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Papa, Where Do Philanthropy Advisors Come From? 

Well, son, sometimes a donor couple loves a cause very much. So much they want to put a lot of money into it…

OK, maybe a child hasn’t asked you that question. But the topic comes up in the Daylight team’s conversations with philanthropy professionals. Our answer has been something like “from more than a dozen allied professions like nonprofit management, grantmaking, gift planning, and financial services.” 


It turns out philanthropy advisors’ backgrounds are far more diverse. During a packed session about philanthropic services at the 2023 DAF Giving Summit, we asked attendees to share their previous three jobs or roles. Forty two percent of them came from the types of philanthropy jobs you might expect: 

Where Philanthropy Advisors Come From

But the larger percentage listed backgrounds as varied as cowboy, bartender, ecological designer, letter carrier, marketing coordinator, social worker, and domestic violence attorney: 

Philanthropy Advisor Backgrounds

Wildly mixed backgrounds can be a strength in the field of philanthropic advising. The diverse lived experiences will benefit clients and advisors working collaboratively. And different professions bring new angles to identifying and solving problems, involving people in decision-making, structuring client services, and more. 


The mix also presents challenges. The primary one, often reported by employers, is an advisor’s limited experience with the broad range of philanthropic motivations, resources, vehicles, strategies, and social impact tools clients use. To be sure, some advisors make a living only knowing about grantmaking to charities or only working in an issue such as education. But most private sector employers, and an increasing number of foundations, need generalists who can comfortably navigate multiple options, often without judging the client’s final choices.  


What’s Next? 

Over the past 18 months, Daylight team members have been developing a standardized set of competencies for philanthropic advisors, mapping where professional development programs meet those competencies, and asking advisors where they rank themselves on a scale from novice to expert. And, no surprise, we have ideas for filling gaps with new programming and research. Stay tuned for more information about our competency mapping and new programming in April! 

Dien Yuen Tony Macklin DAF Summit

REN DAF Giving Summit 2023

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