Buchanan vs. Frumkin: “What Drives Philanthropic Success?”

“I think you assert a dichotomy that in fact doesn’t exist,” comments CEP President Phil Buchanan in response to a recent blog post by Peter Frumkin on the Intrepid Philanthropist.

Peter Frumkin asserts that there are two categories of philanthropic processes – with Category One focused on things like logic models and program evaluation “and all the other day-to-day professional work that goes into modern philanthropy”; and Category Two “what might be called the more humanistic, interpretive, and adaptive work in philanthropy, which really comes down to judging the capacity, character, resilience, intelligence, and resourcefulness of the people who seek philanthropic funds.”

His point? What if Category Two work is the true driver of philanthropic effectiveness and social impact? “The problem,” he writes, “is that Category One work has an army of salespeople out and about selling tools and frameworks, while there is virtually no infrastructure to support Category Two work.”

Buchanan disputed Frumkin’s notion that such a conflict exists, noting that “Good, relevant data and solid logic contributes to better philanthropic decisions.” And that “there is an interpretive and adaptive element that is necessary to good decision-making also.” Buchanan concludes, “Why must we pretend as if things are mutually exclusive when they are not?”

Frumkin conceded that Buchanan had a point, responding, “I don’t think they have to be separate or that they are mutually exclusive but rather that we spend a lot more time and money …. on the logical and strategic work than we do on the interpretive side of things.”

What do you think? Readers, please weigh in!


Alyse d’Amico is Vice President of Programming, Communications, and Development at CEP