10.12 Donors of Color Not Needed for the Movement?

My head is still throbbing from my conversation with a program associate at a southern-based foundation.  The conversation had me so upset I reached out to my board of directors for moral support.  The foundation person (who is probably first contact for groups considering submitting a grant proposals) told me our organization was not compatible with their social change agenda.

Okay, I get that. Not all groups fit all grants. I preach that. But I was told my organization’s work wasn’t social justice work.  I said, yes we are!   I told her “We believe strengthening donor-ship and leadership skills of individuals (in communities of color) is key to helping groups build organizational capacity and sustainability.  I told her working on community-led philanthropy and fundraising is working for social change.

The program associate disagreed. “Sorry, ya’ll don’t match our mission” is exactly what she said. But I assumed what she meant was that sharing cultural knowledge and developing people of color with a donor/fundraiser/activist mentality and the spirit of volunteerism, is not considered part of a progressive social change agenda.

Bullshit!  It’s grassroots movement building.  Direct action organizing in itself is not the only solution to fighting injustice for this generation.  As a peer of mine suggests “lets include other solutions like creating alternative economic models, building resilient communities, and understanding that we all have something to give and to receive.”

How can a funder say changing attitudes and behaviors, demanding accountability, mobilizing community, and building collective power are keys to achieving social change, but that empowering people of color, community based organizations, and progressive minded youth with philanthropic/fundraising tools that promote self-sufficiency are not?

I’ve met several people in the progressive arena who say that my community’s version of “community philanthropy is not the same as big cash gifts that fund movements.   I just want to know, why not?  At my organization, we define community philanthropy as giving – giving of our time, giving of our talents, giving of our culture, as well as the giving of our money.  Giving what we have as individuals or as a community helps make change possible, plain and simple.

It was people learning the power of giving $5, hosting house parties, pooling funds, and writing fundraising letters that helped get a person of color elected president.  Imagine what we could achieve if there were groups in the social justice movement that strategically trained others to do that. Oh wait; there are groups like that.

I would love to say kiss my… to all to the naysayers and people who believe that giving an organization a fish is better than teaching them to fish, but instead I’ll reference my boy Prince when he sang “we are the new power generation, we wan’na save the world, the only thing that’s in our way is you.”

14 Comments to 10.12 Donors of Color Not Needed for the Movement?

  1. Larry Saxxon's Gravatar Larry Saxxon
    October 12, 2010 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

    Hi Pam,
    I can well appreciate your sheer utter frustration when faced with unfiltered ignorance!
    The unspoken subtext strikes me as actually being, “Well, if we give you people the means to stand on your own two feet; you won’t continue your toxic dependent relationship with us. That alters the balance of power and we simply can’t have that!”
    In short, it sickens me.
    I think you should have said, “Kiss my royal a@@!” When trying to engage in a dialogue with a bigot of that nature, you have nothing to lose. I applaud your speaking out about this and it speaks volumes to why we people of color need to develop our own foundations!

    • Pam Pompey's Gravatar Pam Pompey
      October 13, 2010 at 7:24 am | Permalink

      Thank you Larry, I really appreciate your comments.

  2. Kathy's Gravatar Kathy
    October 13, 2010 at 7:44 am | Permalink

    It seems to be an occupational hazard for folks working in foundations to overestimate their importance in resourcing the movement (or any nonprofit work for that matter). They miss the fact that individual donations add up to far more than the grants they make. For one strong example. church givers in their pews contribute much more than foundations through pooled funds or directly in their communities. Your work in communities of color to focus donations strengthens and expands the existing (yet invisible to outsiders) cultures of giving. At the same time, it builds long-term sustainability for organizations, freeing them from the need to always answer to the “mission” and “theory of change” of foundation staff from outside their communities. Perhaps it’s the latter effect, making foundations LESS important, that some program officers fear!

    • October 18, 2010 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

      Hi Kathy – Thanks for sharing and reminding us that individual donations add up to far more than foundation grants!

  3. Faith Thompson's Gravatar Faith Thompson
    October 13, 2010 at 11:22 am | Permalink

    Pam, thanks for sharing. I believe that Program Manager was really saying “no, you don’t need to do any capacity building in a community of color. We want them to stay dependent upon us for everything from the way they think to what they spend their money on. If you start helping them to be self-sufficient and everything, what’s us gonna do?”

