Opinion/About change – Cartel chills civic change

By Todd Cohen

Organized philanthropy acts like a cartel, and charities need to break its grip.

Each foundation stands alone, and many back innovation and change.

But seduced by wealth they control into believing mainly in their own ideas, many foundations share a philanthropically correct code about how charities should operate and what their focus should be.

These foundations favor charities that play by their rules, which are reinforced by trade groups and consultants that serve as philanthropy’s gatekeepers and marketers.

Dependent on foundation grants and member fees, national, state and regional nonprofit trade associations push foundation thinking at conferences and workshops they produce to market themselves and generate revenue.

These tent revivals can offer useful tips, but a big lure is letting charities mingle with funders and learn their rules.

Foundations and trade groups tout their openness and diversity, yet can be hostile to criticism, competition and charities that choose to go it alone.

While they can learn from funders and trade groups, charities can learn more if they think for themselves.

Charities thrive, and spur civic change, when they take risks, learn from mistakes and find partners that truly care about their work and will share what it takes to succeed.

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