CNJG: Embracing Philanthropic Future Shock or Bracing For It

May 17, 2017

Ah, for a crystal ball. The Council of New Jersey Grantmakers has set out on a strategic visioning process to imagine how the organization and philanthropic sector will transform in the next 10 years. Photo courtesy Creative Commons/ Ed Schipul
Ah, for a crystal ball. The Council of New Jersey Grantmakers has set out on a strategic visioning process to imagine how the organization and philanthropic sector will transform in the next 10 years. Photo courtesy Creative Commons/ Ed Schipul

We are doing a lot of thinking about the future at the Council of New Jersey Grantmakers these days — the future of New Jersey (with a new Governor next year), the future of philanthropy (with new forms of giving showing up weekly it seems), the future of the social sector (with social entrepreneurs redefining approaches), and the future of the Council itself.

Even our upcoming Conference for the Social Sector “The Next 20: Places, Places, Perspective” will consider the New Jersey of tomorrow.



This year the Council marks its 20th anniversary. In those two decades, CNJG has grown from a loosely based “lunch bunch” of foundation leaders to a highly regarded leadership organization offering valuable and comprehensive educational programming for grantmakers and donors of all shapes and sizes. The Council is recognized by policymakers and elected officials as a reliable, connected, informed representative of New Jersey’s social sector. And, the Council maintains its standing as the “go-to” resource for thoughtful, knowledgeable, and informed perspective on the best practices of philanthropy.

This is why our membership makes up over 80 percent of the private foundation assets in New Jersey. As the center for private philanthropies working in New Jersey, we recognize how essential it is that the Council consider now what it needs to be, what it needs to look like, at the end of its next decade of service.

Ah…for a crystal ball.

A Shifting Field

While it may not seem so different on the outside, the changes we have seen in the philanthropic sector in the past 15 years have been dramatic, most notably in the form in which strategic giving is structured.

For instance, in 2002, private foundations and donor-advised funds at community foundations were the primary way in which philanthropy worked. Staffed foundations might have program officers who brought experience on the issue areas in which the foundation’s giving was focused. Unstaffed family foundations might accept unsolicited applications, but more likely the funding decisions were made during a family convening (Thanksgiving perhaps) or by directing the family accountant or attorney to issue a check. Community Foundations were working only occasionally with fund holders on special initiatives and designated community-based funds.

And, while over the years, other states saw a jump in the number of community foundations created (Ohio has over 50, Michigan over 60), here in New Jersey only a handful were at work with limited assets and little discretionary money.

So what has changed in the way philanthropy operates and giving gets done? A great deal.

  • The rise of national charitable funds for DAFs that hold the majority of charitable dollars (Fidelity Charitable is the now the largest charity in the world) but not transparent, not tied to a community, nor providing on-the-ground counsel to fund holders
  • Corporations embracing the concept of Shared Value, a corporate social responsibility approach that directly aligns corporate giving with the company’s line of business
  • Impact investing that promotes a foundation using its corpus investments as a tool to advance its mission beyond grantmaking
  • Venture philanthropy where high-net worth donors employ a variety of approaches and significant resources toward their issue (i.e. ChanZuckerberg Initiative LLC, Omidyar Network )Online giving technology, apps, and campaigns where
  • Online giving technology, apps, and campaigns where GoFundMe appeals out raised giving to tax deductible charities like Red Cross and Salvation Army post Louisiana flooding

And the list goes on.

A Strategic Vision for the Future

To help us understand how our field will change in the coming decade we’ve set out on what we are calling a Strategic Visioning process. This goes beyond a strategic plan in the traditional sense — as we are pushing ourselves, our members and our stakeholders to consider how we and our sector will transform in the next ten years. Our working group has been thinking about the evolution of how philanthropy operates AND how our world operates.

We’ve seen some significant shifts; here are just a few:

  • Charity model → Strategic model
  • Institutional donors → Crowdfunding
  • Fewer players → More players
  • Logic model → Fluid, nimble
  • Closed source → Open source
  • More gov’t support → Less government support
  • Isolated decision making → Community decision making

We’ve also been thinking about philanthropy’s role in the world:

  • Little attention → Heightened scrutiny
  • Hidden → In the spotlight
  • Little support for policy → Encouraging advocacy and policy work

We are still deep in the “discovery” stage of our process but it is leading to some interesting questions and considerations including:

  • Will foundations be around in 50 years?
  • Where will new places of power and influence come from?
  • How will we define the field?

These are just a taste of the themes, evolutions, and conversations we are having about the future work of philanthropy of our country and our state.

It is fascinating, especially at a time when it seems all our assumptions about how government works are being disassembled…which adds a whole other element to the idea of visioning.


Nina Stack is President of the Council of New Jersey Grantmakers, the statewide association of more than 130 funding organizations working in and for New Jersey. The Council is the center for philanthropy in the state, serving the leading independent, corporate, family and community foundations as well as public grantmakers of our state. CNJG supports its members by strengthening their capacity to address New Jersey and society’s most difficult problems.