EmpowerPhilanthropy! 2016 Post Conference Thoughts: Investing in Societal Reform or Radical Change?


Dear ABFE Members and Supporters;

It was good to see so many of you in Baltimore for EmpowerPhilanthropy 2016!  I hope you found the time useful and had the opportunity to learn, connect, and re-energize for the work ahead of us. The ABFE team has had the opportunity to reflect on our time together as well and we have participated in other convenings during conference season.  It is important to note that we chose Baltimore as our conference site intentionally – we knew that the one year anniversary of Freddie Gray’s death and the resulting uprising was important to leverage.  Our convening, as well as others, lifted up the importance of transforming philanthropy in ways that build power for all people (families; men and boys; women and girls; straight, queer and trans).  Yes, the “talk” of racial equity is in the air.  Yet, the release of D5’s 2015 State of the Work report (http://www.d5coalition.org/tools/state-of-the-work-final/) shows that the field has not moved much on the issues of racial diversity, a necessary – but not sufficient – step to get to racial equity. This is not surprising to me; we have not invested in new and different strategies to change the status quo.  We keep doing the same darn things in attempts to reform philanthropy and ultimately the impact of grantmaking.

There is a crisis in the field of philanthropy at this time of social movements and unrest: will the field invest in societal reform or radical change.  Radical change requires investing in the people most affected by oppression and structural inequity and doing so till until those investments pay off.  This means fewer restrictions or strings attached for grantees and more leadership within foundations with the courage to do so.  I know…this is a real departure for many in our field but it can be done and will require foundations working together to do so.  There is real power in regional and placed-based strategies that allow cohorts of funders to work together to shift the culture of philanthropy from supporting societal reform to radical change.  No one funder, no matter how large, can change the culture of philanthropy alone. We have to get over our “brands” and work together.

On behalf of our Board and staff, thank you for your participation in EmpowerPhilanthropy 2016!  Stay strong for our community and we promise we will stay strong for you.  For more information about ABFE, visit www.abfe.org.

Peace and blessings,