The San Diego Grantmaker’s 2017 annual conference theme “Taking A Stand” was an unusual, yet refreshing, political statement in the world of philanthropy – where we are conditioned to gingerly walk the line between propagating our core principles while still appealing to the broader interests of our core and prospective donors. Throughout the divisive 2017 presidential campaign and even since, most philanthropic organizations and leaders try to remain nonpartisan; our organizations’ official communications exude lofty principles and values, but we rarely equate these visions with a particular political ideology or candidate. “We build bridges,” “Strength in Diversity”, “Women’s Rights are Human Rights”. There is an indisputable political statement in these ambiguous catchphrases. So why not put the record straight, be transparent, and take a stand?
Within hours of the stunning Presidential election, philanthropy as a sector was faced with the challenge of listening and conveying stories, and ultimately, advocating for public policy like we have perhaps never been asked before. Over the past three months, nonprofit employees, grassroots activists and the most recognized leaders in our sector have spilled into the streets and their voices have inundated our inboxes in an attempt to address the question we now collectively face; how can we help society move from words of hate and fear to a constructive dialogue to find understanding?
In his morning Keynote address, Gara LaMarche encouraged us to tie up the loose-ends on these cliché phrases and use our platforms -- whether individual or institutional – to tell stories about who we are in order to build momentum around our shared values. Paraphrasing his own personal stories, as well as fiction and nonfiction authors, and showcasing two moving StoryCorps interviews, LaMarche underscored the fundamental “underappreciation of moral values as the foundation of philanthropy”, while emphasizing the importance of using data and facts to drive policy. Story-telling is the method by which we can make a policy or community or individual important to others. Every human story has shared values of love, family, hard work, hope or faith.
Beyond storytelling, panelists including Michael McAffee, President of PolicyLink, spoke of the contradictions that we face in the practice of philanthropy – ideas that were fleshed out in the afternoon breakout sessions. “Sometimes (even in philanthropy) we’re not even having the same conversation”, McAffee said, reflecting on the challenge of ‘doing’ charity versus real transformation. Nonetheless, the day’s message was clear: It’s time for philanthropy to take a stand, and San Diego Grantmakers (SDG) provided an inspiring moment to pause and ask ourselves these challenging questions. In the words of Eric Ward, Fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center, “In philanthropy, we should not allow these contradictions to lead to paralysis. We must aim to change policy; we have the responsibility of continuing to ask the hard questions; and we are so privileged to get to ask these questions.” So, let’s ask ourselves and our donors – what are you doing to Take A Stand?
Eliza is a member of EPIP San Diego works for the International Community Foundation (ICF) as their Marketing & Development Manager. "Perspectives on San Diego Grantmakers Taking a Stand Conference (March 2017)." Eliza manages all activities related to donor relations and outreach, fundraising campaigns, and communications, working with the staff, Board, grantees, donors and the media to promote and expand ICF’s impact on the communities we serve. Eliza brings an intimate knowledge and passion for the Latin American region, where she has lived for over 20 years and continues to visit frequently.