Michael & Susan Dell Foundation Releases New Research on Shifting Role of Philanthropy to Empower Next Generation of Social Impact Pioneers

The Michael & Susan Dell Foundation today announced the release of new research on the future of philanthropy, as well as a significant financial contribution to support the social entrepreneurs and nonprofit organizations who will be fundamental in shaping that future.

A Philanthropist’s Guide to the Future is an in-depth report commissioned by the foundation and featuring original research from interviews and surveys with hundreds of social impact entrepreneurs and professionals. The guide provides new insights on the role of foundations in a changing landscape and suggests how these insights can be leveraged

The release of this research complements the announcement of a commitment of an additional $1 billion to the endowment of the Dell Foundation. The investment will be formally announced this evening at a live online broadcast featuring founders Michael and Susan Dell and hosted by Jason Silva, host of National Geographic’s “Brain Games” and “Origins,” and creator of “Shots of Awe.”

This announcement follows more than 18 years of quiet but persistent work by the Dell Foundation to improve the lives of children and families living in urban poverty — first in the Dells’ home base in Central Texas, and eventually across the U.S., India and South Africa. Based on that experience, the foundation is reflecting on what works, what doesn’t and how the philanthropic landscape is changing more broadly — based on a premise that traditional, prescriptive philanthropic approaches are increasingly being replaced by innovative solutions driven by non-traditional social impact leaders.

“Through our work over nearly two decades, we have witnessed several profound shifts in the way that philanthropists and social impact pioneers are working together to make an impact,” said Michael Dell, co-founder of the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation. “Looking to the future, we see even more opportunity to make a difference.”

“Michael and I believe that the only way we can make progress on the hard problems we are tackling is to collaborate with the best partners we can find,” said Susan Dell, co-founder and board chair of the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation. “A new generation of social impact leaders is proving that the ability to affect social change is no longer tied to financial resources alone. Their contributions of time, talent and skill are driving innovation and creating new solutions.”

To test these observations, the foundation commissioned globally respected research and communications firm United Minds. The firm solicited insights from a broad array of social entrepreneurs, NGO experts, government officials, nonprofit organizations and others in the social impact space. In the end, their feedback proved to challenge traditional notions of philanthropy and emphasize the importance of collaboration among people from all backgrounds who share an impact mindset.

Key research insights include:

  • Skills, expertise and ingenuity are the new currency of progress: Given the choice, slightly over half of people working in the social impact space would opt for strategic counsel from high-level decision-makers or access to networks over direct funding.
  • The best social impact ideas will come from unlikely sources: When asked who will drive the most innovative ideas for effective solutions, 62 percent of those surveyed cited social entrepreneurs. Another 40 percent, however, believe those ideas will come from people directly affected by the work.
  • Philanthropic foundations have a unique role in the impact space: Respondents highlighted stubborn persistence and a willingness to invest in innovative, “riskier” projects as the qualities that shape the mindset of effective philanthropists.
  • Lasting social impact hinges on embracing and sharing what works and what doesn’t work: Only half of respondents feel that other individuals and organizations talk about their failures, compared to 86 percent who say success factors are regularly shared. Three-fourths of respondents said that learning from the shared failures of others is very useful in advancing their own impact work.
  • No one person or organization has the answers: Eighty percent of donors and recipients highlighted building partnerships among organizations with a common vision as critical to effective social impact work.

In many ways, these findings validate the world view that has guided the foundation’s work in the U.S. and globally since its inception. Based on that experience, and buoyed by the research, the foundation concludes the report by outlining eight Principles of success in this new era of social impact. The foundation hopes that other social impact pioneers will benefit from these learnings and that the Principles can help support inventive new approaches to making an impact.

“A new era of philanthropy is emerging, and we see such an opportunity to influence a new generation of people who are motivated to find new ways to solve old problems,” said Janet Mountain, Executive Director of the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation. “Old structures and roles are breaking down, and there are more ways than ever for individuals, organizations, businesses and foundations to join together to make progress on some of the world’s greatest challenges.”

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