By Christine Reeves
In June of 2011, the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy
launched Philanthropy’s Promise
, an initiative in which foundations nationwide commit to securing at least 50 percent of their discretionary annual giving to target marginalized communities and at least 25 percent to strategies of social justice advocacy, community organizing or civic engagement. As a result, over the past 14 months, 128 foundations
have joined Philanthropy’s Promise and found a great sense of community.
Too often and too easily, philanthropy can find itself in constricting silos. Yet, Philanthropy’s Promise fosters community in different cities and on different issues. A community foundation focused on public health in Seattle can share information with a family foundation focused on arts education in Chicago. For this reason, it is wonderful when we see collaboration amongst foundations that have joined Philanthropy’s Promise.
As is often the case, collaborations arise from shared frustrations that reach a critical mass and require passionate, dedicated people to exchange knowledge, share resources, offer inspiration and join the fray together. In that fashion, the report explains that CCPF funders, “realized they shared a common sense of frustration about the lack of sustainable policy wins among the social movements they support.”
“So much of what movements do is focus on individual elections and winning this or that campaign… But even if you win, it does not always solve the longer-term problems that face the communities we’re working in,” explained Judy Patrick, president and CEO of the Women’s Foundation of California.
After working with nonprofits to democratically and inclusively determine what grantees need from funders, CCPF pooled their resources and committed a total of $1.5 million to create a sustainably higher level of engagement among diverse populations during and between elections. In doing so, CCPF developed a rather universal template for democratic and inclusive grantmaking. I’m excited to learn how CCPF will sparks similar work. So, I encourage funders nationwide to read the concrete examples CCPF offers in each of their five “key elements” of lessons learned and then ask themselves some tough questions.
In that vein, I added additional questions under each lesson. Isn’t that what friends do—encouragingly push each other further, so we can use our collective knowledge, skills and resources to help more people in our philanthropic sector?
- A Commitment to Broadening the Table— What happens when funders behave paternalistically and make decisions for others? What happens when funders invite people who benefit from programs to the table to define, prioritize and solve problems together? What happens when funders listen to and learn about the unique needs of everyone at the table before prescribing a single solution?
- A Commitment to Community Engagement— How can funders continue catalyzing the conversations and actions in communities after everyone leaves the decision-making table?
- A Higher Level of Autonomy for Participants— How can funders ensure that non-funder participants are more than nominally included?
- A Shared Assumption of Risk— I found this section interesting and helpful, but I wish there had been more discussion of “failure” than “risk.” Risk is good. Risk is necessary. Risk allows for the laboratory that is philanthropy to demand creativity and deeper understanding. However, too often the subsequent conversation will revolve around how to temper risk in order to avoid failure. Perhaps funders need a better understanding of the word “failure.” Failure for a funder likely means a disappointment in a grantmaking portfolio or an unfortunate collapse of a hope. For a nonprofit, it could mean the executive director’s heart palpitating in anxiety that s/he cannot make payroll or rent, let alone further their mission. For a community member who benefits from a grant, it could mean the infringement upon personal rights, less food or primary needs met and a silenced voice.
- A Focus on Learning Together— What happens after a successful grant? What happens after an unsuccessful grant? Who is the person(s) in charge of defining success? Who is the person(s) in charge of defining the timeline for success? When is the last time that person(s) was deprived of food, shelter, clothing, education, access to elected officials, rights, respect, opportunity or not being in a majority? Is the person(s) in charge aware of privilege and able to empathize without patronizing? Accordingly, are funders a part of a team that learns together through thick and thin, invested for the long haul and ready to give more resources to fight for a cause together? Or, are funders fair weather fans, changing allegiances after one failed season? Each member of each foundation has to make that decision for him/herself. Then, once that decision is made, each member must hold him/herself accountable to constantly remind themselves… because we’re all human, and even our most noble and laudable intentions can slowly atrophy.
I highly recommend this report, and I highly recommend asking as many tough questions as possible. What is the virtue of a good answer if the wrong question was posed?
What are some tough questions you have been asking yourself and your foundation?
Labels: High Impact Strategies for Philanthropy, marginalized communities, Philanthropy's Promise, Social justice philanthropy