Listening & Speaking Up
One of the first things funders learn is to be opaque about our work and our decisions. This impulse makes it harder to be a good ally to our partners.
We’re excited to be part of a movement to unlearn the “how” of traditional philanthropy and instead center partnership and equity in all our operations and decisions. In this time of tremendous turbulence and possibility, we are hoping to shine light on the systems in place that often keep power in the hands of the few. That’s why, in mainstream conferences, in intimate workshops, and in professional development settings, we’re leaning into some messy conversations that highlight the contradictions of modern philanthropic practice, power, and impact to figure out how to change the system while being in the system.
These conversations are both personal and practical: some of us are trying to dismantle the very systems that keep philanthropy afloat — and our salaries intact. And let’s face it: often we’re seduced by access to wealth and power, which can translate into oversized egos, disrespect for hard-working grant-seekers, or even the hoarding of money when those grant-seekers most need it.
At the Compton Foundation, these discussions have prompted conflict and soul-searching among our trustees about our very purpose. Some family members, citing tradition, held that the money was theirs to give away as they saw fit (see Our History). Others felt differently, citing the wider public good (see Pushing for Philanthropic Accountability).
Confronting these and other realities with our staff and our board members — both family and non-family — has enabled us to be much more authentic with one another. Since then,
- We’ve grounded our policies in the lived experience of our grantee partners,
- We’ve clarified our shared purpose, and
- There’s more joy in our grantmaking and advocacy.
What We’ve Learned
Philanthropy Cannot Fix Democracy by Ellen Friedman Originally published in Chronicle of PhilanthropyWhat’s at Stake
Some places to get started on the journey of listening and realigning:
Rockwood Art of Leadership for Philanthropic Leaders: All of the Compton Foundation’s board members and most of our staff have participated in these leadership development trainings, helping to ground our work in purpose, partnership, and courageous conversations.
Trust-Based Philanthropy Project: TBP is changing the culture of how philanthropy is practiced and supporting many foundations to discard ways of operating that inhibit authentic and more collaborative work with grantees and colleagues.
Justice Funders Resonance Framework: This tool enabled the Compton Foundation staff and board to assess our practices, adapt as necessary, and provided a framework for challenging old norms of philanthropy.