How Technology Plays an Increasing Critical Role in the Future of Philanthropy

By SIMON RYCRAFT, author of Negotiation Hacks and Founder at Hacks Capital, special contribution to Silicon Hills News

Ryan Ginard, Director of Development for UT’s Computer Science Department, photo courtesy of UT.

Philanthropy has received increased press and interest in the last few months, be it the news that MacKenzie Scott has donated over $6.9 billion of her personal fortune to charity since the beginning of 2020 or the fact that 204 billionaires have now signed Warren Buffet’s “Giving Pledge”, including our very own Elon Musk.

Academics have also begun to draw closer correlations between giving and success, helping validate what we already knew; some of the most successful people, in life and business, are “givers” – Professor Adam Grant (at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania).

Here in Austin, Ryan Ginard (Director of

Development for UT’s Computer Science Department), is at the center of this growing trend. We connected with him to get his insights on the future of Philanthropy but also how technology will play an increasingly critical role.

Ryan is a civic connector and fundraiser with over 15 years of experience in government, higher education, nonprofits, and organized philanthropy, leveraging over $2.5bn in infrastructure funding and directly raising over $15m for charities. Ryan moved to the United States from Brisbane, Australia, where he spent five years as a policy and media adviser in the federal government on the portfolios of financial services, industry and innovation.

1. What brought you to Austin and how did you first get into the world of Philanthropy?

My wife works as a Technical Recruiter and her company was acquiring a number of transportation and cyber security start-ups here in Austin and was given the opportunity to move. Austin has been on my radar ever since I spoke at SXSW in 2015, and I was given the opportunity to come work at Texas Computer Science which was the perfect backdrop to my work in philanthropy & my passion for securing research funding that can advance society. While the timing for the move wasn’t fantastic having got here 3 weeks prior to everything shutting down due to COVID, it has ended up being a truly transformative chapter in my career and to be honest, gave me the insight & optimism needed to complete my upcoming book.

I moved to the States in 2011 and after hitching a ride on some Congressional campaigns, I was offered the opportunity to lead the Civic Leadership Fund at a large community foundation which was a refreshing change to the cyclical nature of campaigns. In this role I had the opportunity to connect with society in innovative new ways to drive impact and I haven’t looked back since.

2. What are the top trends you are seeing in Philanthropy and how is Technology helping accelerate those trends?

We are starting to see the democratization of philanthropy and at a real opportune time in our history, given that a near $60 trillion transfer of generational wealth is to occur over the coming decades. Traditional grantmaking is being turned on its head in favor of a more dynamic place-based approach such as giving circles and impact investing. The social sector is finally realizing that a 501c3 is just a tax designation and not a business model and therefore are being more strategic in their fundraising. No longer will you see capital campaigns purely achieved by philanthropic dollars, with boards finally starting to greenlight a more creative mix of things like New Market Tax Credits and social impact bonds to ensure their success.

Technology is going to accelerate this evolution of the sector in a range of exciting ways. Firstly automation is going to make organizations more efficient & effective, AI is going to help identify donors in your systems that have either been overlooked or undervalued, smart contracts are going to save hours of time in grant writing & reporting and make the grantmaking process more fair and equitable. The list goes on and on. I’m a big proponent of ‘feeding the machines’ with the hope that machine learning will help inform new solutions to some of society’s biggest social issues such as homelessness and poverty.

3. What are some of the early-stage companies from Austin in this space you have on your radar?

There is some amazing work going on right now in Austin. I know this publication is called SiliconHillsNews but I’m really getting some ‘Silicon City Hall’ vibes which has me hopeful for some of our local start-ups. Civitech is definitely going places as there is a real appetite for data tools in community organizing and down-ballot political campaigns. It’s companies like this that will empower new voices and ideas to push back against the current status quo we see in legislatures across the country.

PILYTIX is another one. They have been working with UT Development for a while now using AI to focus on better donor leads and opportunities. I use the platform regularly and there is a lot of potential for them to grow into one of the leading companies in this space. The best thing about this platform though is that they use X.A.I. (Explainable AI) to demystify the tech and the modeling. By ensuring that users understand exactly how the output is generated, senior leadership will always feel more confident in their projections and understand what levers can be pulled to impact results.

I also like what InLieu is doing. It’s kind of like the Venmo of charitable giving and is super simple to use. I’m using it for gifting from now on and excited to finally leave the ‘thank you hampers’ that are extremely expensive and impersonal behind.

4. What can larger, more established companies do to improve their social impact?

I would encourage a two-step process. Focus internally first with your own people, build a strong culture, and have giving as that one shared value in what will hopefully be a diverse workforce. Give bonuses & actively seek opportunities for them to grow professionally. Provide a corporate match and incentivize giving on their terms. Have a day of giving (or even a month like Microsoft does!) Give time for folks to volunteer or join a board, lots of companies are starting to give two hours of time-off a month for their employees to participate in community leadership. We have some amazing CEO’s here in town that are really showing us how it’s done – Whitney Wolfe Herd from Bumble and Kendra Scott being the leading lights here.

Once your own house is in order, my one word of advice is to not get caught in the trap of giving in a confetti-like approach. Focus on one issue that aligns with the mission of the company and stay the course. Find a select few groups to support and be their partner, not just their benefactor and watch your impact compound over time. Pro bono services are also just as important as funding and if you actually create tech products, share them & help build their capacity. CSR is going to evolve quickly given all the recent societal upheaval and your customers & users are going to expect more, and most importantly to be more.

5. If anyone reading this would like to connect with you directly or order your book, how can they contact you?

My new book, Future Philanthropy – The Tech, Trends and Talent Defining New Civic Leadership will be out on October 26th through Wise Ink Publishing, and you can pre-order your copy now from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or directly from www.futurephilanthropybook.com; You can also contact me directly at ryan@ryanginard.com