Bad Philanthropy


Are you looking for juicy and outrageous stories about bad philanthropists?

Many people bought my second book, with its title
Delusional Altruism, because they were looking for scandals. Juicy, outrageous, and unseemly stories about bad philanthropists. Look, I love a gossipy tidbit just like everyone else, but that’s actually not what the book is about. 

Because overall, I don’t think that’s what philanthropy is about.

Sure, there are plenty of examples of bad behavior in philanthropy. Let’s take a look at 13 of them:

The mean: The foundation trustee who refused to allow the foundation to invest in software so that nonprofits could easily apply for funding online. Why? Because he thought nonprofits should “work hard for their money.”

The bully: The donor who publicly insults grantees and partners, without concern for negative repercussions, because he knows he’s one of the few sources of philanthropic support in his town and grant recipients will be afraid to confront his behavior.

The toxic: The foundation executive who tolerates bullying behavior, creating an oppressive work environment.

The ego-driven: The nonprofit board member who reneged on a $50,000 pledge because another board member pledged a larger amount. She didn’t want to be shown up.

The criminal: The donor who sexually harassed the nonprofit development director.

The renegade: The successful business leader who decided, on his own and almost without consulting anyone, to build a new medical clinic for Latinx residents of his community. The clinic was built, opened, struggled, and closed in less than two years. Why? There was already a clinic with a solid reputation serving the same community. He didn’t consult the community or learn about assets and needs. He just acted alone.

The corporate socially irresponsible: The Fortune 500 company that uses philanthropy as a cover for bad business practices.

The time wasters: The funder that forces nonprofits to waste time. One program officer at a large U.S. foundation privately admits that the foundation reviews less than 20% of grantee reports. One nonprofit grant recipient told me he spends about 40 hours preparing grant reports for this foundation.

The spotlight seeker: The celebrity who donated and helped raise more than $10 million for earthquake relief efforts. Yet investigations found he spent millions of those dollars on his operation (lavish offices, salaries, consultants’ fees, travel, and mounting legal fees) and left little lasting community impact.

The shape-shifter: The funder who forces grant seekers through rewrite after rewrite of proposals because their own project goals and priorities are continuously changing.

The dagger-through-the-heart funder: The foundation that withheld grant funding during a significant nonprofit leadership transition to “see what happens.” Instead of supporting the nonprofit to make the transition successful, they watched the nonprofit flounder and then close its doors.

The tax-benefit grabber: The donor who gains a significant tax benefit by opening a donor-advised fund but years later has not bothered to make any grants from it.

The power tripper: The business leader who encouraged his colleagues to become philanthropic. He described the joy of choosing which cause and nonprofit to support as being “like a kid in candy store.” As if choosing between helping find a cure for AIDS or ending homelessness was like choosing between Swedish fish and saltwater taffy.

Sadly, these stories are real (I can’t make this stuff up!). And they create real problems.

These philanthropists are seriously fooled by their own efforts. For the most part, they want to make a difference. But they get in their own way on the road to useful—not to mention impactful—giving. 

But this isn’t you!

I’ve been advising wealthy donors and leaders of foundations and corporate giving programs for over two decades. I know these crazy examples don’t represent the vast majority of funders. They certainly don’t represent you! 

I wrote Delusional Altruism because I believe most philanthropists are genuine in their altruism. Just like you, they want to make a difference and change the world. You want to leave this world better than you entered it. You recognize that you bring a lot of strengths and that you have a lot to learn. You want to continuously grow and improve. 

If you want to avoid “bad philanthropy,” improve your impact, and transform your giving in 2022, let’s talk! I offer coaching, advising, and strategic consulting to help ultra-high net worth families, foundation CEOs, and Fortune 500 companies create dramatic impact – and joy – with their philanthropic giving.


Kris is a sought after philanthropy advisor, expert and award-winning author. She has helped over 90 foundations and philanthropists strategically allocate and assess over half a billion dollars in grants and gifts.

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