Philanthropy is more predictable, practical and pragmatic in its approach to change. It’s hardly going to advocate for a full revolution or dismantling of the system as it were, but in this current day in age, change is hardly brokered by the timid.
New tech and trends are hardly going to speed up progress either, especially if we continue to keep the same folks in leadership and celebrate the wins of the status quo.
“We raised $2m more than last year” – the organization that hasn’t changed its current programming for 3 years.
“Congrats to our CEO on being named one of the 500 most influential figures in the city” – the organization with a 15 year CEO that has spent thousands on advertising in business journals for the past 5 years.
“We improved the speed of our grantmaking by 20% this year” – the organization that hired 2 new staff finance staff to help with service delivery.
Spin, vanity metrics and inside baseball have eroded our natural curiosity to challenge current approaches and methods. Building capacity is more commonly seen as a fiscal term rather than an investment in the team that does the work. And as we have continuously reaffirmed, power dynamics are still rampant in philanthropy and the way we do it.
We are so exhausted that we just accept how it is.
We are so distrustful of politics and systems that we accept that ‘nothing gets done’.
We see large institutions do the same old things (largely without any real scrutiny) because ‘that’s just how they work’ and ‘if it’s not broken don’t fix it.’
What happened to critical thinking? What happened to asking those stupid questions we are encouraged to make by leadership in asking why do we do it like this?
This part of the book combines all the major major points we raise in this book and openly challenges the way we do things by asking ‘what if we did it this way instead?’
We take a look at the IRS and the US Postal Service, we look at nonprofit universities as viable alternatives to private foundations and we also look at what a national service for volunteering might look like for families looking for relief in the face of rising costs of childcare and education.
Take the discussion about defunding the police as a way to counter police brutality. Looking at this objectively, the theory behind it was an innovative way of thinking how funding could support policing and safety in a broader, yet complementary way, reallocating funds to mental health programs for example to support ongoing prevention efforts. With a better narrative this could’ve become a quite dynamic national discussion on how to improve both the protect and serve elements of this important government department.
But this isn’t about revolution, it’s about an evolution. This isn’t about blowing everything up, it’s about upsetting the table, changing the cutlery, changing the tablecloth and serving a different type of wine. Trust me, we will still be talking about the future and our roles in it, we just might be having those conversations with new people and ideating different ways of approaching them.
Some of those new people you will want to be inviting to the table are Alison Aragon, Erin Barnes and Seyron Foo, who have been challenging the way philanthropy works and what it stands for, helping build up new leaders, raise funds for new pathways and fighting for legislative change that helps people’s lives, not just their bank accounts.
Alison Aragon – Since joining the Play Equity Fund at the LA 84 Foundation in 2019 as Development Associate, Alison has created a donor stewardship plan, board giving policy and collaborated with Grants & Programs to increase all Development functions.
She captained the Women’s Golf Team at UC Santa Cruz, and also graduated from the University of San Diego’s Master’s in Nonprofit Leadership and Management Program in 2017 and the Sanford Institute of Philanthropy Fundraising Academy in 2019.
As a first-generation college student, Alison is particularly passionate about access to affordable education and building sustainable social-emotional support systems for youth in Southern California. She has worked at a number of foundations and nonprofits throughout the region, including serving as Director of Development & Communications of The First Tee of San Diego, and is currently a member of the Latina Giving Circle and Emerging Practitioners in Philanthropy (EPIP).
Erin Barnes – As ioby’s CEO and Co-Founder, Erin has led ioby’s strategic planning, governance, and fundraising for the last 11 years. In addition to her role at ioby, Erin is Board chair of Resource Media and an Obama Foundation Fellow.
Prior to ioby, Erin was an environmental writer with a background in water management. From 2007-2008, she was the environmental editor at Men’s Journal magazine, and was a freelance writer on climate change and other environmental issues. From 2003-2005, she worked as a community organizer and public information officer at the Save Our Wild Salmon Coalition in Portland, Oregon.
While completing her Master of Environmental Management in water science, economics, and policy at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, she was a U.S. Department of Education Foreign Language and Area Studies scholar in Portuguese. She did field research on socio-economic values of water in Goyena, Nicaragua, and the Bolivian and Brazilian Amazon. Her report “Market Values of the Commercial Fishery on the Madeira River: Calculating the Costs of the Santo Antônio and Jirau Dams to Fishermen in Rondônia, Brasil and Pando-Beni, Bolivia” was published in the Tropical Resources Institute Journal in 2007.
Erin also holds a B.A. in English and American Studies from the University of Virginia. Erin lives in Brooklyn and serves as Board chair of Resource Media. The Rockefeller Foundation awarded Erin and her co-founders Brandon Whitney and Cassie Flynn at ioby the 2012 Jane Jacobs Medal for New Technology and Innovation. In April 2018, Erin was selected to join the inaugural class of Obama Fellows, recognized by President and Mrs. Obama for ioby’s work in leading the next wave of civic innovation in America.
Seyron Foo – Seyron manages the advocacy strategies that advance the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation’s programmatic goals on ending chronic homelessness in Los Angeles, supporting transition age youth in foster care, and cultivating successful career pathways to transform the lives of opportunity youth. Previously, Foo oversaw public policy and government relations at Southern California Grantmakers and Philanthropy California, where he led initiatives that strengthened philanthropy’s partnerships with state and local governments. He has experience in various government sectors, including the California Senate Majority Leader’s Office and the City of Long Beach. He earned his master’s degree in public affairs from Princeton University’s School of Public and International Affairs and his bachelor’s degree in rhetoric and political science from the University of California, Berkeley.
Look, I’m an empathetic person, but businesses are not people regardless of legalities to the contrary, so I can’t hurt their feelings when pushing back on what they do, and what they mean for our communities. I challenge you to do the same, and to look at the world through its opportunity to be better and do more good, not settle for what is served up for us.
Not at this table.