Throughout modern American history, philanthropy has often helped enable progress by pushing society beyond its cultural status quo. Today is no different, as we can see from both the efforts to make American society and democracy more inclusive and the backlash against those efforts.

To navigate through this challenging environment, philanthropy must have a strong spine and maintain a long-term view. Even more importantly, our sector needs to return to and embrace the original etymology of philanthropy—a “love of humankind”—as our animating force.

When it comes to love, philanthropy today still has some clear deficits to overcome, and the current generation of leaders has been called to answer major challenges in the sector:

  • At New Profit, we released a research report in 2020 that found that organizations led by Black, Latine/x, and Indigenous leaders received only 4 percent of total grants and contributions in philanthropy, despite the fact that so much social impact work is focused on supporting these communities.
  • Restricted funding models, which are still the norm among institutional funders particularly, have hampered social innovation and weakened organizational capacity in a way that makes the sector overall less able to deal with fast-moving events like the COVID-19 pandemic or to make future-focused internal and external investments.
  • Silver bullet approaches relying on unproven technology and unrepresentative data continue to proliferate, at the expense of proven, community-based approaches that get less attention. Where is the catalytic intersection of the two?
  • Tribalism and intense partisanship is fueling a backlash against the momentum for racial equity and justice that was created in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, and threatens to upend critical dialogue and progress in education, economic mobility, and democracy.

These dynamics are hindering our ability to come together with shared purpose and work towards shared goals, which is so necessary during times of national tumult. Embracing the love mindset can drive critical shifts in philanthropy and society more broadly:

Embracing the love mindset can drive critical shifts in philanthropy and society more broadly:

  • Love illuminates brilliance and expertise. Proximity—in philanthropy’s case, the expertise and insight that comes from experiencing community assets and inequitable systems firsthand—may be the most powerful untapped force for change we have. 
  • Love removes restrictions. For a century, donors have restricted their giving in ways that made it hard for most nonprofit organizations to build strong organizations that can pursue long-term impact at scale. 
  • Love powers coalitions. As students of history, we know that transformational change has always come due to the work of multiracial, intergenerational, cross-sector coalitions. 
  • Love prioritizes people more than programs. We must start seeing ourselves and our grantees, partners, and other relationships across philanthropy as humans first, rather than instruments for impact or, to borrow a phrase from the author and activist Romal Tune, “admirable sacrifices” to justice movements. 
  • Love is fearless. To prepare for the turbulence of the present day and the years to come, we need to shift our mindsets, and do many things that are counter-cultural to the way philanthropy currently operates.

Read the full article about leading philanthropy with love by Tulaine Montgomery at Stanford Social Innovation Review.