Let’s Ask More of Philanthropy

Pennies in Hand

By Kathy Swayze

November 14, 2019

Tomorrow, our greater Washington, DC community will come together to celebrate National Philanthropy Day. It’s a day set aside to honor the charitable work that EVERYONE does to make a difference and strengthen their communities.

The Impact team will be joining our colleagues and friends from the social impact sector at the event (link to event site) this week. For me, it’s also a time to ask, “Is philanthropy really creating change?” “Is giving enough?”

In a 2015 op-ed in the New York Times, Ford Foundation President Darren Walker noted, “We Americans are a remarkably bighearted people, but I believe the purpose of our philanthropy must not only be generosity, but justice.”

Our laws used to be designed to encourage societal progress…offering tax incentives for supporting charities. In recent years, we’ve seen even those measures undercut by federal budget makers. And it’s hurting nonprofits. According to the Fundraising Effectiveness Project, giving through the first half of 2019 is down more than 7% over 2018. Changes in the tax law may be driving this decline.

What makes all this even more troubling, is that it’s happening at a time when income inequality is increasingly severe in our nation. And, let’s face it, the money simply is not trickling down.

A Chronicle of Philanthropyarticle earlier this year noted that fewer than 1 in 6 billionaires in the U.S. have signed the Giving Pledge. And while some of the wealthiest Americans have pledged to increase their giving, their wealth is growing faster than their donations. TheChroniclenotes, “Gates had a net worth estimated at $53 billion when the Giving Pledge was launched. Today, he’s worth $97 billion.” The answer is not to push Gates and others to give more, (though they should), we must also challenge the system that allows this much wealth to accumulate in so few hands in the first place.

So, as we pause to celebrate National Philanthropy Day this week, let’s ask more of philanthropy. Let’s demand that philanthropy creates real action on the critical issues facing our nation. As last year’s Outstanding Fundraising Professional, Nancy Withbroe of the National Women’s Law Center, reminded us in her remarks at National Philanthropy Day last year,

“… our nation – and our field – are at a crossroads. And at this critical juncture, we, as fundraising professionals, have a choice to make. Do we take a backseat and pretend that our work is neutral, and that doing so is an asset? Or, do we embrace the unique positioning we have to transform philanthropy. To serve humanity, instead of neutrality. To center equity, instead of bias.”

A sentiment that bears repeating as we once again come together as a community to pay tribute to philanthropy.

By Kathy Swayze

Photo credit: John Kleinheinz Hedge Fund Used under a Creative Commons (CC-BY-2.0) license 

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