“Strategic philanthropy” is pervasive and manifests in myriad ways. Foundations determining priorities—“this year, we’re focused on early learning and youth development, we are no longer focused on mental health or climate change”—and asking nonprofits to explain in grant proposals how they “align” with these strategies. Funders creating some sort of model for capacity building or leadership that they inflict on nonprofits and ignore (or are completely unable to register) any feedback that that model is completely useless if not detrimental.

But, if we are to create a just and equitable world, we must operate differently. To do that, those with wealth and power—donors, foundation staff, foundation board trustees, etc.—must understand and accept these honest truths that are probably going to hurt some feelings:

  • Unless you have recent lived experience with poverty, racism, etc., you and your foundation/family are the LEAST knowledgeable people in our entire sector.
  • Your grantees have been lying to you. A lot.  The power dynamics are such that no matter how open you are in soliciting feedback, and no matter how great your relationships with grantees or potential grantees are, it’s challenging for nonprofits to ever really be completely honest.
  • Your grantees often don’t care about your strategies, or your models, or your toolkits.  Unless you’ve had lived experience or have spent significant time doing the painful work of listening to communities, most of your ideas are based on your own ego and self-reinforcing biases, and they generate cycles of delusion and self-indulgence where you keep pumping money to make them work while avoiding or ignoring community input.
  • Your privilege and need to be special have warped your perceptions of reality: There are racial and gender elements to this problem. The people with the most privilege and power in philanthropy are white, especially white men, who come from Western, individualistic society where being unique and special is highly desired.

Read the full article about strategic philanthropy by Vu Le at Nonprofit AF.