BIG Philanthropy

What will be philanthropy’s “new story?”


Filed under: Uncategorized — cjcallen @ 4:19 pm

“Philanthropy is the gateway to power… there are few people who decide what will happen in our world. You have been invited to join them – pull back the curtain and take your seat.”

– Bertram Cooper to Don Draper in an episode of the AMC television series “Mad Men.”

There’s an old saying that goes to the effect that “everyone talks bout the weather but nobody does anything about it.” I’d like to explore with you the issue of diversity and Inclusiveness in philanthropy (hereafter, “diversity”) in that same light.

Everyone does seem to be talking about diversity. The philanthropy airwaves reverberate with the sound of new dialogue and discourse about its role in the field as evidenced by the Council on Foundations diversity work. The policy and regulatory environment has placed a spotlight on this issue as evidenced by AB624 in California and similar legislation that is being explored in other parts of the country. This question is a fixture in that discourse: “What are foundations doing to support diverse communities and advance diversity in the sector?”

Some come to this conversation because of their values. They view diversity as a core value that needs to be honored and is indispensable to achieving the change they seek in the world. Others come to the table because of marketplace concerns. They recognize that shifting demographics will demand that philanthropy change accordingly in order to remain relevant. They look ahead to the nonprofit sector of the future and see a very different donor base that will need o be activated if the sector is to sustain itself. Many of us come to this work because it speaks both to our core values and marketplace concerns. In sum, we have a meaty and meaningful issue at hand.

It is also timely for reasons other than shifting demographics in the US. We are in the midst of a momentous shift in the philanthropy and civil society brought about by a unique and powerful convergence of media, ideas and technology. To be more precise, we are in the “Obama moment” which is shorthand for the power of mobilizing people to give. Over 2 million people who have never given before gave to Obama’s campaign. That is notable. What is more notable is that the Obama campaign recognized that though it is always vital to solidify a cohort of big donors, that the future (and real power) lies in using technology to unleash support from a broad base of givers. Combine this dynamic of “popular philanthropy” with the realities of shifting demographics and it would seem that making the case for engaging donors of color in strategic, values-based giving would be a piece of cake. But it is not.

And so we have a hot issue at a timely moment in history and yet progress has been painstakingly slow. What are the barriers that prevent the issue from moving from “issue de jour” status to shared value and standard of the sector? I have a few insights to share. Since coming aboard a year ago to serve as executive director of Changemakers I have acquired first-hand knowledge about the seeming gap between the rhetoric (“diversity is good”) and the reality (the amount of actual resources invested in moving a diversity agenda).

When I talk to donors, foundation staff or others in the field, my passion about engaging diverse donors in philanthropy is often met with puzzling looks and concerns that what I care about does not matter because (1) people of color don’t have money or (2) people of color don’t give – it’s not their culture. These are responses that I am well prepared to counter. However, there’s one response that I have encountered that is often not explicit and operates in a stealth manner. This can be summed up as the “ this is a threat to the status quo, upsets the power balance and I don’t want to jeopardize my standing” objection to our work. So how can we address this real but usually closeted concern that people have about sharing power with others?

The first step is simply to acknowledge that some people – even well meaning types who espouse the rhetoric – will push back against the change agenda because it threatens their position. If philanthropy is owned by the many, not the few then what does that mean to them? If philanthropy is redefined in a dynamic space that recognizes the past, present and future contributions of communities of color, will they themselves use control and influence?

Changemakers poses a slightly different question: If we work to increase diversity in the sector would that make it better, more effective? We would respond with a resounding “yes”. To move a diversity agenda with intentionality, purpose and speed is to the meet the demands of an essential challenge of our times and to capitalize on a moment when the rhetoric and the realities are in perfect alignment.

Please join us at Changemakers in working to inspire others to ensure that in 2009 this issue receives the attention it so deserves—and achieves the impact needed to advance philanthropy’s journey from being transactional to becoming transformational.



  1. 49Alnhgtlng Says:

    I am not sold on the idea that diversity is the answer to our social ailments. Diversity seems to be the new buzz word. But what is the value of diversity? I don’t think human diversity has proven itself. It something we have to live with, but If we are talking about cultural diversity, it should be obvious that not all cultural traits lead to the promise land; many a tradition are far better left in the historical closet. The question is: how can diversity help us see common struggles, provide clearer communication and build harmonious communities? We’re all different, that’s a given, but we have to move foward together.

    “We Cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them” A. Einstein

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