By Lori O’Keefe and Jennifer Tolle Whiteside
The Triangle, like much of America, has a lot to be grateful for in this season of giving thanks, but we also face huge challenges.
In addressing them, we are fortunate to be able to work through the philanthropic sector to pool resources and find shared solutions to problems that affect our entire community.
To do that, philanthropy itself needs to do a better job in putting its resources to work.
Our community attracts smart people and innovative employers, and our schools, colleges and universities produce smart graduates and workers, but the region is also home to nagging poverty, poor health, illiteracy and other social ills.
And as this month’s national election showed, our society is divided and in flux regarding who we are, where we come from, and the role we believe government and other institutions should play.
With a damaged economy and elected leaders looking for ways to cut spending, the job of fixing our most urgent social problems will increasingly fall to the social sector.
That sector consists of over 1 million nonprofits throughout the U.S., including thousands that call the Triangle home.
Nationally, nonprofit organizations account for 5 percent of economic output and 10 percent of the workforce. Charitable giving in the U.S. totals nearly $300 billion a year, with nearly 90 percent coming from individuals who give during their lifetimes and through their family foundations and estates.
Increasingly, however, the work of improving our communities is moving beyond traditional philanthropy.
A small but growing number of companies are building into their business underlying strategies to address social problems that represent an obstacle to their bottom line.
Individuals who want to build a better world, particularly young people and young adults, are looking for social enterprises, whether nonprofit, for-profit or governmental, that are dedicated to improving social and global problems, and that can show, with evidence and data, that their strategies for change actually work.
So today, as we celebrate National Philanthropy Day and prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving, we have a perfect opportunity to think about how to best tap into the Triangle’s human, social and financial capital and apply it most effectively to fix our most urgent problems.
Our region enjoys a rich mix of nonprofits, philanthropic foundations, corporate giving programs, donors and volunteers, women’s funds and “giving circles,” a rapidly growing form of collective giving that makes it easy for individuals to pool their funds and know-how and contribute it to charities.
The Triangle is also home to a broad range of professional advisers and other groups that work with nonprofits and individuals to help them be more strategic and effective in their charitable work.
Sadly, however, too many charities and other groups working for social good in our region overlap, duplicate one another, or work in isolation as they try to fix these problems that affect all of us.
We have an opportunity now to do a better job thinking and working together to put our knowledge, our time and our money to more effective use and find coordinated strategies to make sure we are making a difference.
How can we better coordinate our abundant resources and put them to work to help ensure that families can lift themselves from poverty, for example, or that kids and adults get the schooling and training they need to find good jobs, or that people in need have access to basic health care, or that women can free themselves and their children from abusive relationships, to name just a few of the huge challenges we face?
Our two organizations are known as community foundations, a hybrid breed of charity that was established in Cleveland nearly a century ago.
Community foundations work with individuals and institutions to create and manage charitable funds that support a broad range of local needs, including specific needs the donors and funders care about.
We function as a kind of philanthropic matchmaker, connecting resources with charities that serve people and places in need.
And we know, based on the work of our own organizations, and of the individuals and groups we serve, that philanthropy in the Triangle can be more effective and make a bigger impact on our biggest problems if we work together in cooperative and strategic ways that will make our community a better place to live and work.
Lori O’Keefe is vice president for philanthropic services and chief operating officer of the Triangle Community Foundation, and Jennifer Tolle Whiteside is president and CEO of the North Carolina Community Foundation.