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I Refuse to Return to Normal: The Philanthropic Edition

I Refuse to Return to Normal: The Philanthropic Edition

As we begin putting our thoughts to returning to normal, some of us do not want to return to normal. The COVID-19 virus has shone a light on the vast inequality of our community on multiple levels. We have realized those who are considered essential and continue to risk their lives at work every day tend to be from the minority community in positions of nurses, janitors, certified nursing assistants, fast food workers, essential stores, and those in the service industries such as Uber and DoorDash. The communities that have been most affected by COVID-19 tend to be black communities; they also have the highest death rate due to lack of adequate testing and medical resources or simply being turned away. The Communities that fear being evicted from their homes or being furloughed from their jobs tend to be black and brown as well, as massive rent strikes take place across the country. So, we have a choice to make, do we use this time to work toward what the future could be, or do we resign ourselves to the notion that we will return to what was? 

I, for one, raise my hand to work toward what the future could be, bringing equity to systems that have long been unequal. Articles from the Chronicle of Philanthropy and Stanford Social Innovation Review have talked about the long-standing history of bias in our philanthropic system, which has led to the organizations on the ground doing the work not receiving funding, not having the financial reserves to weather a crisis, like COVID-19, and struggling to provide the services that are so desperately needed in our communities. 

What is at the basis of a lot of this bias in our system? Much like many of our systems, grantmaking is often about who you know rather than what you do. Most, if not all, multi-year large grants come from majority white funding institutions. For small grassroots organizations ran by Latinx, African American, or other minority groups entering the networks of these institutions can be just as time-consuming as the grant application itself. Then there is the reporting on impact and success that is required to prove to these institutions that they are making the right investment. These reports are expensive and time-consuming to produce. If a grassroots organization is doing the work but does not have the funds or employee resources to complete this report, then they are ineligible for most major funding. 

So how can we radically change our philanthropic system? By prioritizing the gift of time and talent as much as we prioritize dollars raised. When I say time and talent, I do not mean volunteering in their programming; I mean donating your specialized skills to help build the capacity of a nonprofit. Specifically, for small grassroots nonprofits, someone donating their skill in analytics, social media, or finance could be a game-changer. The donation of talent and time allows for these organizations to focus on serving their clientele and have the additional workforce they need to support their organization’s move to the next level and qualify for the larger funding opportunities. 

If you think this model wouldn’t be of interest or logistically feasible, it is already being done. Organizations already do this; Social Venture Partners Dallas has worked with companies such as Celanese to pilot an opportunity for Celanese staff to volunteer their time for a month to work with three organizations to use their skills and talents to build the capacity of the organizations. The HERitage Giving Fund at the Texas Women’s Foundation, might not gift as much as the other Giving Circles housed at the Texas Women’s Foundation, but they offer a great benefit by working with the organizations they fund well after the grants have been given out. The women that make up the giving fund donate their time and talent to increase the capacity of the nonprofits, all of which are grassroots organizations ran by black women and are organizations that are typically not seen on the list of grantees from traditional granting institutions. 

So as we come out on the other side of this virus, we should fight the urge to go back to normal and ask ourselves what should be different in the future. I know it is super cliché, but be the change that you want to see. I know I, for one, will be offering my talents and networks to organizations doing good work and will be taking my friends along for the ride with me. I hope you all join me in thinking about organizations that align with your values and how you can contribute your talents and skills to support them outside of your usual volunteering or financial contributions. 

Originally posted on

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