    Keep doing what you do: developing community giving: giving of our time, giving of our talents, giving of our culture, as well as the giving of our money. You are not alone!

    • October 18, 2010 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

      Hi Faith – Thanks for sharing your thoughts and for your encouragement of all of us who focus on developing community giving. You’re right that this work is important and we are not alone!

  4. October 18, 2010 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

    Hi Faith – Thanks for sharing your thoughts and for your encouragement of all of us who focus on developing community giving. You’re right that this work is important and we are not alone!

  5. October 21, 2010 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

    Some people seem to be more comfortable writing checks and wringing their hands than actually doing anything.

    Take childhood obesity. Is it an epidemic? Do another study. Define “epidemic.” Hey, I’m not sure if it meets the definition of “epidemic,” but I know that when I walk past the local high school, I’m strolling past kids one-third my age who are so pudgy and out of shape they couldn’t keep up with me on a bet. Oh, but let them walk to school or risk skinned knees in the playground when they’re little? Parents scream child abuse! Fix the problem, but don’t make them sweat. Fund another study. Give somebody a grant to solve the problem.

    Small donations won’t match large grants. But, as you point out, a lot of small donations combined with some “elbow grease” can do quite a lot, and sometimes it can have more real-world impact. (If you haven’t read “Zilch” by Nancy Lublin, this would be a good time to pick it up. At the library, of course.)

    Don’t even waste your breath telling them what to kiss…. Sounds to me like you’ve got an idea to start small and multiply. Put it into practice and make it self-replicating.

  6. Pam Pompey's Gravatar Pam Pompey
    October 22, 2010 at 3:33 pm | Permalink

    Thank you everyone for your thoughts and comments on this topic. I’m glad there are people out there who understand this issue. As a point of thought, the one thing I did not say in the post which opens the door for further discussion at some point; the foundation’s program associate was a person of color. I was even more hurt that she didn’t get it.

  7. Larry Saxxon's Gravatar Larry Saxxon
    October 22, 2010 at 6:52 pm | Permalink

    Hi Pam,
    The fact that the foundation program associate was a person of color is not surprising at all.
    Foundations tend to be terribly conservative, despite their marketing hype and liberal pronouncements. They, like many other employers, tend to hire people of color who they feel most closely match their internal organizational culture. So, the person’s skin color is a minor background variable. What really matters most to them (the foundations) is the person’s political ideology. (How well will they fit in and, will they rock the boat too much!) Having been a Program Officer myself, I have born personal witness to just how conservative many, if not most, foundations really are under the surface. It’s a shocking but sad revelation. That is why there are so many powerful external Affinity Groups, i.e. Women in Philanthropy, Asians, African Americans, Lesbian and Gays, etc. that exist to both educate and advocate on behalf of those who have been traditionally disempowered by a long history of inadequate and inappropriate foundation funding levels.

  8. Sam Talbott's Gravatar Sam Talbott
    February 17, 2011 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

    I’m unclear from the article why exactly the funder turned you down. And it seems you are too, having “assumed” her analysis and also her or their intent? Why don’t you follow up and just ask?
    Could it be that they do want to fund direct action or even direct services and that they didn’t see your program as that? Yes. Are they entitled to define their focus? Yes? Must they choose among the many requests? Of course. Will they tend to stay in their comfort zone? We all do.
    It could be that more conversation with the funder is needed to clarify or to advocate? Are you open to that? If your proposal of community-designed, generated and controlled social change philanthropy is so revolutionary, then maybe it will take more work to get others, esp. in institutions, to see the light.

  9. Pam Pompey's Gravatar Pam Pompey
    February 18, 2011 at 7:49 am | Permalink

    Sam,
    Thank you for your comments and suggestions.

  10. Larry Saxxon's Gravatar Larry Saxxon
    February 18, 2011 at 11:18 am | Permalink

    Hi Again Pam,

    It occurred to me reading this series of postings again, to ask whether you have approached either the CEO of Northern California Grantmakers or the Board President of the Bay Area Blacks in Philanthropy?
    Just a thought.
    Thanks
    Larry

    • Pam Pompey's Gravatar Pam Pompey
      February 18, 2011 at 11:57 am | Permalink

      Hi Larry,
      No I have not considered either of those. Thank you.

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