New Haven-based Heron Foundation went through its own reckoning moment in 2019. “We realized we couldn’t achieve our core mission of helping communities help themselves if we weren’t deeply listening to our communities,” recounts Heron president Dana Bezerra. Why was Heron extracting community knowledge to inform its grantmaking strategies—as is typical for many foundations—instead of flipping the script by handing over funds (and power) to the local communities themselves?
Heron had hit an important truth: strategies to rebuild a stronger and more equitable society not only need to focus on including the voices from the community, but to do so in ways that truly shift agency, capital, and power. This work is hard, and goes beyond pledges to do better, short-term financial commitments, or small increases in diversity targets. This work requires real changes to the structures, organizations, cultures, and norms within which so many of us operate.
At the Beeck Center, we are seeing a real hunger for this kind of substantive change, along with deep mistrust in institutions and those in power, across government, private, and philanthropic organizations. To rebuild that faith, here are six bold moves (two internal, four external) that philanthropy should make to seize this moment:
- Build a trust-oriented culture rooted in humility and deep learning.
- Determine what reskilling and reorganization is required to truly do this work.
- Build trust with communities by demonstrating a listening and learning posture.
- Expand decision-making structures to include trusted community members for shared agency and accountability.
- Invest in capacity building so communities can better define local problems and deploy funding in a participatory manner.
- Open technology and data platforms to democratize decision-making.
Read the full article about trust-based philanthropy by Nate Wong and Andrea McGrath at Stanford Social Innovation Review.
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