How Individual Giving Can Reshape America
I am a white mother of boys, an educator, and perpetual learner. I seek to cultivate love, growth, and thoughtfulness in all that I do. I start here because every choice I make is rooted in this identity. Just like every choice you make is rooted in yours.
As a white mother, life changed on March 13, 2020 when schools closed in New Jersey and all my roles coalesced into one. Mother. Teacher. Coach. Manager.
As a white mother, life changed again when I explained the murders of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd at the hands of white police to my 4- and 6-year-old sons.
As a white mother, 2020 has begged the question, “What am I willing to give? What am I willing to give up?”
2020 has provoked many different reflections around the power and privilege that I hold in American society. I’ve begun to more consistently interrogate my choices and be more critical of who and what I choose to support financially. As an individual giver, I have the ability to ask tough questions, release control, and give in reflection of my values.
I have the opportunity to give to others doing tremendous work and I have the opportunity to give up the unjust power of my whiteness.
Ask Tough Questions
So often we ask the tough questions of the recipients of our funds … “What will success look like?” “How will you spend the money?” etc. While these can play a role in building understanding and trust - they also perpetuate a power divide and constantly put the people doing the difficult work in the hot seat. Before posing these to nonprofits, I’ve been turning those tough questions inward … “Am I giving to organizations led by people of color?” “If not, why not?” “What do I really need to know about an organization?” “How can I show trust and be a true partner?” When I begin to ask tough questions of myself, I’m choosing to give up my comfort. That same comfort I gave up when I had the difficult conversations about police brutality with my children. To push myself to look in the mirror and reflect on how I have (un)intentionally made the work of Black and Brown entrepreneurs more challenging, preventing them from doing their good works.
White Supremacist culture survives and thrives due - in part - to white people’s white-knuckled grip on control. This sense of control encourages those with power (individual givers) to dictate the rules of engagement, the desired outcomes, and all the subsequent hoops that organizations must jump through in order to receive funding. Time and time again we see organizations and entrepreneurs scrambling to meet the various demands of funders when they should be expending energy on doing the very work that caught the funder’s eye. As individual givers, we can shift giving culture by releasing our grip on the reins and creating space for our community experts to do the work that we support without having to cater to our need to set the rules. This does not mean we do not hold those we fund accountable to how they use our donations. Accountability is key in nonprofits establishing trust and relationships with donors. As funders, we need to challenge our notions of why we think we know how our donation should be spent. Not only can we give our funds, but we can give up our need to dictate its use and leave that to the group doing the work. Self-determination is critical to community change.
So often we ask the tough questions of the recipients of our funds … “What will success look like?” “How will you spend the money?” etc. While these can play a role in building understanding and trust, they also perpetuate a power divide and constantly put the people doing the difficult work in the hot seat.
Give in Reflection of My Values
I’m a white mother of boys. An educator. An advocate. I believe in growth, justice, and love. When I own my values, I find myself leaning into what that means for others and the collective work we must do. It has me assess potential entrepreneurs and organizations not solely by their measurable impact, but also by how committed and connected they are to their own values. It has me seeking to give to others supporting the work of educational justice, anti-racism, and grassroots community development. My knowledge of self helps me seek out what may not always be right at the surface so that my giving fuels the change that I wish to see.
Be the Change
In the 2008 Presidential primary, then Senator Obama stated, “Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we've been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.” There are millions of ways that we as individual givers can seek change. And, you, me, the proverbial we do not have the answers and cannot make that change in a vacuum. If I have learned anything from my whiteness, it’s that it’s assuming and can be (un)intentionally self-serving. It believes it is right, better, just, more. When holding on to humility, I have the opportunity to ask myself tough questions, release control, and truly embrace my values. I have the opportunity to give to others doing tremendous work and I have the opportunity to give up the unjust power of my whiteness.