Saturday, June 22, 2024



Stop the philanthropic PR bullshit

January 26, 2023 Category: ColumnFeatureShort

Spoiler alert: In the season finale of LOOT on Apple TV, the billionaire main character decides to  stop trying to be “philanthropic” for all the wrong reasons — she pledges to give away all her wealth.

“If It’s not philanthropy,” she says in a speech challenging her fellow billionaires. “It’s PR bullshit.”

The scene reminded me of a mock trial held in 2011 at The Council on Foundations annual conference. Philanthropy was charged with not having love for mankind – not fulfilling its purpose and mission. Industry professionals played the role of prosecutor and defense attorney and presented their cases. What do you think the verdict was?

The conference jury, made of philanthropy professionals, ended in a hung jury. But there was a prevailing mood in the room. Of the dozen, 10 found philanthropy guilty of focusing on random acts of charity and overlooking strategic investments that center and represent the communities it is trying to serve.

While I am not here to redeliberate this case, I will ask, after a decade and one of the largest-scale health and economic catastrophes of a generation: how far have we come?

We have seen innovations, such as trust-based philanthropy, participatory grant-making, community-centric fundraising, mission-aligned investing, racial equity lenses, and a number of other types of “new” philanthropy. Many were theoretical intentional efforts to rehabilitate philanthropy. But in practice, their implementation impacted headlines more than the communities.

As one insider told Generocity last year as part of our TRACE reporting series, in Philadelphia, it seems we’re mostly just servicing poverty — rather than doing anything about it.

From our Partners

After 18 years of working in this sector, here’s my central charge: philanthropy is a tool that is only as good as the people using it. How does the sector change if we keep talking to the same people, hiring the same people, hiring safe people, and not really being authentic and transformational from the ground up? Just because an organization now uses one of those new philanthropic innovations, how do we reconcile the years of trauma and biases that put us in the situation we are now in – not being trustednot fully supporting leaders of color, and running away rising leaders?

As has been asked before: Where do we go from here?

Last week was Philanthropy Network’s Annual SPARX Conference. The Philanthropy Network was founded in 1988 to help drive collaboration and insights across impact funders in the Philadelphia region. This month, the organization named Christine Robinson as its new executive director, replacing Sidney Hargo who served for five years. The annual conference was a big unveiling for Robinson. If any organization is best placed to complete the sector’s rehabilitation, it is the Philanthropy Network. But there’s work to be done to push beyond philanthropy’s status quo in Philadelphia.

Robinson is brand new, and the Philanthropy Network made some meaningful strides under Hargo. That means there is an opportunity. Amid this pandemic, momentum has swelled for radical change. Can Robinson and Philanthropy Network deliver? The region would be better off if they can, and so that’s a big part of what Generocity will follow. If we are going to change truly, we need to stop with the “innovations” and “pr bullshit” and truly push to rehabilitate the sector



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