philanthropic research.

How can we secure research funding
Who should spend financially on research aimed at the “watchdog function” and the “fur louse”? In my paper for the international conference in Turin, I support the creation of knowledge platforms at the national level of a public and private nature. This platform brings together a number of parties: related universities (which have department/chairs in philanthropic research), national associations of trusts and some prominent private actors such as trusts, philanthropists, family offices and corporations. It means the “pooling” of public and private resources to allow this part of scientific research to take place in a non-commercial environment. As mentioned, the funding for this has to come in part from the universities themselves (the public part). I find it odd that universities in the Netherlands are increasingly preoccupied with creating an infrastructure (eg separate fundraising departments and special university fundraising funds) to generate charitable funds for the university as a whole, while the funds are earmarked for charitable research itself unserved.

There will undoubtedly be arguments that make my suggestion of knowledge platforms undesirable or not possible. However, I hope this thought will inspire relevant players in the philanthropic sector to think about achieving the primary goal. Because the practice of philanthropy needs, more than ever, robust research and practice-oriented research needs access to real data and practical experience.

Read my article “Framing the Case: Imagining the Future of Philanthropy Research in Europe”

My presentation in Turin was followed by the presentation of Prof. Renee Beckers, Professor of Philanthropy at the Free University of Amsterdam.


author Ryan van Gund, former #1 at DDB100 and a respected and globally acclaimed philanthropic consultant and manager, is a DDB expert. De Dikke Blauwe manages the articles on his new website and publishes them at DDB Journaal. Where applicable, Van Gendt also comments on articles on De Dikke Blauwe’s website and, where appropriate, places them on his own website.

Philanthropy returns to the drawing board on October 26: A future agenda for funds by Nationally Recognized (International) Philanthropy Expert Dr. Ren van Gendt (, at Walburg Philanthropy.

Major disruptive factors such as Covid-19 and the Ukraine war are forcing asset funds and charities to think about their mission, strategy and way of doing business. Through this book, Van Gendt challenges fund managers and supervisors to consistently work on a future agenda with a strong capacity for turbulence, both internally and with the social organizations they support.

Philanthropy returns to the drawing board: A future agenda for funding will be presented during Civil Power 2022 which is also the theme of the event.

You can book the book directly here.

►Read all articles about Rien van Gendt and by Rien van Gendt on the DDB website: click here

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