Real, sustainable, positive change takes decades of sweat and tears. Once a change is fully achieved, it seems commonplace, like car seats and CPR training. This article gives a clear and hopeful assessment of what can be done when philanthropists boldly support efforts in the long term. Culture change – changing how a society collectively thinks, behaves, and values things – is not easy, but with time and partnership it can be achieved.  

Authors Wolf Ditkoff and Grindle detail the key elements to ensuring success over the long haul from across a range of social movements. Their findings give us a set of tenets that many of us already incorporate into our work and lives at a micro scale. Their research shows five main elements of successful, long-term philanthropic efforts:  

  • “Build a shared understanding of the problem and its ecosystem  
  • Set “winnable milestones” and hone a compelling message  
  • Design approaches that will work at massive scale 
  • Drive (rather than assume) demand 
  • Embrace course corrections” 

These elements encourage us to stay focused, be strategic, communicate effectively, and work together. The role of philanthropists is critical, but also relies on government involvement and a strong community. “By and large they [philanthropists] underwrote the efforts of others. The hands-on work fell, as it does today, to NGO leaders, service providers, activists, and many others on the front lines of social change.”  

To create the ecosystem where philanthropists have the opportunity to be audacious, the rest of us need to create kindling in the form of societal pressure from all sides – from vibrant dinner table conversations, to writing op-eds and news articles, to engaging our elected leaders, to founding and running NGOs. To be audacious, philanthropy needs us as much as we need them – and for the long run. 

Read the Harvard Business Review report here: