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Mutual Accountability for Social Change is a monthly series exploring feedback in philanthropy with practical steps for donors. It serves as a primer for the 2022 publication of David Bonbright’s (co-founder and chief executive, Keystone Accountability) book on the emergence of mutuality — working on relationships and not just in them — as a breakthrough approach to philanthropy and social change. The stories and advice are based on a 40-year journey of mutuality craft. Part Seventeen.
Everywhere you turn there is good advice out there for funders in the time of COVID-19. From checking on your grantees to increasing funding levels, there are plenty of practical steps you can take to ensure you’re engaging in smart listening and supporting those on the front lines.
Now I want to turn the dial up to 11, and ask one of those questions that can change everything, especially in a time of uncertainty:
“What would love do?”
The question comes from ServiceSpace, a global community of volunteers that aims to ignite the generosity in each of us. ServiceSpace is based on the familiar idea that personal change and social change are directly connected. Gandhi captured this idea famously when he said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” ServiceSpace says, “change yourself, change the world” and has drawn upon Parker Palmer’s application of the Mobius Strip as a visual of the dance between inner and outer work.
Credit: Preeta Bansal, ServiceSpace
For more than 20 years, ServiceSpace has seen again and again that acts of generosity multiply many times over. They practice what they call giftivism, which has been studied by social scientists and yields a fascinating formula. Let’s say you drop the fee for something – like the entrance fee to a museum or a show, or the meal in a restaurant, and allow people to pay what they want (including nothing). Let’s say the fee is normally $1. If the pay-what-you-want is set up to go into a box, the average received is $1.23. But if the pay-what-you-want is to a person who collects your donation, the result is $2. So far, pretty interesting. And if you invite people to pay-forward for the person after you, the result is $3! That is three times the amount of the original fee.
Consider how you can be a driving force for increased generosity: Designate a meaningful sum – say 10% or more of what you would normally give in a year. Then call the leaders of your three to five favorite nonprofits, and maybe some trusted friends, and invite them to work with you to pay-it-forward to a grantee that you identify together. Set a conservative decision-making rule of unanimous agreement, with no peer pressure allowed. I predict that by merging your generosity with theirs you will unlock powerful impacts way beyond expectation.
As each of us grapples with this pandemic, it’s important to remember there are people “responding to a crisis of uncertainty with an open heart and grounded wisdom.” There is no better time for philanthropists to show what love can do and provide added support to those who are doing the hardest work.
(Read inspiring stories at ServiceSpace’s new website, www.karunavirus.org. Karuna is Sanskrit for compassion. They note, playfully, that karunavirus is more powerful than coronavirus.)