Redesigning philanthropy’s table

By Dan E. Moore

During almost 20 years at the Kellogg Foundation, I observed how a powerful commitment to giving time and treasure shaped democracy and social justice in Latin America and South Africa, as well as the United States. Since moving to North Carolina, I have seen similar examples of this strength of commitment to philanthropy.

Some mistakenly think of philanthropy as the exclusive work of foundations and wealthy individuals. Yet, there are deep traditions of giving by those not usually identified as philanthropists. And the willingness to give time, talent and treasure continues to grow.

In fact, some of the most exciting giving is taking place in communities of color, among women and youth.

North Carolina is a vibrant microcosm of some of the most inspiring stories of philanthropy occurring in the country today. One of NCGives’ goals is to help celebrate and connect these efforts and make them visible to the larger world. We value “connecting” these communities of color, women and youth among themselves and to the foundation world.

We want to answer the questions: What synergies might come from a new network of givers? What if givers were celebrated? What if givers were connected within and across different communities? Can the power of giving traditions in these unrecognized communities lead the way to new health and well-being in communities all across North Carolina?

But how do we start answering these questions? If philanthropy is viewed as a table consisting only of foundations, one strategy is to include more diverse people at that table. There are some allies for this change in foundations, but we need to help them to be even more intentional. The struggle for more persons of color, women and young people to be involved and contributing has to continue. In fact, there are impressive new leaders of color in North Carolina foundations. Change will not come overnight, but it is one strategy.

Another strategy is to acknowledge and create other tables. This strategy would recognize and celebrate the deep traditions of giving in various communities of color, women and young people and share tools and lessons to strengthen and grow them.

And we could pursue both strategies. What if the tables came together? What if the unrecognized givers rise from their table with their assets, their strengths, their experiences, their vision – their time, talent and treasure in hand. Then ask those at the foundation table, “Will you invest with us in making a more just, equitable, and sustainable communities?”

If the tables could be joined, the spirit could grow, the menu of good work would expand, and the community table of philanthropy would be different forever.

Currently, organized philanthropy is essential, but foundations, along with their corporate colleagues, represent only 15 percent of all private dollars given. Let’s bring the 85 percent from individuals to the table.

In fact, if we add the value of individual’s volunteer time, the percentage is even more. The charitable impulse and the deep traditions are there.

While we may use organizational words such as “foundation,” “table” and “community,” this discussion is also about power. Giving is one mechanism for exercising power, and giving is also an avenue for addressing power inequalities. At the very least, having everyone at one table can help us create an environment where power can be examined and discussed.

NCGives believes that stories of giving have tremendous power to inspire and expand giving. Together, we hope use stories to develop a larger community of giving that shares ideas and best practices; gives mutual support and overcomes fear; and celebrates the spirit of generosity by all participants, inviting all to be at the table.

Dan Moore is senior consultant to NCGives in Raleigh, N.C., and a former vice president for programs at the W.K. Kellogg Foundation in Battle Creek, Mich. This column is adapted his comments March 21 at NCGives’ “Celebrating Cultures of Giving” conference in Research Triangle Park, N.C.

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