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Pluralism in Philanthropy

In this episode we take a deep dive into an issue that has been generating a lot of debate recently: is pluralism in philanthropy a good thing, or not?


  • What has caused the latest furore, and what has the reaction been?
  • Is philanthropic freedom genuinely under threat, and if so why? Or is this just a straw man?
  • Should donors and foundations be free to “engage in the unfettered pursuit of their own mission, interests and prerogatives”, or are there arguments for constraining this freedom?
  • Is there an inherent tension in philanthropy between individual liberty and systemic equity? How can we balance these competing demands?
  • Should we value pluralism because it enables diversity of thought and values, and provides the material for a healthy “battle of ideas” that can strengthen democracy?
  • Is pluralism a necessary part of allowing marginalised groups and communities to overcome the “tyranny of the majority” and drive social change?
  • Is accepting that civil society will contain things we may not like or agree with the necessary cost of pluralism? Is this a price worth paying?
  • Is pluralism a noble idea in theory but naive in practice, when in reality power is skewed towards defence of the status quo and vested interests?
  • Can everyday giving help to produce a form of pluralism that avoids some of the problems that come when we rely on elite philanthropy?
  • Do we need to constrain pluralism, and if so how?
  • To what extent is this a US-specific debate?
  • Do nonprofits need to be “civil” or “polite” when they disagree? Or does this ignore the historical reality of social change?

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Learn from our past to better understand our future.

Philanthropy has a long and varied history. We’ve created bite-size chapters that you can jump in and out of to better understand philanthropy.