Thursday, January 24, 2013

Philanthropy: Groupthink of the privileged?

Today I attended @SeattleCityClub’s #PhilanthropyForward event. It was a discussion full of hashtag jargon like #engagement #collective #collaboration #connect #advocacy #influence #progressive #community #capital #accountability.

I was astonished that an entire conversation surrounding the topic of collective giving did not mention the United Way. In fact, people seemed to think it was a new idea -- just like the power of the $25 donation.

Not so long ago, the United Way spearheaded the concept of collective giving.

Not so long ago at the Pride Foundation we talked about the $25 gift being equal in significance to the $25,000 donation. It’s in no small part this view contributed to the passage of Marriage Equality.

Yet we are continuing to talk about how to impact same problems of 20, no 100, years ago as if we live ignorant of history. It appears to me we’ve simply found a new language to describe our efforts.

Meanwhile, the problems of global inequality and poverty only seem to grow worse.

Not so long ago, non-profits would hold out their open hands with the statistic “lower-income Americans give proportionally more of their incomes to charity than do upper-income Americans” so therefore give.

This statistic is very comforting to charity’s majority stakeholders –staff, leadership volunteers, donors. It gives them an out to not have to look at their own privilege, the paradox of comfort vs. calling.

Have you noticed? All of the progressive, hard working, virtuous people of change have high levels of intellectual, emotional, or monetary capital. They have the time, energy and resources, not to mention responsibility, to invest in making the world a better place for all living beings.

The outsiders of this change process are the tired, the weak, the overwhelmed, not to mention the poor. When your intellectual, emotional and financial capital is depleted, you are too busy trying to make it through the day. You don’t have the resources to think about philanthropy.

This divide is at the heart of the philanthropist’s angst.

Back to collaboration and engagement. Change must happen at the level of the people to move all of America forward. We need all people involved to make significant, lasting change. A large segment of society has not found a way to join the forward movement.

We need to widen our circle. Seattleites are notoriously private, some say unfriendly. I know I feel it anytime I walk into a new group, like today at the City Club.

Aren’t the best parties hosted by the people who welcome you at the door and introduce you to someone new? Why don’t we practice this more frequently in our community gatherings?

We must do more than talk to each other at events and donate to Aunt Suzy when she is fighting cancer.

We must practice intentional, authentic living. (More jargon, it’s true.)

We must strive as individuals to connect to others by our heart strings and

Groups must embrace each individual through common values and human experience.

And, yes, we must organize.

Do we need fresh organizations? New jargon? New methods?

Perhaps the most significant and insightful answers to the questions at hand can be gained by thinking about the United Way omission in today’s Philanthropy Forward discussion. Let your subconscious work on it. The answer is found at the nexus of collaboration.

Were you there? I’d love to hear what you think.