New initiatives aim to strengthen the connection between philanthropy and academia in Europe
Philanthropy is navigating through turbulent times. Multiple crisis and legitimacy issues are on the table, but also new opportunities related to leveraging impact of philanthropy. Academic studies can help institutional philanthropy become more self-reflective. They can shed light on what the sector can and can’t do, and could inform strategy and practice for the sector. Given the relative small size of the sector compared to its public and commercial counterparts, using and promoting (academic) knowledge development to build the sector is perhaps even more important for philanthropy than it for other sectors. With the launch of new initiatives, the European Research Network On Philanthropy (ERNOP) and Philanthropy Europe Association (Philea) aim to provide new bridges to cross the gap that still remains between practitioners and academia.
It must be noted that the academic-practitioner distance is not specific to the field of philanthropy and often stems from a gap of perspective, language, understanding and thinking between two different worlds. Nevertheless, the growing importance placed on organisational learning centred around thoughtful and methodologically sound utilisation of academic research along with organisational data provides an opportunity for narrowing this gap. The International Conference on Philanthropy Research hosted by Compagnia di San Paolo in September 2022 offered a starting point to develop new initiatives that may foster the relationship between academia and philanthropy in Europe. After the conference, Philanthropy Europe Association (Philea) and the European Research Network On Philanthropy (ERNOP) collaborated to enhance the visibility of and access to philanthropy research.
Research Notes: Two page summaries of academic publications with a focus on implications for practice
Peer-reviewed philanthropy research rarely finds its way to the eyes of philanthropy practitioners due to the limitations of access to scientific journals or attention span to read a text written for an academic audience, among other possible reasons for non-engagement with academic materials. On the other side of the coin, academics often lack the time, skills, or the institutional encouragement to rewrite their findings in a more engaging, practical, and accessible way for practitioners. ERNOP, together with key partners, launched a new initiative called ERNOP Research Notes which aims to provide easy-to-read, practice oriented and visually appealing two-page summaries of academic articles. Research Notes are written by people working in philanthropy, and there is an open call to all professionals that want to contribute to the development of this initiative to join as ‘practitioner expert’.
Safe Spaces: Intimate sessions for dialogue between practitioners and academia
ERNOP and Philea see the interaction between academics and practitioners as a means for cross-pollination leading to an exciting mixture of new ideas, innovation, and shifts in thought patterns and practices. To allow their knowledge and skills to influence one other, it is necessary to bring together these two constituents in facilitated, trusted spaces. For this, ERNOP, in collaboration with Philea, organises ‘Safe Spaces for Philanthropy’ on June 28th in Zagreb, Croatia, prior to it’s Research Conference ‘Philanthropy and crises. Roles and functioning of philanthropy in times of society upheavals’ on June 29–30th. The Safe Spaces for Philanthropy will have sessions dedicated to fostering dialogue and shared learning between academics and practitioners. Topics — on the agenda for most working in, with and/or for philanthropy — that will be part of the ‘Safe Spaces’ are impact, empowerment, leadership, advocacy and diversity and inclusion. The Safe Spaces are open for all that care about these issues and participation is free. However, registration is required and capacity limited.
The joint sessions will use methods which encourage respect for unique organisational cultures, professional languages, norms and definitions of success; harness and coordinate the energy, interests and resources of these diverse audiences; and stress shared values, overlapping strategic interests, mutual purposes and interdependencies in order to build relationship capital and trust. The Also the Journal of Philanthropy and Marketing (JPM) will publish five open access ‘Dialogue Papers’ that will integrate and harvest the outcomes and reflections of both academics and practitioners on these topics and participants are invited to write a reflectional commentary after the event.
Aligning sectoral data collection efforts
In addition to supporting their members, both ERNOP and Philea have their own research activities. Giving in Europe, one of ERNOP’s major research initiatives, measures the amount of giving by households (in vivo and through bequests), corporations, foundations and charity lotteries. Philea collects data on the number, assets and expenditure of foundations through its national association members and publishes country profiles with results from each country participating in the collective effort. ERNOP and Philea are planning to align our methods for data collection not only to optimise our resources and make our data more consistent but also to speak with one voice when it comes to reporting on the sector’s size and scale, which can only strengthen our messages.
A European Philanthropy Research Fund: Potential developments for the future?
The exchanges at the International Philanthropy Research Conference in Turin was an important stepping stone for enhancing the philanthropy-academia collaboration in Europe. As with other complex situations, there is no silver bullet to resolve all the bottlenecks and challenges for collaboration. Nevertheless, introducing a set of incentives and facilitating the collaborative processes around a shared research agenda and strategic goals can be instrumental for bridging these two worlds. The initiatives that are currently being developed might provide new stepping stones towards a joint research agenda to be achieved by the creation of Philanthropy Research Fund that aims to incentivise academic research on issues that matter to philanthropic organisations, raise fundamental issues on defining European philanthropy and explore conditions for blue sky research on philanthropy, make philanthropy research more relevant, accessible, and visible to practitioners and the public at large and support researchers with a holistic approach from design to field entry, from publishing to dissemination of results.
What would such a fund look like in practice? How would it deliver results that would best satisfy the needs and expectations of both academic and practitioner communities? ERNOP and Philea are keen to engage with any interested party on the development of this fund and welcome thoughts from interested foundations and academics on whether and how they would like to take part.