The word philanthropy has got some negative connotations as well as positive ones.
While the original meaning of philanthropy comes from the Greek philanthrōpos, meaning love and humanity or love for human kind(1), today philanthropy is often seen as something else. Instead of altruistic act or gesture done in the name of love for humanity, the word philanthropy invokes the perspective of a separation of the giver and the receiver. In this perspective, the “philanthropist” donates his/her time or money to a cause or an issue that does not directly relate to or affect them. Instead, those who can afford the “luxury of giving”, give as a way to assuage feelings of guilt, without really caring about root causes or related problems. “Philanthropy” from this paradigm, recalls issues of race,class, and privilege. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said,
Philanthropy is commendable, but it must not cause the philanthropist to overlook the circumstances of economic injustice which make philanthropy necessary.
Philanthropy as solidarity can mean giving of your time and money to help create a counter-force to existing systems of injustice. This means showing solidarity in the public sphere as well as actively giving and participating to build the kind of systems we do want in our communities; consistently asking ourselves: “What kind of society do we want to build? and What is our role in that vision?”
This season, how can you use your philanthropy to show solidarity?
I recently interviewed Kathleen Sharkey, Director of Communication and Outreach for the Peace Development Fund (PDF). PDF is a public foundation that works exclusively with Community-based Organizations (CBOs). The foundation has been around since 1981 and makes small grants to community organizations with budgets of around $500,000 or less working on peace and social justice issues. Every year PDF open its doors to any organization that would like to apply and as Kathy explains, “We like to fund early and with small grants.”
What is your role at PDF?
As the Director of Communications and Outreach I do two things, which is all the communications for the org, but I also am in charge of a new initiative, which is our technical assistance training program. That is a program that just started this year. We have 5 orgs from across the U.S. who have applied and been accepted into what is a 3 year program to provide them training and coaching on fundraising, board development, and financial management.
How did you get started in this work?
Well I went to Mount Holyoke College, and after college I started working in the nonprofit sector. I did one small stint in the for-profit sector and immediately got out of it. I’ve been working for nonprofits ever since. I’ve worked in a variety of organizations, from schools and universities, to membership organizations, to museums, and PDF as well.
Why does PDF choose to work primarily with community-based organizations?
Very simply we think that change starts with the grassroots. It’s not something that’s imposed by a foundation. We don’t say, “We think you should all be doing this.” We make general support grants on issues where we think organizations have some traction, can get some traction, and start or make change.
What challenges do you feel community-based organizations face that are unique to their structure, leadership or missions, compared to national or large organizations?
Because CBOs tend to be small and underfunded one of the real challenges they have is sustaining leadership and sustaining volunteers. People tend to get burned out very fast because there are just too many things going on. From a foundation perspective, we really see that it’s important that we provide general operating support, not for specific programs. We’ve seen small organizations chase their tail around trying to create a program that a foundation is going to fund. Whereas we really believe that you, in the small org, you know the work that you need to do, you know your community, and you need some support to keep the lights on, and the fax machine going and the copier going and leaflet and do all that sort of thing. So we’re much more interested in providing small support, small grants where they can make an impact, rather than funding specific programs or established organizations. Although we do have special initiatives. We’ve had a criminal justice initiative, environmental justice initiative, we had a cross border initiative, all of those came out of work that we were seeing community organizations doing and needing to have some opportunity to network with each other on a national level. This is something as a national foundation we can do that a local community foundation can’t do. And we feel that we can really help them get to the next level with our training program.
What’s your organization’s Vision for community?
Well we believe in fairness for everyone. Fair living wage, healthcare, sustainable environments, freedom from violence, the ability to get an education, it’s really a question of justice. Our tagline is Peace through Justice. We don’t think we can achieve peace if people aren’t feeling like they’re getting a fair share. And a lot of the violence that we see in our communities, we think is a result of an inequitable system. So give us $75,000 and we can make a really big difference with 15 organizations nationwide with $5000 grants. Give us half a million dollars and we might be able to change the world. We can trace back more impact from our grants than some larger foundations because we work with CBOs.
What advice would you give to community – based organizations?
Hang in there! (laughs) It’s a really tough road ahead and a lot of community-based organizations can get so down in the weeds and into the struggle that the struggle becomes all that they are doing, and they can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. I think this is one of the important benefits of being part of networks with organizations that are at a similar level. You can be inspired just by a simple or different way that one organization is doing something. And it’s so hard, I think, as a community-based organization to look out over that fence sometimes that you build around yourselves and see what else is happening on the other side of the fence. I think that’s another real benefit that PDF brings: with our grants and the desire to work in partnership with our grantees we can bring that national perspective. We can say “Gee, you should be looking at this other organization.” When I do our newsletter I’ll look at a whole bunch of organizations doing different things on a particular theme and try to bring that forward to our constituents as well. So as I would say hang in there, there’s no substitute for perseverance. And perseverance is what gets us through to the end.
