Hello, and welcome to the inaugural episode of Unpacking Philanthropy. I’m Aaron Dorfman.

Over the past 15 years while I’ve been lucky enough to lead the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, I’ve written scores of opinion pieces that have been published in various sector and mainstream press outlets. I know that many of you have resonated with some of those pieces and perhaps have been infuriated by others.

Well, now it’s time to see if this old dog can learn some new tricks.

We’re launching this video series, Unpacking Philanthropy, to communicate with NCRP’s members, followers, allies – and adversaries – in new ways.

Three Principals to Guide Philanthropy’s Work

For philanthropy to have maximum impact, we need to keep three key principles top of mind:

    1. First, philanthropy is not the answer to bad government or shrinking government. American individuals, foundations and corporations gave a total of 471 billion dollars to charity in 2020. And while that sounds like a lot of money, and indeed it is a lot of money and some people are very generous, it’s a drop in the bucket compared to spending by local, state and federal governments, which, in 2020, was 8.8 trillion dollars. If you do the math, 5 percent of our spending for the common good of society came from charity, and 95 percent came from government.We can’t donate our way out of the pressing problems facing society. A robust and responsive government is essential. Philanthropy can be a complement to government, but never a substitute for it. We must not give an inch on this.We must insist that government play its proper role in society, and that we tax ourselves at a rate that allows us to do that.
    2. Second, while philanthropy can’t and shouldn’t replace government,  philanthropy can and should aim high. A few foundations and many smaller donors invested in the Civil Rights movement, and helped move the nation forward, even as those advances are threatened in our current environment.Foundations played a key role in passing the Affordable Care Act, and now millions of Americans have health insurance and can get the care they need. All organizations in the social change ecosystem must be well-resourced, including the professionalized advocacy organizations and the scrappier movement groups often led by people of color on the frontlines. When we fund in these ways, it works!
    3. Finally – and this is vitally important – the people most affected by injustice must play a central role in their own liberation. That means donors and foundations must learn to share power. Program officers, executives and trustees of foundations, and major donors must co-create strategy with grassroots leaders and follow the tenets of trust-based philanthropy. Our sector must also share power at the governance level by diversifying foundation boards and by hiring CEOs who have lived experience with the problems we’re trying to solve.

Read the full article about philanthropy and democracy by Aaron Dorfman at the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy.