Philanthropy seeks to address deep-rooted social issues and assume responsibility for the creation of public goods not provided by the public sector—and in this way help reduce inequality. Yet philanthropy has also been criticized for bypassing democratic mechanisms for the public determination of how to invest in society—and thus may perpetuate other inequities. In both cases, inequality, defined as asymmetries of resources and power, plays a critical role in public goods creation and in the legitimacy of a country’s philanthropic ecosystem. However, little empirical research examines the existence and role of inequality in country-level donation systems. To fill this gap, this study provides evidence of growing donation concentration in Chile’s philanthropic ecosystem, with a focus on the culture sector, characterizes it by mapping systematic differences in ecosystem perceptions by actor type, and identifies and tests statistically structural and organizational factors associated with these perceptions. Inequality in Chile’s donation system operates at multiple geographical, legal, and organizational levels, all of which are reflected in objective donation amounts and subjective ecosystem perceptions. We conclude that in Chile resource asymmetries and power imbalances hinder the fulfillment of philanthropy’s promise and call for further research to identify policies that address inequities in emerging philanthropic ecosystems in Chile, Latin America, and beyond.
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