Much of the information we receive in reference to prudent nonprofit management refers to creating solvent organizations, that produce solid data, and operate with a business-like sense of direction. But people don’t always respond to organizations focused on financial efficiency (consider the Make-A-Wish Foundation). People don’t always follow organizations that operate like a business. And often invest their time, money, and energy in organizations whose greatest asset is their proven accountability to the community they serve and the vision carried by the organization.
My previous post discussed people-based management as an organizational strategy for community-based organizations to relate to their constituents, volunteers, and employees.
People-based management for community-based organizations incorporates the following principles :
• Community leadership training
• Opportunities for applied leadership
• Exchange of power dynamics
• Emphasis on relationship building and networking
• Prioritizing constituent agenda
• Meaningful & consequential systems of accountability
So how is this model applied in a Community-Based Organization?
Community Leadership Training and Opportunities for Applied leadership
Organizations like Lawrence Community Works,City Life / Vida Urbana (CL/VU), and Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative incorporate leadership training into their community organizing. These organizations groom leaders from within the community to work within the organization. They also offer tools and resources for residents to act on their own behalf or organize their neighbors to make changes in their community. The organizations will often offer support for community-driven initiatives.
“ACE is anchoring a movement of people who have been excluded from decision-making to confront power directly and demand fundamental changes in the rules of the game, so together we can achieve our right to a healthy environment.”
Since many community-based and social movement organizations are often dealing with advocacy and access to governing power structures, the people-based management model focuses on altering power dynamics literally and psychologically. Incorporating this type of agency instills a sense of efficacy necessary in driving change and sustained activism. However, this shift in perception cannot be done absent trust.
Emphasis on Relationship Building and Networking
With a people-based management lens, relationship building and networking are about establishing trust and building a connection that creates a shared vision, based on that trust. Lawrence Community Works uses an elaborate community networking structure that is the cornerstone of their organizing work. For CL/VU, traditional door to door grassroots organizing brings in a vast amount of the organization’s participants.
Prioritizing Constituency Agenda
In a people-based management model authenticity is earned through the demonstration of commitment to the priorities of stakeholders. While a mission should not shift with each new agenda, leading with a mission that is irrelevant or redundant, or worse exploitative of its constituency ensures lack of confidence and trust in the organization. Building authentic relationships assists the organization in understanding what is important to its constituency, adding legitimacy to the organization’s cause. Organizations cannot enlist community members in their agenda without knowing anything about what matters most to them.
Meaningful & Consequential Systems of Accountability
While increased layers of bureaucracy and red tape can often overburden an organization seeking to be responsive, progressive and flexible, a complete lack of structure can be equally oppressive, as noted in Jo Freeman’s Essay,The Tyranny of Structurelessness. Accountability must be tangible and perceptible. Developing systems of accountability means to be intentional in the design of organizational structure. Building in constant self-examination led by a commitment to be aware and responsible for each interaction between the organization and its stakeholders.
Take an inventory of your organization. Are there aspects of the People-based Management model you’re already incorporating?
I attended two events this past week both with the focus on Philanthropy and noted two similarities in the messages of these two events: Storytelling.
The first event was hosted by Bay Path’s College as part of their “Bold Thoughts in the New America”, Hot Topics Lecture Series. The speaker was Dr. Eugene Tempel, Indiana University’s Lilly Family School of Philanthropy founding dean, Nonprofit Times 2013 Influencer of the Year, and a top expert in the field of Philanthropy. Dr. Tempel shared a few statistics on the state of Philanthropy in America; including the decline in alumni giving in higher ed institutions and comparative research on giving among men and women. He also discussed what he saw as the many roles of philanthropy among others, the reduction of human suffering and enhancing of human potential.
When a local community-based organization asked what their organization could do to increase their number of donors Dr. Tempel noted that it was important for the organization to find a way to tell their story. “The most compelling thing one can do is tell stories about the success of your organization…and how you’re making a difference.”
“Fundraising from my perspective is the difficult work of engagement. It’s figuring out how you engage people”, noted Tempel.
The second event I attended was one of the Women in Philanthropy breakfast events entitled “Donors Share: A Panel Discussion”, moderated by Katie Allan Zobel, President of of the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts. The panel featured four local donors: Sally Griggs, Amy Jamrog, Ellen Lindsay and Sarah Buttenweiser, all of whom discussed what inspires them to give. While each donor discussed several things that had turned them off from an organization; not being in alignment with the organization’s values or receiving way too many glossy brochures, each panelists seem to agree that it’s a personal connection that drives their philanthropy.
As Amy Jamrog remarked, ” I love Facebook and I read annual reports. Love them! They tell the organization’s story.”
Sarah Buttenweiser, noted, “I give where I’m engaged. Social media is a great way to tell your story.”
Ellen Lindsey pointed out,”What motivates me to give is that personal touch from an organization.”
“What matters to me is transparency”, said Sally Griggs.
Next week I’ll discuss different ways your organization can tell its story.
As a philanthropist (of your time or money) What motivates you to give?