Leading Together 2021

When I formally entered the field of philanthropy, I was certain of my commitment to improving the overall quality of life for children and families. But to be frank, what I was not certain of was the full scope of the vast and unique role philanthropy could play in facilitating such change. As a former program director for Big Brothers Big Sisters, I brought with me deep experience on the “dance floor.” I have since learned the importance of “going to the balcony” to bring about change on individual and enterprise levels.

The idea of raising the bar in the philanthropic sector is a great one, but we need to acknowledge some potentially hard truths first: a) the bar is actually set pretty low, so the idea of raising it shouldn’t be the pinnacle of our aspirations; b) we haven’t reached the goals represented by the positioning of the current bar; and c) there are policies, structures and behaviors in our sector that act as weights holding the bar down.

Like many of us in the philanthropic sector, I have, over the past year, been to more than a few webinars and conferences on philanthropy’s role in advancing equity. It can often feel like we’re all following a standard script. We acknowledge that racism exists, and has in fact existed for a while; we acknowledge that philanthropy has traditionally perpetuated injustices; and then we conclude that we must fund communities of color. We’re often too scared of saying the “wrong” thing or the “radical” thing to go any deeper than that.