About Chad and Tenah Dyer

Issue area: Just Transition to a more sustainable world
Geographic focus: San Francisco Bay Area, California
Giving vehicle: Donor-advised Fund, Impact Investing, Asset Transfer, Board Service, Volunteering
Years in philanthropy: Dabbled for 15, In earnest for one
Time spent on philanthropy (weekly): Switched to full time impact-oriented work as of last year
Recommended Resources: Decolonizing Wealth, Winners Take All, The Good Life Pledge, Impact Finance Center, Full Spectrum Capital
Wealth story: Chad’s 20-year career in a venture capital technology operations
Recommended by: Nadia Roumani, Senior Designer, Designing for Social Systems Program at Stanford Hasso Plattner Institute of Design

When I start to feel comfortable I know something is wrong. As a straight, cis, able-bodied white guy with wealth privilege, comfort is my default state. So often the outcome of philanthropy, impact investing, and volunteering is to make the person offering resources more comfortable. The communities we aspire to help liberate don’t have the privilege of constant comfort. One of our duties as people with privilege is to raise our baseline level of discomfort. Don’t use “good works” to feel better and go back to normal. Sit in discomfort. Seek discomfort. Use it to keep feeling the relentless urgency of turning good intent to effective action.

All my impact work is in collaboration with my partner Tenah. We believe it is the duty of people with privilege to wield it in service of dismantling and rebuilding systems to make the world more just and more sustainable. Even when - especially when - these very systems are what conferred privilege in the first place. So, in October 2020, I quit my job to focus 100% on figuring out how to leave it all on the field for this mission.

I started by researching and prototyping the type of impact role that I might have. So many generous folks who are smarter than me and have been doing this way longer took time to share their experience. Rather than narrowing to a clear, focused path, it quickly became an ever-outwardly-branching tree of opportunity. One of the opportunities for real leverage in this work is to create “easy buttons” for people who want to deploy capital for impact but get stuck with option overload. At the same time it's clear no one has all of the answers -- the sector is still figuring out what it looks like to execute on these foundational principles of justice and equity, we are all still learning.

On The Good Life Pledge
Kat Taylor and Taj James are two of the generous folks who have been doing this work for a long time and have taught me a lot in a short time. They are the innovators who created The Good Life Pledge. Kat’s key insight in creating the pledge is that, in the world we live in, wealth begets more wealth. And that in spite of the number of dollars going out in the form of grants, traditional philanthropy has not effectively created economic power in the communities that need it most. If we want different outcomes we need a different approach. We must change our mindset from one of “donating” to one of “shifting assets.”

The commitment that the Good Life Pledge invites us to make is to transfer 30% of our assets to communities hurt “first and worst” as Kat would say, in a way that not only solves immediate problems, but also creates sustainable wealth in those communities.

The best metaphor I’ve come up with for this mindset is how people with wealth privilege treat their children. If we want to create stability for our kids, we don’t give them allowance until they are 90. We set up trusts. Trusts are an asset transfer. The money is (eventually) out of our control, does not benefit us, and it becomes a self-sustaining engine of stability so they don’t need an allowance. In my mind, the Good Life Pledge invites us to do the same for communities if we aim to create a more just and sustainable world.

Land transfer and entrepreneurship are two obvious ways to create wealth and drive economic power in communities, and the folks working in this area are creating interesting new funding models as well. CDFIs are a well-known approach, impact investments with equity stakes, loan guarantees, nonprofit bond financing, and traditional charitable grants can be combined to create new ways to create the capital structure the communities need to build wealth. And another key concept is to flip the decision making so the community defines what combination of financing types they need to be successful.

On an integrated approach to impact
I’m aspiring towards “full stack impact.” This means taking stock of how my choices align with my values in each sphere of my life -- finances (spending, investments, giving), personal and family relationships, activism, time, voice, and civic engagement. Where am I spending my calories? Is there a through line that connects everything? So often philanthropy allows people with wealth privilege to compartmentalize impact in just one limited sphere - charity. But with full stack impact, I’m asking myself what percentage of my calories are helping create the world I want to exist? Do my investments work in concert with or counter to my charitable efforts? Regardless of the context, I believe that there are always opportunities to make choices that align with your values. And you don’t have to quit your job (unless your company is one that is making things worse, then you should think about it if you have the privilege of job mobility). And you don’t have to solve everything. Imagine what would happen if we all got 10% or 20% better at value alignment across each sphere of our life.

Final Thoughts: I’m not trying to build something new. I’m starting by listening and learning from the people who have been doing this longer than me, and to the communities most affected by the systems that have brought us to the precipice we find ourselves on today. In traditional philanthropic advice, there can also be a lot of ego and narrative around, “find the cause that you’re passionate about and go from there.” But climate and equity are the core existential challenges of our time and if we don’t focus on those, nothing else is going to matter. So I’m trying to spend less time finding my passion and inventing something new, and more time finding the people who are on the ground moving the needle when it comes to equity and climate, and figuring out how to put my calories towards amplifying their efforts.

Lastly I bristle at the notion that this is “us,” the capital stewards doing something for “them,” the marginalized communities. For Tenah and I, this is not altruism. This quote is a key touchstone:

“If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. but if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” — Aboriginal activists group, Queensland, 1970s

Read other stories about donors centering equity.