11 Trends in Philanthropy for 2021

Front cover of “11 Trends in Philanthropy for 2021”How many times in the last 12 months has it felt like we’ve entered a new reality? Events we may never have thought possible have crashed over us, wave after wave. When our team set out to formulate our 11 Trends in Philanthropy for 2021 report, this turmoil was only beginning to ramp up.

We got to work in May 2020, much earlier than we typically begin. Knowing this would be the fifth edition of the annual report, we wanted to take a deeper look backward, as well as forward, to reflect on the trends we’ve highlighted since 2017 and to see what progress (or regress) they’ve made. We also knew each trend now needed to be considered within the context of a global health and economic crisis with huge diversity, equity, and inclusion implications.

The murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery launched a new era in the fight for racial justice. As we finalized our trends, we witnessed a series of attacks on our American democracy, and reconsidered our analyses as these events unfolded.

“[T]he critical questions we face in the aftermath of the chaos and trauma of 2020 are ones the sector has been wrestling with for years, but must now address more forcefully.”

What we found was that many of the through-lines we’ve been tracking in philanthropy for five years have new meaning and urgency as 2021 begins — but they’ve been there all along. We think you’ll find among these essays that the critical questions we face in the aftermath of the chaos and trauma of 2020 are ones the sector has been wrestling with for years, but must now address more forcefully, including:

  • the sprawling impacts of wealth inequality;
  • significant declines in public trust in institutions and in each other;
  • the bright and dark sides of technological proliferation; and
  • the systemic racism permeating so many aspects of our society and democracy.

Each of these trends has real implications for our day-to-day work, how we carry out our missions, and how we broaden our frame on public good. Many of our colleagues and communities have been hard at work on these issues for years, even generations. Others have embraced shifts in focus and practice in response to a remarkable year. This work gives us hope, and we’ll be keeping an eye out to see whether these shifts prove permanent or more temporary.

In the meantime, we’ll just say it — good riddance, 2020!


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Johnson Center for Philanthropy


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January 2021


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History, Role in Society
The Philanthropic Sector