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How Philanthropy Will Carry Us Forward Post-Election

Posted Nov 11, 2016 03:55 PM
There is great uncertainty in the sector about the implications of the election. 501 Commons will be evaluating emerging issues and needs in collaboration with our partners, including Washington Nonprofits and Philanthropy Northwest.

It is likely that there will be an immediate push to delay the implementation of the overtime rules and probably a decrease in the salary adjustment. After the first of the year, there could be changes to the Affordable Care Act that will put the health care of more than 500,000 people at risk, affecting many people receiving services from nonprofit organizations.

Below we are sharing the text of a speech delivered by executive director Nancy Long on the day after the election at the annual celebration of philanthropy, Philanthropy Day. Nancy offers her perspective of the road forward for people who are committed to justice.

This is a time to provide every extra kindness we can to each other. Give special consideration to the many people who are experiencing high levels of fear and stress. Please let us know if there is any way we can be of help to you.

The following speech was delivered on Nov. 9, 2016, the day after the election to an audience of 900 nonprofit fundraising professionals, individual philanthropists, and grantmakers.

How Philanthropy Will Carry Us Forward Post-Election

By Nancy Long, Executive Director

A fractured country

Preparing to stand here, not knowing what would happen yesterday or what the feeling would be in this room today was challenging.

Most of us found this entire election year challenging. When surveyed, more than 50 percent reported that the presidential campaign has been a source of significant personal stress. I am in that half… how about you?

For many of us that stress has gone far beyond who would be our next president. It has become personal. It has disrupted our understanding of our country and challenged our sense of ourselves. We look at the polarization, the anger, and the disintegration of mutual respect in this election and many of us think:

If this is my country, who am I?

It is like being at Thanksgiving dinner where you have always successfully navigated those little “differences of opinion” and suddenly half of the family stomps out before the pumpkin pie.

How are we going to get the family back on speaking terms?

Building common cause
I think philanthropy, and especially fundraising, provides an answer to that question.
Fundraising professionals step outside their comfort zone every day to create common cause with donors. Those of you who are part of Advancement Northwest and the fundraising community know that people are wired to connect with each other and to find shared meaning. You know how to tap into that and make charity contagious.
As a result, people who were once on the opposite side or were indifferent to your cause first become aware and then become passionate supporters for change.
There is a Greek saying: “If it were not for hope, the heart would break.” I think many of us have felt this way over this last year. But hope is just wishful thinking, unless you put action behind it.
Right now, we need to leave our echo chambers, reach out to those different from ourselves, and do the hard work of finding common ground.
The road to justice
This will not be easy. The level of anger being expressed in our culture is frankly frightening. When I feel discouraged, I think of the quote from abolitionist Theodore Parker, which was later repeated by Martin Luther King Jr.:  “The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice.”
Looking at the lessons of history, injustice often gets worse…before it gets better.
  • Abuses in monarchy led to democracy
  • Abuse of workers preceded unions and labor laws
  • The abuses of Jim Crow activated the civil rights movement
Before people advance to a new position on the arc, a cloud of prejudice, fear, distrust, and hatred rises. But we do break through. It does get better.
I believe we are in the midst of a realignment of values and power that is transforming relationships between people throughout the world. This is happening because we are able to:
  • Communicate across the globe in seconds
  • Source our news and facts for ourselves, and
  • Increasingly disrupt authority
It is important to remember that even as we hear the loud voices of anger, these social changes have given greater economic and political power to millions.
They have resulted in a world that has lower poverty, fewer deaths from disease, less violence, and an ever-advancing belief in basic human rights for all – an idea that did not exist just a few steps back on our family tree.
Philanthropy’s challenge
Philanthropy has an important role to play in continuing the advancement along the arc towards justice, but first, we need to work for justice in our own practices and examine how we can do more and do it better.
While the core of philanthropy is altruism, self-promotion can sometimes take over, power and privilege digs in, and paternalism seeps through – particularly when dealing with people who are poor or people who work with the poor. Philanthropy has demonstrated that we can create relationships between grantees and grantors that solve problems but we must address the power imbalance that exists in those relationships.
We need to acknowledge that the money doesn’t do the work, people do – and we should value their knowledge and input. Foundations must open up their processes and engage in strategies that start from the perspective of grantees in order to create a more just – and effective - sector.
The impact of personal relationships
While our organizations and philanthropic institutions look at how we can lean in to advance justice within our sectors and within our world, it is helpful to remember that change happens at the personal level.
David Brooks wrote an article for the New York Times recently called “The Power of a Dinner Table” about a family whose son brought home a friend who often came to school hungry. That act of generosity led to more kids coming over. Eventually 15 to 20 kids who were homeless, hungry, and up against impossible odds showed up for regular Thursday dinners. And, with dinner, this family served up support, recognition, resources, and, most of all, love.
Brooks quotes youth activist Bill Milliken. When Milliken is asked which programs help kids build stable lives he states: "I still haven't seen one program change one kid's life. What changes people is relationships.”
As with fundraising, it is in one-to-one relationships where we will find our deepest meaning and our most enduring solutions.  Therefore, I ask, “Are you up for the challenge?” Are you a person…
  • Who cares for your neighbor?
  • Who helps when help is needed?
  • Who wants to ease the way for generations to come?
  • Are you willing to examine the injustices within our own sector?
  • Are you willing to step outside your comfort zone and bridge new relationships?
  • Are you willing to work to get the family sitting together at the table again?
Today we celebrate that compulsion to make a difference – no matter how difficult the road may be. In the stories you will hear today, notice that no one stands alone. Each honoree’s accomplishments result from relationships, collaboration, and partnership. There are no solo performers in philanthropy. We are all “members of the choir.”
And, together, our voices and actions will carry us forward.