What does accountability in philanthropy look like today?

This was a particularly salient question at the Just Transition Forum, a powerful cross-sector convening hosted by the Building Equity and Alignment (BEA) for Impact Initiative in Jackson, Mississippi, in February.

The BEA “brings together dynamic grassroots organizing groups, effective national green organizations and innovators in philanthropy to advance the progress of the environmental movement towards a just transition and directly confront powerful polluters.” ...

We discussed philanthropy’s current realities, how we show up and what we bring to the movement. Accountability was a prominent theme: We named that we operate in a sector that has few mechanisms for accountability and transparency, and identified a need to push for structures that support and move philanthropy towards “true accountability.” ...

Today, mainstream grantmakers still hold enormous power, privilege and gatekeeping abilities, isolating them from the inequities and injustices experienced at the grassroots.

With no “natural predators” beyond the IRS and tax policy in the United States, and ongoing sector disagreement over the fact that foundation dollars are partially public dollars, it’s no wonder that this challenge continues to plague the sector. Reflecting on this same report in 2013, our president Aaron Dorfman wrote, “the more things change, the more they stay the same.”

But philanthropy can and must move beyond upwards accountability to boards, donors and founders, and operationalize accountability downwards to nonprofit partners and communities.

Here are some suggestions for how to show up and what to bring:

  • Be thoughtful about navigating power dynamics. In spaces like the Just Transition Forum, the BEA invites funders in as collaborators. This doesn’t mean you can’t contribute — the BEA welcomes vulnerability and honesty about your challenges in navigating barriers. But these are opportunities to practice stepping back, listen and make room for grassroots leadership.
  • Honor the network’s democratic decision-making and understand that these kind of processes take time and require in-person, authentic relationship building to be truly inclusive and responsive.
  • Contribute to the burgeoning BEA Fund to better resource grassroots groups that are advancing community-based solutions to the ecological crisis. The Fund’s grants will be decided by the real experts: grassroots organizers.

Read the full article about accountability and alignment in philanthropy by Caitlin Duffy at National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy.