Last month, MCF hosted Christine Reeves from the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP). Reeves gave an overview of philanthropic giving in the U.S. and shared her thoughts on where the sector should go from here.
Go Beyond “Grantmaker”
Reeves advocated for the term “philanthropic practitioner” rather than grantmaker. While the latter can be limiting, the former includes funder, partner, supporter, evaluator, advocate and champion — embodying more of what philanthropy can do to be effective. And she thinks it would be great if philanthropic organizations were so effective that “we put ourselves out of business.”
Reeves also discussed power dynamics between philanthropic organizations and grantees. For example, she said philanthropic practitioners should act as though their endowments are contingent on a positive review by their grantees, in much the same way that a grant is contingent on the positive review of a grantmaker. Grantees are evaluated by philanthropists, and sometimes philanthropy is evaluated by grantees. But even when it is, the outcome is never tied to dollars.
Use Targeted Universalism
Reeves then explained the concept of targeted universalism as an effective grantmaking strategy. Targeted universalism says if you target money to address needs and reduce disparities for the most marginalized, overall well-being (by many metrics) improves for everyone. Conversely, if a philanthropic organization tries to help everyone equally, they may unintentionally exacerbate existing disparities.
Fund Social Justice and General Operating Support
Reeves said, “In Minnesota, only 13% of philanthropic dollars go to social justice initiatives, yet this is an effective approach to solving long-term problems.” She asked: Would Mahatma Gandhi, Cesar Chavez or Martin Luther King, Jr. receive a grant today? Are philanthropic practitioners championing incrementalism or funding true movement? How do we create fertile ground for the next Gandhi, Chavez or King? Today 2% of U.S. foundations fund social justice.
Reeves also stands firmly behind general operating support, which she said means “letting go and trusting grantees.” Seven percent of U.S. foundations provide general operating grants today.
In Minnesota, the largest share of grant dollars goes to programs, but general operating support represented 30% of grant dollars in 2011, the latest year for which data are available. See Giving in Minnesota, 2013 Summary Report, page 7, for specifics.
Philanthropy’s Promise Explained
NCRP started Philanthropy’s Promise to change U.S. funding priorities, and more than 177 grantmakers have signed on to date. Philanthropy’s Promise celebrates foundations that intentionally target the bulk of their grant dollars to benefit underserved communities and invest substantially in advocacy, community organizing and civic engagement to address the root causes of social problems and promote equity, opportunity and justice.
What does Philanthropy’s Promise look like in practice? Grantmaking organizations that sign on commit to give 50% of their dollars to underserved communities and 25% to social justice organizations or movements. Because by applying targeted universalism, we all do better.
- Jennifer Pennington, MCF member services fellow