The Cosmology of Private Resources for Public Benefit

In the very first Blueprint (2010) I shared my attempt at showing the different, but related and mutually influential, sources of funding and enterprises that make up a more complete universe of how we use private resources for public benefit. I argued then, and am still arguing today, that we need to consider the funding and the enterprises as part of interconnected space (we’ve dubbed it the social economy) in order to really understand who’s doing what, if revenue is growing or declining, and where the boundaries of different sectors should be drawn. Here’s a version of that picture (taken from the Blueprint 2012 and used in just about every speech I’ve given since 2010).

The galaxies represent the enterprises of nonprofits, political giving and impact investing. The spaceman represents you and me (Americans). The money we deploy to pursue our visions of “public benefit” can go to any or all of those galaxies – we choose whether it’s nonprofit charitable giving or political funding or investing. The only way to really understanding the pieces is to understand the whole. Unfortunately, we still focus independently on the different galaxies. The Urban Institute studies nonprofits. The Global Impact Investing Exchange studies impact investing. The FEC, political campaigns and television networks track political spending. Others are beginning to track the sharing economy. It’s time to pull them all into one map.

I’ve used this graphic so often I hate it. I’ve spent five years trying to map the changes in this universe – it’s high time we all started working to map the fullness of these phenomenon. If Neil deGrasse Tyson can bring back Carl Sagan’s Cosmos, surely we can update our understanding of how we use private money for public benefit – and track the data accordingly.

Bernholz L. The Cosmology of Private Resources for Public Benefit.  Philanthropy 2173: The Future of Good.  Available at