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Dispatch from #ForumCon22: Meeting the Moment

Wednesday, August 3, 2022

This is a guest post by Julian Santos, Operations Manager at Philanthropy for Active Civic Engagement.

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of attending the United Philanthropy Forum’s first in-person conference in three years. As much as I’ve enjoyed working from home, being with colleagues who do similar work was a breath of fresh air. Here are some of my key takeaways that I’ll touch on below:
  • Racial justice and democracy are top of mind for philanthropy. 
  • The field must do more to meet the moment.
  • Emerging practitioners don’t just want to change what philanthropy does but how it does it.

Eddie Torres, President & CEO of Grantmakers in the Arts, kicked off the opening luncheon by acknowledging that “we are on stolen land that was worked by stolen labor, and philanthropy’s money comes from that.” He was joined for a conversation about the importance of storytelling by Jeffery Robinson, the CEO and Founder of The Who We Are Project. Robinson showed a clip from Who We Are: A Chronicle of Racism in America that highlighted a story many Americans still have not heard, the Tulsa massacre. 

Eddie Glaude of Princeton University picked up the baton by invoking Faulkner: “The past isn't dead. It isn't even past.” Glaude’s sharp remarks injected a sense of urgency. He pointed out that “philanthropy is not a synonym for justice”, and that the industry must create the conditions necessary to make itself obsolete. He noted that the events of January 6th made clear to all just how far the United States still has to travel on the road to becoming a multiracial democracy.

The discussion of these enormous challenges culminated in a conversation about the future of philanthropy-serving organizations on the last day of the conference.
The key question was, is philanthropy meeting the moment? The consensus among speakers was a resounding no. To meet the moment, they recommend that the field:

  • Move more in the direction of trust-based philanthropy
  • Make long-term operating grants
  • Shift more funds toward racial equity
  • Encourage more members to sunset
  • Broaden its public policy focus from sector defense to issue advocacy 

In addition, emerging practitioners are interested in transforming the field’s work culture. Philanthropy has not been immune to the effects of burnout and the Great Resignation. Elyse Gordon, Director of Programs at Emerging Practitioners in Philanthropy, led a brainstorming session on ideas that could truly transform work. Some of the popular ideas include:

  • Reducing the workweek to 4 days or 32 hours (or both!)
  • Doing away with the clock altogether and moving to results-oriented work 
  • Closing for a week(s) at a time for organizational rest

Philanthropy is confronting a country in crisis. Bolder philanthropy will not overcome today’s challenges on its own, but they will not be overcome if philanthropy doesn’t become bolder. The good news is that conference attendees seemed not just ready but eager to transform the sector and meet the moment. Count me among them.