Foundations have been described over the years as providers of necessary risk capital, society’s passing gear, or necessary fuel for social innovators. But what does that look like in 2020? Are funders truly behaving in this way, or are they, as Vu Le fears, complicit in a system dominated by the values of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s famous description of “white moderates,” where decision makers are “more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice?” Has philanthropy’s modus operandi become more accountable to the avoidance of risk than to ushering in potential change?

These questions caused me to consider the idea of “risk” in philanthropy. I most often hear about risk in the context of endowment investments or increasing annual funding caps; ceding control and engaging in trust-based philanthropic practices; or funding new, untested, or unproven approaches.

If philanthropy is going to use its privilege and increase its risk-taking, there are several essential questions to consider.

  • How does philanthropy weigh the risks calculated in current practices against the potential risks to society if philanthropy does not do enough in this pivotal moment? Who gets to decide what is enough?
  • Is it time to redefine what the picture of risk looks like in philanthropy? If yes, whose perspectives should drive the conversation?
  • And how can philanthropy better take risks to support the development and testing of the creative solutions that are not precedented, but are very much needed in these truly exceptional times?

Read the full article about philanthropy's privilege by Leaha Wynn at the National Center for Family Philanthropy.