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Strategic Philanthropy

Philanthropy: What is Most Needed

By July 25, 2018October 13th, 2021No Comments

Originally appeared on the Alliance Magazine blog  (July 23, 2018)

In the growing turbulence of our times, the power of philanthropy also seems to be growing exponentially, yet awkwardly and in rough stages, like an adolescent. Those of us in advisory roles are riding the waves along with donors and nonprofits, yet our job is to somehow get out in front of it all, to deliver hindsight from the future on what could work, should work. Or really, what must work, so the gangly adolescent develops toward its full potential.

As a keynote speaker recently at the United Philanthropy Forum’s 2018 Annual Conference, Grant Oliphant, President & CEO of The Heinz Endowments, was both sobering and inspirational on this topic. It may be that another blogger shares with you the four premises he believes philanthropists must throw away if we are to take on the depth and breadth of tasks before us. I hope so, as they were the sobering elements of his presentation, and they were insightful and powerful. Yet what struck me even more were his thoughts on what we need to keep and where the hope lies.

As he pointed out, a lot of what is starting to happen – and what we need more of – is social change that comes from genuine social movements. We know that the most profound changes in our society have come about through social movements – that magical combination of leadership, vision, ideas, advocacy, coalition-building, and deep engagement of those affected by the social conditions that the movements seek to change. Philanthropic resources can play a vital role in supporting, strengthening and even building social movements, and in mobilizing people to become more engaged as citizens and social change agents. Philanthropists and foundations have an obligation to reach out, to support and strengthen positive change agents, and to help pave the way for lasting social change.

Which leads to Oliphant’s next point. Once upon a time there was a man named Fred Rogers, who found a powerful way to demonstrate and inspire love and respect in how we treat each other – our neighbors, our community, and beyond. His message was one of radical kindness, of seeing the good in people, of finding ways to be subversive through transparency and honesty. He acted from the heart and a place of love. Today, we hunger to find and elevate those who will be the next generation of positive, powerful leaders. (As an aside, if you have not seen the new documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor, run, don’t walk!)

There are people like Fred Rogers out there right now, in so many communities that need to be heard and need to be healed. It will take those who are conveners, who listen and who lead with dignity and steadfastness toward what is right, and who find ways to bring forth our best selves. Just as philanthropists can work to stand behind the coming social movements, part of our obligation to those movements is to discover and stand behind those who, like Fred Rogers, exemplify what we hope for in our communities and our world.

What is most needed, and what philanthropy has the power to deliver, is support of those who are creating brave, true, and positive change. We cannot rest, or offer excuses. It is our time to step forward and contribute our strengths and resources in ways that will lead the way to a more just, equitable, and humane world.