At the beginning of each of Capital Collaborative’s It’s Not Your Money interviews our guests are asked “What shift in language do you think we need to make that might help diversify power?”. Our series is titled It’s Not Your Money for a reason. We believe language is one important piece in shifting power in philanthropy. 

To move towards building more equitable systems, we must also be willing to take a deep look at our history. The value of knowing your history is like a bow and arrow, you must pull back to be able to spring forward. We must pull back and really acknowledge the ways different groups of people have historically been (and continue to be) marginalized, in order to spring forward and build a future that centers the liberation of us all. 

To paraphrase part of a conversation with Sudha Nandagopal (more below), writing a check will not be the silver bullet to save democracy. Democracy is bound up in our ability to be in relationship with one another. We need to be in communities of practice with each other.

To shift philanthropy we must be able to learn about and interrogate our pasts while learning with and from each other, and in that context power can grow. Because power is not born, it is bloomed. People just need the space and resources to grow it. 

Here are some additional shifts in both language and power, paraphrased from a few of our latest It’s Not Your Money guests:

Shruti Jayaraman, Chicago Beyond, on trauma-informed funding:

  • Trauma is: experienced in the body-brain, overwhelming our natural capacity to restore, integrate, and return to wholeness. Trauma can be individual, collective, or intergenerational.
  • Our processes as funders, can cause trauma. There can be performance of trauma as a pre-condition of funding. The best or worst story wins funding–reinforcing trauma. We can redesign our investing processes to actually be healing. 
  • Practice funding from a place of love. This is not fancy or abstract. Show up from the deep core of humanity, from love. Ask yourself, how does truth flow in this relationship? We have all been in relationships where truth flows and we grow in our capability, and where it doesn’t and we are left feeling and acting as if less is possible. Start very simply with your own every day relationships and how you may restore or harm one another. Think about it. Work at it.
  • Sometimes risk in philanthropy is actually the risk of looking foolish. Or the risk of not seeming in control. This has practical implications, such as keeping your distance and not doing anything differently. If you are not shouldering the risk - who is? 

Allandra Bulger, Co.Act Detroit, on what Black and Brown leaders really want and need for capacity building:

  • We don't use the word empower. It’s about supporting the power people already have. How are we sharing power? Sharing responsibility? 
  • We don’t need more experts. Let's interrogate who we consider experts. How do we measure and value the unique expertise and lived experiences folks bring to the table who are already doing the work?
  • We need patient capital. This work takes time and often isn’t in alignment with the timeline of a grant. We need the help of non-prescriptive funders who see that nonprofit success is funder success. Being lean and agile takes a toll. People are at the heart of organizations and need time and investment.
  • We need trust. We hear about trust-based philanthropy a lot, this should mean trusting each other to use resources responsibly. This doesn’t mean conditional grantmaking or micromanaging every dollar. 
  • We need an ecosystem. We need networks of folks to build cross-sector relationships that work together and support each other. We need more awareness and acceptance to see failure as an opportunity to learn. To share power. The challenges we face are too big for any one organization or sector to focus on alone.

Dennis Quirin, Raikes Foundation, on developing the missing collective identity of philanthropy as financiers of social change work:

  • Resources have a higher purpose. It is easy for us to fall into the thinking that philanthropy’s job is to reconstruct the world into our own image. Funders need to lean into a bigger collective identity than just being financiers of the priorities of our own specific organizations. 
  • Funders need to be in the game, and fund to win. But you cannot know what it takes to win until you are in deep relationship with your work or you can truly trust what you’re told by others. 
  • Fund with an ecosystem approach. Fund around a set of issues or policies. Do you finance social change or the specific priorities of your own organization? What shifts would help you get past org-specific priorities? The value of funding in a particular area could benefit you greatly while supporting communities to have actual agency. 
  • Using, and sharing, power. Bring the values of collaboration to work. Understand your role in philanthropy, including the power you hold, while leaning into it with real humility to work to bring that power and agency out in others. 

Sudha Nandagopal, Social Venture Partners, on democratizing power:

  • Talk about broken systems–not broken people. Avoid the white savior complex and look at where money has been flowing.
  • As funders, let’s get accountable. Are we doing our own work? Are we in true partnership or are we acting as saviors? Are we here because our liberation is tied up with others?
  • How can we practice democracy in philanthropy? We continue to see people left out of systems of governance. We must give folks the grounds to practice this and leave the notion that democracy is a one-time event when we go to the polls. Where in our daily lives do we see opportunities to democratize things? Where in philanthropy do we see these opportunities?
  • You cannot purchase a piece of the work. You must be willing to do the work as well. Power is within all of us and we have to figure out how to draw it out of all of us. We need to reinvigorate civil society to have a movement that brings in folks who may have historically had less access or influence and build our tables first for them.

A huge thank you to all the guests who joined It’s Not Your Money’s first year, and who continue to speak truth to power courageously while working to shift it. To listen to future conversations, follow Camelback Ventures on LinkedIn.

The Capital Collaborative by Camelback Ventures works with white funders and social impact investors who want to deepen their individual and organizational commitment to racial and gender equity in philanthropy — but may not know how. You can learn more about how to get involved by submitting an interest form for the Capital Collaborative’s 2023 cohort or signing up for the newsletter.