I think this is rather bad news

November 20, 2018

New report exposes top-heavy philanthropy and its risk to the Independent Sector.”

What does this mean? Our sector – the nonprofit charitable sector – is changing … transitioning … Not so much broad-based support from lots of different donors giving different amounts of money. Now philanthropy is increasingly dominated by a small number of very wealthy individuals and foundations.”

  • Significant decline in # of households giving to charity
  • Private wealth in US is concentrated in fewer and fewer hands — And philanthropic power is held in fewer hands, too

I think this is bad. No wait!! I think this is very terribly bad!!! Very very awful and deeply deeply sad. So very sad.

Money money money…. dominates too much. Dominates!! So the wealthy give money for specific things – and that doesn’t necessarily include ensuring an equitable society. Big money dominates choices made in corporations and charities and yes, government, too.

Money = power in our society. Money to elect the people who maybe don’t much care about civil society and civic capacity and equity. Most money is held by a few. The few expect and demand certain ways of doing things. Too many donors have their own ideas about how to solve problems and do stuff and… Those few may not (probably do not) know the right stuff and understand the lives of those who experience life differently.

I’ve been writing about philanthropy as a democratizing activity for more than a decade. And this new report comments: “Charity is now becoming increasingly undemocratic…”

I believe that philanthropy faces (has always faced) a moral dilemma…Big bucks. Wealthy people. Major gifts. The “right” people on our boards to get those major donors. (By the way, if there are major donors and major gifts – that means there are minor ones, too!!!!!) Read “Philanthropy’s Moral Dilemma,” the final chapter of Keep Your Donors: The Guide to Better Communications and Stronger Relationships (2008, Joyaux and Ahern).

I talk about philanthropy as an opportunity to make change – and making change must must must include ensuring social justice. I’ve long thought that philanthropy was too much about the status quo. I want philanthropy to also be a subversive activity. I want progressive philanthropy that strives for social justice. And that means a broad, diverse donor base.

This is what I believe: No healthy society can exist when only the wealthy play…lead…dominate…control. No matter the intentions of those wealthy. Some of the biggest most important movements in this country – and worldwide – weren’t led by or funded by the wealthy.

Read this report. Talk about the values and meanings therein. Talk about the implications for your organization…for your local community…for your nation and the world.

Talk about this report as part of a board meeting. (And yes, all senior staff and board members should read this!) It’s past time to talk about philanthropy’s moral dilemma. Way past time.

I’m sad and hugely pissed. And not surprised.

 

About Simone Joyaux

A consultant specializing in fund development, strategic planning, and board development, Simone P. Joyaux works with all types and sizes of nonprofits, speaks at conferences worldwide, and teaches in the graduate program for philanthropy at Saint Mary’s University, MN. Her books, Keep Your Donors and Strategic Fund Development, are standards in the field.

Simone Joyaux, ACFRE, Adv Dip, is an internationally recognized expert in fund development, board and organizational development, strategic planning, and management.

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