EPIP’s Chicago Chapter kicked off the 2017 programming year with an event devoted to “What is the role of philanthropy in social change?” A group of over 20 individuals in attendance from the nonprofit, foundation, and business community were led by Robyn Trem, MacArthur Foundation, into thoughtful discussion, with each individual contributing personal and professional experiences to move discussion forward on what social change looks like and what role philanthropy can play.
At this meeting we defined 1) social change and 2) philanthropy. Through this conversation we discussed how interrelated the two are, and whether you can have one without the other.
In our small group, we discussed that social change involves a group of people working to profoundly impact and alter the structures that perpetuate social injustices such as existing public policy, mainstream culture, and institutional biases that shape our behaviors and attitudes around particular issues. It was hard to define social change without using the word “change.”
Our working definition of philanthropy included the acknowledgement that it can be highly institutionalized because of the legal framework that exists around the transfer of money for charitable purposes; however, we agreed that philanthropy is an important tool for society to address issues that other sectors such as government cannot fully addressed.
Below are some of the concepts discussed as a large group:
Inclusion – Philanthropy needs diverse leaders of all movements not just at the table, but within their walls. Perspectives are valuable not just in conversation, but among the sector. Without a range of representation within philanthropy, much can be lost to the interpretation of someone who may not have the same experiences and understanding to approach an issue.
Transparency & Accountability – Giving can seem arbitrary to grant seekers when guidelines are met but applications result in no funding. Furthermore, when funders fail to provide meaningful feedback to applicants, organizations have less information that will help them improve their opportunities for future funding, or finding grant makers that better fit their programming. Evaluation has also taken on a large role in determining funding and renewals, foundations should take note of the requests they make of their grantees and help them identify how to collect data and metrics if they require that and an organization lacks the capacity to do so.
Transform the Funder – The power dynamic between a funder and grant seeker are unbalanced by nature. It is one party that holds resources that the other needs. Within Foundations, this can be addressed by program officers being intentional in their contact with grantees to keep up to date on the organization’s activities. Sharing knowledge, skills and connections is also just as helpful as providing dollars. Helping organizations run effective programs will help them keep and receive funding support.
Advocacy - Advocacy is an important part of how a grant makers can be supportive and help make a much larger impact beyond dollars. Institutions should be willing to take a stance on issues as a way to demonstrate support.
As individuals involved within this space, what other ways can we bring social change to the forefront? What do you think? If you’re interested in continuing the conversation, reach out to EPIP Chicago’s membership coordinator, Jaime Arteaga, to hear about the next event.
Written by EPIP Chicago Steering Committee Members,