This is the fifth and final post in a series contributed by the Feedback Incentives Learning Group, a group of funders convened by Feedback Labs that are dedicated to encouraging peer funders to listen to the people most harmed by the systems and structures they seek to change and to supporting their grantees to listen as well. In this blog series, learning group members share their insight into and experiences with encouraging foundations and nonprofits to listen and respond to the people who are most impacted but often least consulted by philanthropy and nonprofits. The first blog in this series is here, the second blog is here, the third blog is here, and the fourth blog is here. We hope this series provides inspiration and guidance for those looking to listen better and, ultimately, encourages action.
We want our grantees to get to the roots of the problem of their sectors, so why don’t we do the same?
Imagine a tree. A strong, sturdy oak with deep roots and reaching branches. This oak has provided for many generations, but its energy has waned. Pruning a few of the tree’s branches won’t bring it back or make enough room for new, vibrant trees to flourish. For the forest to remain healthy, the oak needs to fall. As it decomposes it will return nutrients to the soil, and leave space for new seeds to sprout, grow, and thrive. Its legacy will be the new, healthy trees that thrive in its place for the next generations.
The longer I’m in the philanthropic sector, the more I see it like this tree. A strong, sturdy institution that has flourished in its traditional form, but is showing signs of rot. Like Edgar Villanueva, Anand Giridharadas, Vu Le, Trista Harris and others, I think the harm that traditional philanthropy perpetuates outweighs the good it does and needs to be addressed. Many of the reforms I hear my peers in philanthropy discuss are useful — reducing grant applications and reports, integrating more participatory grantmaking practices, and investing with a social justice lens are all noble ways to address harm — but they do not go far enough.
Such interventions are not radical, and more importantly they’re not working fast enough. They continue moving resources through traditional forms of philanthropy. Removing these branches may allow for efficiencies in use of resources, but the tree is still standing, rot and all, and crowding out space for something truly new and equitable to flourish. We — those of us who want to help create a more equitable, just world through our grantmaking — are losing. Philanthropy as it currently stands supports wealth concentration and benefits from playing politics, at the expense of community wellbeing. We need to find ways to be more radical in our philanthropy now, and, to me, being radical means addressing fundamental root causes to change systems so they serve everyone.
Read the full article about being radical by Mary Coleman at The Center for Effective Philanthropy.