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.


Changing Momentum August 6, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — cjcallen @ 12:15 am

The last week of July I experienced two amazing bookend events: Momentum and Raising Change.  Allow me to paint with broad stokes a picture of these two conferences that does not do justice to the complexities and nuances of each. 


Momentum was the star vehicle — a major event that featured leading thinkers and opinion leaders on the pressing issues of our time. John Edwards spoke.  Many well-known figures in the progressive world came together to learn, network and perhaps potentially work (better) together. The conference focused on bright ideas; content was intellectually stimulating as well as sometimes emotionally moving. One might characterize it as an “elite” gathering but above all, I would characterize it as inspirational.  I felt very fortunate to have been part of this gathering.


Contrast this with Raising Change, a conference designed to help grassroots organizations develop stronger fundraising approaches and strategies that link money to mission. This was a conference focused on action and attended by the organizers who are on the frontlines of  community change efforts. The event conveyed a sense of urgency coupled with a desire to reach out and bring more people to the table. The event also was built on recognition of the vital role of money in movement building and reminded activists that they too often underestimate the link between money and in promoting social change. It was a warm welcoming environment infused with a strong sense of collegiality and commitment.


What’s wrong with this picture? Two cornerstones of progressive movements gather in San Francisco during the same week but never, ever connect with each other. The “thinkers” and the “doers” need each other – no surprise here.  All the great “thinking” remains not fully actualized until it falls into the hands of people on the ground who are willing and able to implement it.  All the great “doing “ equally falls short of success if not grounded in theory and fueled by rigorous thinking, learning and reflection.  Let’s work toward changing this picture by creating a new, “third way” type of gathering that brings everyone together in a way that strengthens progressive thought and action while providing the momentum needed to change the world.


For more information about the great work being done by GIFT, the organizers of Raising Change conference please check out their website





The Missing Moment at Momentum August 4, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — cjcallen @ 11:45 pm

In late July I was fortunate to have been able to attend Momentum, a social justice conference that brings together donors, academics and activists to engage in “big picture” thinking about emerging issues, strategies and opportunities.  This was my first time attending this event, which was at time sobering but mostly inspiring. Each day reminded me that as progressive we have our Achilles heel: ineffective (insider, jargon-laden speak) communications about what we stand for, which leads to failure to move people who do not already profess to believe in our agenda. What gave me hope was the dizzyingly array of smart, savvy and dedicated people working to create a better world yet willing to be self-critical about why we seem to be losing ground as a movement for social change. 

Climate change is THE (social justice) issue of our time.  Fortunately, we have all the technology that we need to stem the tide of global warming. The essential challenge, however, remains in amassing the political will to respond in a way that just, equitable and strengthens community. My pet peeve: in all this talk about the urgency to respond quickly and with force by harnessing all the technological power we already have, there was not a single mention of an essential strategy to ensure the survival of all living creatures on the planet: population control. Now I know about the checkered past of population control but that does not mean that we should stop the conversation. We must pick up that thread, acknowledging mistakes from the past but forge ahead by placing it front and center in the discourse. When I was a child, I remember learning the term “zero population growth.” (I think I wrote a paper on this topic when I was in the 6th grade.) For progressives to simply remove this concept from a conversation focused on solutions to the problems of sustaining life on this planet is to shirk our responsibility to lead with the combination of smarts and integrity that is required to keep global warming from reaching the point of no return. 


AB624: GONE BABY GONE June 26, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — cjcallen @ 5:36 pm

On Tuesday the report came: an agreement had been reached between some of the largest foundations in California and the sponsor of a bill that would have mandated collection of diversity data from private foundations with more than $250 million in assets. But what are the implications of this foundation-initiated alternative to a legislative to the long-term advancement of diversity and inclusiveness in the sector? Is this the end of the conversation as people assume that diversity in philanthropy in the state has been taken care of by those ten members of the coalition?

Three interrelated issues are now weighing on my mind.

“Didn’t we take care of that?” syndrome

My hope – our hope – is that that the issue writ large of diversity does not quietly go away and become subsumed in a grantmaking initiative that helps nonprofits access foundation funding. Do not mistake my position, I believe that that what the foundation coalition is proposing to do is a worthy endeavor; however, much more needs to be done from a broader spectrum of philanthropic leaders to move diversity and inclusiveness from “worthy project” to “core value” status. Diversity and inclusiveness is a multifaceted issue that clearly touches upon foundation practice policies but so much more. What has been missing from the discussion to date about diversity in philanthropy is the need to invest in and grow philanthropy within diverse communities. As demographics shift, the future viability of the sector lies, in part, in harnessing the energies and resources of emerging donor of color for community change. What other essential issues are absent from the current discourse? Let us continue to pose more questions, engage in thoughtful inquiry and take the discourse to the next level.

Is it really a question of organizational capacity?

One I volunteered at a small nonprofit focused on people f color and was rejected by a funder on the grounds that they only fund “large, elite organization.” In any event, did not matter that we were well-run, relatively sophisticated and had sufficient capacity to meet our goals, we were able to be an effective organization. This in many ways a question of leadership and who is/is not deemed to be a leader. If that were true, for this capacity building effort to be truly successful would that require growing grassroots organizations into large, elite institutions? I hope not, For the nonprofit sector to be a dynamic and effective force for change, it needs all types of organizations, including small and nimble grassroots ones that bring an unique perspective, set of strengths and ability to work in the world

A lost opportunity to discuss the root issue?

