Breaking Bad Philanthropic Habits: How funders can take action in trying times

January 06, 2017 9:00 AM | Administrator (Administrator)

After the 2016 elections in the US, we are facing more volatility and immense challenges to safety, civility and freedoms.  Regardless of what issue you fund, the consolidation of conservative power and the related cultural "white-lash" may have you reeling. How can we be strategic and adaptive in the face of these challenges? What’s a justice funder to do?

Both reflection and action are essential. At the Bay Area Justice Funders Network, we are firm believers in starting where you are to make moves that advance toward justice. One way to start is by looking at our habits and practices. Norma Wong, who has inspired BAJFN through our participation in Movement Strategy Center’s Transitions Labs, defines habits as “unconscious repetitive acts that are done without intention or mindfulness” and practices as “repetitive acts that are consciously done for an explicit benefit.” When we become aware of our habits, we can choose to replace them with intentional practices.

On the ground in communities, in organizations, and within ourselves, we witness countless unconscious, conditioned habit patterns that we reinforce without even knowing it. For example, Nancy Chan and Pamela Fischer’s comprehensive Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Checklist, highlighted in a recent SSIR article, identifies daily grantmaking practices to combat grantmaking habits that inadvertently limit funds from going to smaller organizations and under-resourced communities. These are field-wide habits that have major impact: NCRP’s recent report, Pennies for Progress, shows that between 2003 and 2013, 90% of foundations gave less than half of their grant dollars to benefit underserved communities. NCRP asks the important question: “Whose public good do those dollars serve if not communities than need them most?”

We are starting a new blog series on breaking bad philanthropic habits and practices, as a way to reflect and identify actions any – or at least many – of us can take. We begin with a focus on individual change because anyone can incorporate values-aligned practices, no matter their positional power. Moreover, we begin by looking at individuals because changes at the organizational and field level happen only through the shifts individuals can make.

Becoming more aware of unintentional philanthropic habits of all kinds – from processes that are “the way we’ve always done it” to beliefs and mindsets that shape our work – we can identify obstacles to achieving our philanthropic aims, and cultivate practices that are more supportive of our goals and in alignment with our values. In so doing, we can set a stronger foundation for finding ways to pursue justice and equity in these uncertain times. We have a chance now to set new practices that will better serve the movements we hope to support.

In the next blog post, BAJFN’s staff will start by sharing some of the habits we’ve observed. We invite you to join in by contributing your ideas, resources, and actions big and small that move toward justice.


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