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Lucy Bernholz: How We Give Now

In this episode we talk to Lucy Bernholz, Director of the Digital Civil Society Lab at Stanford University's Center on Philanthropy & Civil Society, about her new book How We Give Now: A Philanthropic Guide for the Rest of Us.  In a fascinating and wide-ranging conversation, Rhodri and Lucy discuss many issues relating to themes in the book, including:

The expanding "Giving Space"

  • What will the expansion of the “giving space” and the proliferation of ways of “doing good” (e.g. crowdfunding, social investment, ethical consumerism,  etc) mean for traditional philanthropic giving? Does this matter?
  • Has most of the “democratization” of giving in recent years actually being “commoditization”? What would genuine democratization of the giving space look like?

Platforms and online giving

  • What dangers are there in assuming that platforms are neutral public spaces? Will these problems be exacerbated by the shift to new forms of giving?

Data donation

  • What does data donation look like in practice? 
  • Is there something fundamentally different about a form of giving in which the donor retains the asset they have donated?

Mutual Aid & Movements

  • Does the enthusiasm for mutual aid networks, digital movements etc demonstrate an unmet appetite for greater participation? Have traditional nonprofits fallen into the trap of being too transactional and seeing those who give simply as sources of money rather than potential partners in achieving social change?

Political giving:

  • In the context of new online digital social movements, and renewed appreciation by political parties of the importance of grassroots organizing, does the distinction between “philanthropic” giving and “political” giving make sense any longer?
  • Do we need to maintain a distinction between political giving and charitable giving, because the former needs to be wholly transparent while the latter should allow for anonymity?


  • When we talk about recognizing other types of giving, are there policy implications? 
  • To what extent is it the role of government to try to shape our culture of giving? Should it take an active role, or should it merely ensure minimum standards and safeguards and otherwise stay out of the way?

Elite philanthropy & mass giving

  • There seems to be a real interest among elite donors/institutional funders right now in supporting the growth of everyday giving, social movements etc. Why is this? 
  •  Can mass giving movements help to counter concerns about the potentially anti-democratic impact of big money philanthropy? 
  • What opportunities (and potential challenges) does the involvement of big money philanthropy in developing cultures of mass giving present?

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