The issue of diversity and inclusiveness also has an undeniable corollary that lies beneath the surface: race and racial justice. Let’s not only hope that the dialogue continues but take steps to near that is does. If we all go back to business as usual and do not take the time to step back, reflect and engage in deep thinking about an issue worthy of such attention, then this will be a lost rare window of opportunity to talk about the difficult issue that often undermines our efforts to create positive social change: race.

I had lunch with a friend the other day and she made a spot on remark: when people talk about race they either talk from a very intellectual, theoretical place or from an individual, deeply personal one. It is rare indeed to engage in an honest and balanced conversation that looks at the complexities, including the interrelationship between the personal and the political. What if foundations took this spotlight on diversity as a signal for raising in a thoughtful and meaningful way the issue on race? What if foundations took the lead in trying to fashion dialogue that would look at all aspects of the issue in order to enrich our understanding of race? What if they viewed Obama;s bid for the presidency as a further sign that the time is ripe for a community dialogue on race?

What if? And what do you think about any or all of these three weighty issues?


Dignified Philanthropy June 23, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — cjcallen @ 9:26 pm

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?


The Other Diversity in Philanthropy June 18, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — cjcallen @ 4:38 pm

The headlines and the conference brochures tell the story: diversity in philanthropy has hit the big time. AB624 might have been the catalyst for a discussion that is now expanding and growing richer in substance. To date the discourse about diversity in philanthropy has centered on a call for foundations to recruit more diverse staff and boards and fund more diverse organizations.  This is clearly of vital importance and Changemakers plays its part in this primarily by educating family foundations about diversity and inclusiveness. What the conversation often fails to explore is how foundations can invest in and grow philanthropy within diverse communities.  Immigrant and established communities of color have always done their own way of giving but are now trying to come into their own in the world of mainstream philanthropy in the U.S. What is the role of traditional philanthropy in helping them find a seat at the table of organized giving? In the Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors’ recent report “Philanthropy in a Changing society “ Achieving Effectiveness through Diversity” is a recommendation that philanthropy “build new partnerships and collaborations with philanthropic associations, affinity groups and other nonprofits working to increase visibility and participation of disenfranchised groups into mainstream philanthropy.”

Recent research conducted by Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University in conjunction with the University of Michigan’s Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID) is also illuminating on the why the issue of diversity in philanthropy is important not only to philanthropy but the larger nonprofit sector. A recent article in the Nonprofit Times notes:  Based on new evidence of charitable contributions, these research findings suggest that immigrants are being incorporated into U.S. philanthropic traditions, adapt rapidly to U.S. charitable institutions, and also have the potential to contribute to and transform nonprofits.”

Could it be that diversity in philanthropy has a multi-faceted issue that goes beyond how foundations structure themselves and their grantmaking? Might capacity building in disenfranchised communities serve as another critical strategy for diversity that also (and not insignificantly) helps move the entire nonprofit sector forward? Certainly to avoid the implications of shifting demographics can only have long-term negative affects on the nonfat sector. We must capitalize on this moment of heightened visibility of the issue of diversity in philanthropy to connect the dots between diverse giving and strengthening nonprofits for the long haul.

Now the promo: please check out Changemakers’ EDG (Essentials for Diversity in Philanthropy) curriculum, which is designed to help people who have been on the outside of the field (people of color and other disenfranchised groups) find a place on the inside. By working with those who work directly with donors, EDG is designed to help donors give fully and meaningfully to nonprofit efforts to transform communities from the inside out.



At the Movies: Philanthropy and Pop Culture May 22, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — cjcallen @ 11:17 pm

This week I went to the movies to see Iron Man. Robert Downey, Jr., as a famed comic book character? What brilliant casting. As the executive director of an organization that cares deeply about philanthropy, I live and dream about philanthropy (I know – kinda’ sad). While enjoying the film I could not help but notice its two main messages about giving, which also reminded me of why the work that we do matters.

Spoiled Little Rich Kid (SLRK)

Tony Stark, wealthy playboy and arms dealer is a philanthropist. He hosts the annual Stark charity event, which was fabulously portrayed by the Walt Disney Hall in Los Angeles.  But what is the philanthropy about? Who is the beneficiary? Well, Stark himself – he’s the star, and the real beneficiary of his charity event is his own social status. Here the message is of philanthropy as a self-serving pursuit. Not the most flattering picture of philanthropy but certainly one that springs to mind to many people outside the sector who view it as a pastime of the elite : “Oh, you’re talking about charity ladies.”

The Hero’s Journey

Fast forward to message number two, which like most Hollywood stories is about redemption: Tony Stark, the true philanthropist or lover of mankind emerges after a traumatic event in which is heart is “rewired.” He now cares about saving people from the very weapons he manufactures. In service to his new cause, he donates time, talent and treasure and embarks on a perilous hero’s journey. His actions speak to passionate and humanitarian giving of the highest sort but would most people consider his actions philanthropy? Probably not. His extraordinary actions do not fit commonly held beliefs about the nature of philanthropy but his is the perfect “trifecta” of giving time, talent and treasure.

So let’s try to imagine that people understand philanthropy as a complicated and multifaceted part of an even more complicated and multifaceted notion: civic participation. As an organization focused on bringing out the best in philanthropy our strategies are increasingly informed and enriched by a deeper understanding of how philanthropy fits within a larger web of civic action. True givers are engaged civil players. All who give have the choice to model one of the many philanthropic stereotypes (as captured by the SLRK example above) or to embark on a hero’s journey that maximizes community benefit.

Though Stark clearly represents the elite, the essential nature of the hero’s journey he embarks on is anything but that. Unlike the SLRK version of philanthropy, the hero’s journey is more accessible because it is in the simplest terms about finding the best use of your time, talent and treasure to serve mankind.

Are you ready for your hero’s journey?