A week ago, our country was in a totally different place than it is now. Regardless of your politics, there’s no question that we are most certainly entering some very uncertain times. Like everyone else, grantmakers of all stripes are looking around, trying to figure out how we got here and what the new lay of the land will be. Here are seven things that immediately come to mind as we consider the next four years:
1- Don’t beat yourself up. The election outcome made it clear that many of us in philanthropy have overlooked the sentiments of a silent but seething portion of the country. But while it’s great to be reflective and introspective and think about what your blinders have been in the past, we all need to learn from what happened and move on. We have important work to do.
2- Don’t gut your strengths. Just because the world changed doesn’t mean your work has been wrong. For example, as a field, we’ve been making great strides in race equity and inclusion, and we can’t drop that focus now. We can also recognize that, just as in the stock market, we shouldn’t allow the short-term reactions to impact our long-term vision. If your early childhood strategy was working last week it will still work next week, and next month, and next year (albeit with a few tweaks and adjustments here and there).
3- Take time to learn, but not too much. When seismic shifts occur, foundations have a tendency to hunker down and study the causes in an effort to avoid similar events in the future. But avoiding change is impossible and trying to wrap oneself up in a safety net of knowledge is akin to living in a bomb shelter far after the war is over. Learn in real time, or else when you emerge from your study, the world will have changed again and left you behind.
4- Develop systems for ongoing learning and rapid course correction. It is likely that the pace of change now will accelerate even faster than it has in the past. Plan now about how you’ll keep track of new developments. Identify your go-to resources and determine your expectations for how staff will learn and share. Examine decision-making processes within your foundation and figure out how to make them more nimble and responsive to change without losing focus on your overall mission.
5- Model inclusiveness. There has been, and no doubt will continue to be, a great deal of talk about stereotypes, broadly shared about people of color, immigrants, Muslims, “cosmopolitan elites” (whatever that means), and others. However, creating new boxes with jargony labels and stuffing people into them isn’t helpful. Instead, we can remember that equity includes everyone, from an inner-city single mom of color in New York City to a working class white male in rural Nebraska, to a Ph.D. policy wonk in San Francisco. No matter what our grantmaking focus, we can bring people together to address it. And, as a client recently reminded us, when we want to talk about the impact of the election, we should always be aware of the variety of perspectives in play.
6 – Get off the bench and support policy advocacy. If you haven’t supported policy advocacy, community organizing or civic engagement in the past, now may be the time to make your first investments. If you have supported these activities, consider upping your game. We have a strong democracy in which to raise the voices of those who are in need, and we should take advantage of that privilege. The Funders Committee for Civic Participation and Philanthropy for Active Civic Engagement are two good places to start.
7- Demonstrate the power of philanthropy. The day after the election, Henry Berman, the CEO of Exponent Philanthropy, wrote in the Chronicle of Philanthropy, “Starting now, foundations and donors of all types should be speaking up and talking about the ways our communities benefit from grant makers of all sizes and types.” He’s right. Thanks to the media scrutiny of the Trump and Clinton Foundations, philanthropy got a bad rap during the campaign. We’ll need to speak up – often, loudly, and to a number of audiences, about the good philanthropy does and the fact that most of us have and will continue to do so honestly, openly and meaningfully.
Kris Putnam-Walkerly, MSW, is a global philanthropy advisor, author of the new book Confident Giving: Sage Advice for Funders, and was recently named one of America’s Top 25 Philanthropy Speakers. Want more ideas, tips and tools to improve your giving? Read an article, listen to a podcast, or check out a case study.
In December, Kris will be sharing the findings of her latest report, “The Road to Achieving Equity: Findings and Lessons from a Field Scan of Foundations That Are Embracing Equity,” at several upcoming events: Fund Our Economic Future on Dec. 8 in Cleveland, OH; a webinar for National Center for Family Philanthropy on Dec. 13; and Forefront on Dec. 14 in Chicago, IL.
“Kris expertly managed our $20 million grantmaking initiative to solicit, review, and select grantees to support Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs). Her consulting services are of exceptional quality and I highly recommend her.”
~Juan Davila, Executive Vice President, Blue Shield of California