Giving Compass' Take:
- In this interview, philanthropic advisor Jennifer Near discusses what it takes for philanthropic advocacy to succeed.
- How can you begin to or improve your engagement in advocacy?
- Read the full article about the role of philanthropy in advocacy and policy.
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The concept of philanthropic advocacy is not new — people, organizations, and coalitions inside and outside of philanthropy have been organizing funders for many years. However, more recently, the idea of organizing philanthropy has received more attention from mainstream philanthropic institutions, media outlets, and writers. The spotlight on this issue has resulted in thousands of words written, presentations at conferences, the formation of new organizations, and more.
In the midst of this discourse, we at Kataly want to think about what philanthropic advocacy means to us and how we want to organize within the field of philanthropy in alignment with the communities we serve. We engaged Jennifer Near, a longtime philanthropic advisor, organizational consultant, and grantmaker, to help us determine the impact we want to have and the path to arrive there.
In this Q&A, we talk with Jennifer about what funder organizing means to her, what can cause harm, and the opportunities to shift capital and funder behavior.
What are some of the pitfalls of philanthropic advocacy? What can cause harm?
I worry sometimes we’re just equipping folks with frameworks and language and then they are weaponizing them without an actual substantive practice that corresponds to the language. For example, sometimes funders will make a commitment to integrating racial justice into their grantmaking strategy and use justice-based language, but without shifting who and how they fund. This creates more breaks in relationship and trust as well as a false sense of what a justice-based approach to philanthropy looks like in practice.
There is a practice in philanthropy of “receiving” information without a commitment to specific changes or actions. There are these rituals of attending conferences and webinars or meeting with grassroots groups to get their feedback and then a practice of sharing some of the lessons learned with folks in power, who are making decisions over capital. This is what we think of as philanthropic advocacy, and there is a role for this kind of engagement. But all of this activity doesn’t result in individual or institutional behavior changes. We need deeper organizing to influence capital and shift harmful practices to ultimately transform our sector.
Ultimately, there is a lack of reciprocity and accountability to grassroots social movements. Oftentimes funders and donors are socialized to increase their control over resources and to use their power to execute a vision that continues to benefit their own interests, rather than to challenge their privilege and how they wield power in harmful ways. But it’s difficult for grantees to hold funders accountable since they are actively fundraising. Therefore funders need to be in relationship with value-aligned peers who can give constructive feedback and “call them in”.
Read the full article about philanthropic advocacy from The Kataly Foundation.