I have a friend who’s dying of ALS. My great-niece has Cystic Fibrosis and my mother died of breast cancer 6 years ago. These issues are all causes that fall into the realm of what we think of as traditional philanthropy. But traditional philanthropy is not what gets me fired up. To quote my colleague Rosemary Oliver who works at Amnesty International, “I want to create a better world, not just better conditions in the same world.”
I share these personal stories so you’ll know that I appreciate traditional philanthropy. Why wouldn’t I? It raises funds for things that impact me, my family and so many of us. Moreover, I’m grateful for all of the lessons our profession has learned from traditional philanthropy. We have a body of knowledge. And new research is offering insights that sometimes supports and sometimes challenges industry convention and invites us to do our work better and smarter.
But I’m passionate about and involved in social change because fundamentally, I’m angry. Circumstances from my childhood have given me a perspective on life that makes me believe the worst in people as a collective. And this continually colours my view of the world. Yet I am also frequently reminded that people can be kind and I’m hopeful enough to believe that fighting injustice is worth the effort and that it will make a difference.
Here’s what I know about myself: I’m neither angry nor brave enough to fight on the front lines of social change activism. My skills are better used to participate in the fight from the behind, helping to raise money. I’m simultaneously inspired by those who work on the front lines of social change and frustrated by their views related to fundraising. At first, I set out on a mission to raise the profile of social change philanthropy so those of us working in the profession will have a shared language and an opportunity to learn from each other. And I still think that’s important.
But recently, I’ve begun to see a broader reason to talk about social change philanthropy: so that social change activists working on the front line can see themselves and their causes reflected in philanthropy. How can we expect people working on the front line to embrace fundraising if they don’t see themselves in this world? How can one see oneself in a world we barely even have a language to describe?
There is a weird phenomenon in the social change sector that I have experienced: fundraising and delivering services that change the world somehow – inexplicably – operate in silos from each other.
Fundraisers can’t do as good a job unless the subject matter experts – the people who help communities thrive or house the homeless or feed the hungry or fight any number of injustices – are partners in the process.
So, I’m starting a conversation with you, my fellow fundraisers, so that we may engage in this new(ish)* conversation, share and develop more resources and support and learn from each other. I encourage you to share these articles (there will be one each month) with your colleagues working on the front lines of social change and begin to engage them in a different conversation about philanthropy. And let us know how it goes.
Do you have ideas about how to share? Share ‘em (at firstname.lastname@example.org) and let’s get this party started. This is a journey that I’m inviting you to join me on.
* the conversation isn’t all that new. Simone Joyaux, Kim Klein and others have been talking and writing about it for years.
This article was first posted in the December 17th edition of Hillborn Charity e-news