The history of philanthropic work — private action for the public good — in the United States is grounded in our First Amendment Freedom of Assembly. Americans have been banding together for centuries to generate community-driven solutions to community-recognized problems.
However, as the nonprofit sector professionalized throughout the 20th century, and the number of nonprofits at work leapt from around 14,000 mid-century to 1.29 million in 2017, those doing the work of community change were often moving further and further away from the community itself.
Today, there is a growing understanding that we need to reverse this trend. We see the argument laid out in numerous case studies and reports — such as “The Case for Community Philanthropy,” a joint report from the C.S. Mott Foundation, Aga Khan Foundation USA, Global Fund for Community Foundations, and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund; and Cynthia Gibson’s “Participatory Grantmaking,” produced for the Ford Foundation.
To be most effective, philanthropy cannot swoop in and overlay a set of priorities and strategies on top of the populations we aim to serve. Rather, we must begin by working authentically and purposefully with the people who are actually experiencing the problem to hear from them what they need in order to thrive. By returning philanthropy’s starting point to the communities themselves, we adopt a more inclusive, participatory approach to philanthropy that promotes working together with local stakeholders to design and support strategies for change.
Read the full article about community solutions to community problems by Tory Martin at The Johnson Center.
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