Effective Philanthropy, Strategic Philanthropy and other terms have taken center stage in the current discourse about foundation practice. I find myself wondering if those terms really capture what people – policymakers, nonprofits and the general public – might want to get from philanthropy, i.e., is what would they view as the sector’s true and proper contribution to civil society? Inspired by lyrics of a song by Irish folks singer Luka Bloom in which he chimes about the power of simple dignity. In that song referring to the quintessential case of dignity I action that we all know: Miss Rosa Parks.
What is it about simple dignity that has the power to transform?
Dignity is a concept intricately lined to another one: respect. As a former student of philosophy, I also find myself revisiting Kant who identified three types of respect, the third “reverentia” is the one we might most associate with dignity – especially in a social change context. This has been described as “the special feeling of profound awe and respect we have in the presence of something extraordinary or sublime, a feeling that both humbles and uplifts. On Kant’s account the moral law and people who exemplify it in morally worthy actions elicit reverentia from us, for we experience the law or its exemplification as something that always triumphs our inclinations in determining our wills.” (Excerpted from the “Respect” entry in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philanthropy, first published September, 2004; substantive revision, June, 2007)
What is Dignified Philanthropy?
Let’s suppose – just suppose –that philanthropy organized itself in a fashion that placed the highest value on dignity, thus, working diligently to maximize reverentia. This would mean that egos would have to take a backseat as simple dignity moves center change. How might this change the way in which foundation, for instance, work? When I gaze into my magical crystal ball, I see foundations developing authentic relationships with grant seekers, reaching out intentionally to engage diverse communities and working collaboratively with each other and the other players in civil society – government and the for-profit business sector. Foundations would build relationships with policymakers, media and the general public to help demystify the field. I see foundations engaging in more risk-taking and sharing their failures as part and parcel of being thriving learning organizations. Foundations would of course move with strong purpose and intentionality – the context for Rosa parks actions were certainly purposeful but above all, foundations would remind themselves constantly of the heart equation in the work – that passion and compassion must lead and inform how they think of their roles and achieve their desired impact in the word. Through this approach that connects “soul to role” foundations will get the reverentia they deserve.
Just a few initial thoughts – I will continue mulling over this concept. What do you think?