In the business sector, the most exciting, profitable enterprises come from revolution, not evolution. Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, and Steve Jobs are hailed as geniuses not because they came up through the corporate ranks, tweaking popular products, but because they came out of nowhere with ideas and products unlike any the world had seen before. When they started out, they might not have had the size and track records of giants like IBM, but these entrepreneurs had a key differential that fueled their success: vision.
Philanthropy, like the tech industry circa 1980, is also ripe for innovative “disruption.” Given the immense problems challenging the world—environmental degradation, ethnic and religious conflict, hunger, disease, and poverty—there is an urgent need for vision. We need new philanthropic approaches adapted to today’s realities—the kinds of powerful, revolutionary ideas that would never come out of the IBMs of philanthropy.
Nonetheless, entrepreneurial individuals often leave their business hats at the door when engaging in their charitable giving. They don’t apply the same principles to their philanthropy that made them successful in their business lives. Instead, many opt for the conventional way of doing philanthropy: Solicit applications from as many nonprofits as you can afford to fund, and give a grant to whomever writes the best proposal. If you happen to fund a nonprofit that runs a successful project, then you are successful as a funder. If not, cross your fingers and try again.