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Knowledge Culture in Philanthropy

Produced by Steve Nathans-Kelly

Giving by individuals is often categorized as charity, whereas giving by foundations is philanthropy. The difference there is that charity tends to fund the effects of something; foundations and philanthropy are trying to solve the underlying issues that cause the effect and that leads to money going to a variety of different places issues and causes, said Donita Volkwijn, Philanthropy New York senior director, who discussed knowledge culture and knowledge sharing infrastructure in the philanthropic sector in her presentation at KMWorld Connect 2021.

Donors have an enormously wide range of interests, which leads to the foundations, the philanthropic sector, holding an immense amount of knowledge, noted Volkwijn. "There's a spirit of collaboration throughout the sector. Internally, we, we aim to cultivate an atmosphere of learning. We like to refer to ourselves as a learning organization and the infrastructure does exist across the sector for knowledge sharing."

Knowledge management is only starting to come into a philanthropy known by that name, said Volkwijn. "Now we're actually getting knowledge managers in information specialists, but they live in different parts of the organization—sometimes in communication, sometimes in HR, sometimes in IT. We share a lot within our organizations and, you know, across the sector, but we do remain disconnected and we're often oversaturated with data."

As an example of the type of disconnect that exists in the philanthropic section, Volkwijn said, there was an idea that somebody had to create a water ATM  for countries that have trouble getting clean water. There were three different times that the water ATM appeared in different different parts of the globe, with different drivers, and different people. "The thing is that nobody knew that it already had been created."

The goal of KM in philanthropy is to avoid what is happening in many of organizations with people as people return to the office following the pandemic. Not only have organizations lost staff due to the Great Resignation, but everyone also now knows what it looks like to be working remotely—how much more time they can spend with families or with sick friends. Yet, what we're not understanding is how much knowledge is walking out of the door, Volkwijn said.

And, on top of that, we're still dealing with the actual physical results of COVID and also racial inequity, said Volkwijn. We've lost a lot of employees, we've lost great minds to COVID, and racial inequity has been revealed as one of the biggest things that needs to be worked out, especially in this country.

"I took a look at the speakers for this conference, and I have to say there were not a lot of people of color in the speakers," Volkwijn noted. When you fail to include people from different groups, "you're missing perspectives that could actually help you get to the problem that you're trying to solve."

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