Peter Buffett’s Take on Charity

Peter Buffett, the son of investment guru Warren Buffet, wrote a provocative op-ed, The Charitable-Industrial Complex, which appeared in the New York Times on July 26th.   It is a fascinating piece that takes the traditional world of philanthropy to task.  He argues that the rich and powerful are guilty of “conscience laundering”.  They gain solace by donating a relatively small portion of their wealth.  While it makes them feel better and satisfies their obligation to the greater society, they are not doing enough to drive the systemic changes needed to make a real difference.

Buffett questions the current trend of evaluating non-profits using business principles like return on investment. He doesn’t believe alliances between government and corporate leaders are the answer to solving the world’s societal problems because they have been responsible for helping create the some of the problems.   Instead he calls on funders to think differently about solutions to the biggest societal challenges using creativity, imagination and risk-taking.

I commend Mr. Buffett’s very thoughtful approach to philanthropy on a global scale through the NoVo Foundation.  However, after reading this piece, I am left somewhat troubled and with unanswered questions.  What happens when large U.S. based corporate foundations shift their philanthropy to global initiatives because it is good for business?  What burden does this shift place on non-profits working to change conditions for the destitute and needy in this country?

To read the full op-ed, click The Charitable-Industrial Complex

To learn more about the NoVo Foundation, click The NoVo Foundation

Please comment.  I’d love to hear your thoughts.