At Chicago Beyond, we see a practical alternative to traditional institutional philanthropy that could invigorate the sector’s ability to create deep change. We call our approach “Whole Philanthropy.”

Whole Philanthropy is about re-centering humanness. It is about doing away with the false dichotomy of “us and them.” It’s about recognizing that we are in this together, fighting for and envisioning true freedom for all. This approach requires meaningfully interacting with our partners, not in a paternalistic way, but as equals. Our model forges deep connection with our partners; we seek to build ownership among those we serve, and to tap into the power and expertise of people’s lived experiences.

The key to living Whole Philanthropy is our individual orientation to the work. We as funders must see ourselves as actors with power in the systems we are working within—actors that can ultimately upend the very nature of those systems. At Chicago Beyond, our orientation includes three main ideas:

  • Consciousness: Requires noticing and examining the perceptions, assumptions, and dynamics that inform our individual and organizational beliefs and practices; Being conscious requires us to see differently and bring awareness to our own biases and assumptions as well as our interconnectedness.
  • Connectedness: Requires engaging with all individuals and communities as full and complete, deserving of respect and engagement, as humans.

With, not for: Results in us standing in solidarity with our partners.

Whole Philanthropy in Action

As funders, our orientation has implications for who we fund, how we source investments and how we partner.

For example, we know that Black and Brown leaders of smaller, community-driven efforts are often overlooked. This happens for a number of reasons; often, these groups have limited staff to apply for grants and fundraise, have a less formalized organizational structure and have fewer connections to institutional funders and other power brokers. They are overlooked in part because they do not make it onto funders’ radar. When they are noticed by philanthropists, these organizations are often deemed “risky” if they don’t fit traditional funding requirements. To the contrary, these are the people and efforts most primed to move communities forward. Why? Because they are most proximate to their community’s challenges and therefore most accountable and adaptable to community needs. By being more conscious of this dynamic, funders can operate in ways that counter traditional risk assessments.

While it evident that there is an abundance of Black and Brown leaders shaping community efforts, reaching them calls for deep community ties and trust. One way Chicago Beyond reaches these leaders is through our People’s Assembly, a group of committed Chicagoans who offer ideas, advice and recommendations of individuals doing invaluable block-by-block community work that often goes unnoticed and unfunded. This helps us intentionally address bias and overcome the blind spots of our existing network. By intentionally connecting with community members as equal partners, we open the door to a variety of new ideas that might challenge how we think of existing issues.

Once we partner with an individual or organization, we offer multifaceted support without judgment. While the components of our various partnerships vary based on partners’ unique circumstances, all partnerships start by building real relationships that hinge on trust. Connectedness is the fundamental first step. For other examples of relationship-building, the Trust-Based Philanthropy Project is working to address the inherent power imbalances between foundations and nonprofits.

Read the full article about the impact of family philanthropy by Liz Dozier at the National Center for Family Philanthropy.