“When philanthropy partners, communities prosper.” This was the guiding mantra that tied together this year’s Exponent Philanthropy conference in Baltimore, MD that we attended earlier this fall. From the start, we were energized by philanthropic and nonprofit leaders alike echoing the importance of centering community voice for greater philanthropic impact. It is exhilarating to see the increasing emphasis in the field of philanthropy on listening to and learning from the community, and other perspectives, as TPI has been encouraging funders to engage in listening, learning, and partnering since we opened our doors in 1989.
This conference’s opening keynote, Advancing Catalytic Leadership, included a panel that firmly planted the seed of centering community voice for the audience. Diana Angela Bucco from the Buhl Foundation shared her foundation’s approach of interviewing community members to understand the issues affecting them. Over the course of her first year at the foundation, she conducted more than 400 interviews to understand issues of concern to the community that could then influence investments in local projects. She left the audience with the message that “the real magic of change is people.” Diana demonstrated that, while it may sound like a daunting task, centering the voices of those most impacted by the issues philanthropy seeks to address is something we all can incorporate into philanthropic practices.
Whether through community learning calls, grantee reporting calls, site visits, or other forms of engagement, funders and their partners should be mindful of centering community voice when making grantmaking decisions; after all, these are the people whose lives we seek to impact.
In a discussion on inclusive leadership, Ryan Easterly of the WITH Foundation stated, “the core of what we do is people.” He then shared specific ways to bring community voices into philanthropic work, like having a community member sit on a foundation board, having staff with lived experiences, and having opportunities for community or grantee listening sessions. In the workshop about supporting leaders of color, Danielle Reyes, Caitlin Mayo, and Robyn Ellis of the Crimsonbridge Foundation reiterated the importance of work that is centered in community. By supporting nonprofit leaders who are representative of the community they serve, funders ensure that the work is grounded in the community and that leaders understand and connect to the issues being addressed.
One of the real highlights of our trip to Baltimore was a guided site visit to Rebuild Metro, a local nonprofit organization, whose mission is “to strengthen neighborhoods by rebuilding homes, restoring whole blocks, and fostering enduring community relationships.” Through this site visit, we learned how this organization is working closely with the residents to rebuild a specific community, aiming to center the voices of current residents before rebuilding. This organization’s work goes well beyond rebuilding homes on vacant lots, to understanding residents’ needs and responding in a way that facilitates residents’ wellbeing.
As philanthropic practices continue to shift towards centering community voice to have more impact, we’re grateful for opportunities like this conference and in our work every day at TPI to bear witness to inspiring stories of the ways philanthropy can so positively impact humanity. After all, in its purest form, “philanthropy” means love of humanity. As we step into a new year, let us all remember that the real magic is in the people.