Philanthropy has undergone big changes in the last 10 years, evolving from a private affair carried out primarily by "wealthy white men" to a system of pooled-giving, focusing on investment, rather than charity, said Carol Lewis of Philanthropy Northwest, an association of 195 philanthropic organizations including the world's largest, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
"Philanthropy has become cool," she said. "Philanthropists are younger now and are often women. It is not unusual for them to work with advocacy groups and policymakers."
Lewis was one of the featured speakers at the Sun Valley Center for the Arts' Giving in the 21st Century program last week. She wrapped up the six-week event that included films, talks and an art show focused on consumerism and corporate excess.
Last week's program also featured Matt Flannery of Kiva.org and Rand Runco of Ten Friends, both of whom shed light on how everyone, from the very rich to average Joes, can make a difference.
Flannery described the origins of Internet-based, micro-lending philanthropy, a model that has caught global attention. Kiva.org lists the names and locations of small-scale entrepreneurs, from Kabul to Mozambique, who can benefit from micro-loans as small as $25. Donors can monitor online the progress of the individuals and families they support. "We give people the satisfaction of being an aid worker without leaving their house," he said.
Flannery sought help from traditional philanthropies and venture capitalists when he set out to help villagers in Africa. "The philanthropists told me, 'This is not philanthropy.' The venture capitalists told me, 'This isn't good business.' I found that the average working person or college student got it right away."
Oregon school teacher and Ten Friends founder Runco began his work after trekking in Nepal a few years ago. He started by giving stretchers to village emergency centers. His organization now supplies water filters across the region. "It was amazing to me that I could get on a plane and, in 36 hours, go from a fully wired modern classroom, to a concrete block schoolhouse where one-third of the kids were sick with diarrhea. I shouldn't be able to do this."
Runco installed a $200 water filter in the village, and found that the diarrhea was gone in five days. "We are recruiting high school seniors now," he said. "We are building a system of people who are in service. Once you get them started, there is no stopping them."