Examining the equity implications of philanthropic culture

The culture of philanthropy, as it is now understood and practiced in our industry, is essentially about everyone participating in fundraising methods that strongly emphasize developing connections with donors to raise as much money as possible. Fundraising, not philanthropy, is what that is. Fundraising and philanthropy are two different activities. Despite having a close connection, they are not the same.

Before we develop the concept of a culture of philanthropy as it is now understood and practiced, we need to consider the following questions:

When our existing fundraising procedures are so unequal, do we want everyone to participate in fundraising? The way we’ve been taught to do fundraising in this sector has been riddled with white saviors, poverty tourism, focusing on the feelings and comforts of mostly white donors, and glossing over the injustice on which so much wealth has been built. Do we genuinely want additional staff members in our organizations to be familiar with the conventional system? Really, do we wish to inculcate deeply flawed beliefs and behaviors throughout the culture?

Is the organization’s culture truly just about pleasing the primarily white donors? We’ve been discussing donor domination and whether our methods of soliciting money have conditioned contributors and foundation personnel to adopt a particular mindset and behavior. namely, having a right. We refer to “donors” as if it were a word that was inclusive and neutral, but the majority of donors are white. However, without an equity analysis, everyone at the organization may be contributing to the conditioning of white donors to think and act in ways that may be at odds with our goal of advancing a more equitable world. Building relationships, involving donors in the work, etc. are frequently good things to do.

What effects does the philanthropic culture have on members of underprivileged communities? The manner in which fundraising has been conducted has worn down staff members of color in particular. Those who don’t engage in fundraising used to at least be able to ignore it, but now that it is encouraged by the culture of philanthropy, there is no relief for those who prefer to concentrate on their line of work and avoid fundraising and its various kinds of unfairness. Additionally, I’ve seen businesses and fundraising experts use the phrase “culture of philanthropy” to defend poor business practices like asking employees to donate a portion of their salaries to the organization, which ignores the problematic power dynamics at work and obscures the fact that lower-paid employees are more likely to come from underrepresented groups.

Does it promote complacency and hinder efforts to alter systems? I question whether the culture of philanthropy is a red herring that diverts attention away from the job of systemic change, such as the implementation of equitable tax policies that may stop donors and funders from amassing such riches to donate in the first place. Advocacy and political organizing make us very nervous. Should “everyone promotes philanthropy and can articulate a case for giving” and “organizational systems are established” at a time when white supremacy-driven violence is on the rise, abortion rights are being rolled back fifty years, hundreds of voter suppression laws have been passed and more are being rammed through, among countless other concurrent manifestations of injustice disproportionately affecting Black, Indigenous, Latinx, AA & NH/PI, Jewish, Disabled, and the LGBTQ community.

Does it reduce the scope of philanthropy by ignoring the perspectives and practices of underrepresented communities? As was already said, fundraising and philanthropy are not the same things. Without an awareness of this, the “culture of philanthropy” could unintentionally solidify a set of fundraising techniques that are centered on white donors. This might hinder the development of true philanthropic culture.

When we don’t confuse it with a culture of fundraising, what would an actual culture of philanthropy look like? We should discuss this in our sector. According to me, a culture of philanthropy would at the very least include nonprofit organizations looking out for one another, declining funding if another organization needs it more, nonprofit staff supporting one another, the people and communities most affected by injustice leading the work addressing it, and we have open discussions with donors about our work.