Emma Beeston’s Philanthropy predictions for 2021 – Incremental Change or Revolution?

Each month we feature fantastic blogs by Emma Beeston (of the Emma Beeston Consultancy) and Steve Woollett and Sarah Taragon of Clarity CIC.

Today’s blog is by Emma and is entitled:

“Philanthropy Predictions 2021 – Incremental Change or Revolution?”

“Given that the Covid-19 pandemic came unexpectedly in 2020, it is a brave soul who made predictions for philanthropy in 2021. In fact, the Charities Aid Foundation‘s (CAF) Rhodri Davies starts his podcast with his trends for 2021 with a pitch for ‘alien contact’ as his suitably unlikely equivalent to 2020’s global pandemic. My review of the output from the individuals and organisations that did take on this challenge, suggests that we have two paths ahead: either incremental change or revolution. Both are building on the changes and trends seen in recent years that I have commented on previously (see links at the foot of this article). Whilst the topics are not new, there does seem to be an increase in the appetite for change. For example, where I might usually note a few hundred people attending most webinars on philanthropy, the recent #PhilanthropySoWhite conversation had over 6,000 people registering to join.

Incremental Change

On the incremental side, the trends I want to highlight are:

o An increase in giving (and impact investing). This includes more funds moving out of Donor Advised Funds (DAFs) as championed by the #HalfMyDAF campaign and is predicted to happen despite the impending financial difficulties.

o More funds to the environment and climate crisis. This trend has not been set back by Covid-19. Instead the rise in awareness of the intersectionality of climate justice with social and racial justice seems to have kept up the momentum.

o Changed funding practices, e.g. more unrestricted funds. The Institute for Voluntary Action Research (IVAR) and London Funders have launched #FlexibleFunders asking UK funders to sign up to its eight commitments including to make decisions as quickly as possible and to give feedback.

These add up to more philanthropic funds and welcome changes. The environment has historically attracted less funds. Changes in funding practice have long been requested by fund seekers. However, these incremental changes can still be viewed as comfortable. There is a strong argument that the current situation (biosphere, societal and technology stressors combining in a global polycrisis) demands discomfort. It needs philanthropy to think not just about how it gives but how it comes to be in the privileged position to give. Darren Walker of the Ford Foundation puts it this way:

“Moving from generosity to justice requires the philanthropist to get uncomfortable …..it requires philanthropy to interrogate some of the very systems and structures that produce our advantage.”


Predictions of more fundamental change include the following:

o More trust-based, participatory and collective approaches. These alternatives to top-down strategies seek to shift the power inherent in philanthropy and place those affected closer to the decisions made on allocating funds.

o More funds to racial and social justice including social movements and advocacy. Women and girls, black people, indigenous communities and other marginalised groups are under-resourced and there have been many new efforts and funds to address this.

o More spending down – as donors and Foundations take time-limited routes to address current, urgent needs. This is also driven by increases in ‘giving while living’ and being an engaged donor now instead of focusing on leaving a legacy.

o Tackling structural issues both internally (e.g. increasing diversity and inclusion within funding bodies; examining sources of wealth and making reparations) and externally (e.g. funding root causes and systems-level change). The latter is partly behind the rise in collaboration as combined efforts are needed to change complex issues.

There are differing opinions and levels of confidence as to how much of this predicted change will stick. For example, in her Blueprint for 2021 Lucy Bernholz (Senior Research Scholar and Director of the Digital Civil Society Lab, which is part of Stanford University’s Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society) predicts that “the tide will pull back on foundation giving or pledges focused on racial equity, leaders of colors, and community expertise”. However, the new people and money coming into philanthropy – women and younger people – suggests to me that we are seeing the start of long-term change. As the report from the Dorothy A Johnson Center (see below) clearly states:

“Philanthropy will not ‘return to normal’ after 2020. Because of the next gen, it will never be the same.”

Emma’s previous predictions:



Recommended reading/listening:

Dorothy A Johnson Centre: 11 Trends in Philanthropy for 2021:


Rhodri Davies – Giving Though Podcast


Lucy Bernholz – Blueprint 2021