That's why White Courtesy Telephone blogger Albert Ruesga's post - What the Next Generation of Grantmakers Wants to Accomplish - caught my eye. Albert shared this list that younger people in philanthropy produced when asked what they want to be remembered for in philanthropy:
- Being an ethical partner in community transformation
- Collaborating with others in and outside the field; inspiring collaboration especially with nonprofits
- Addressing the problem of the capitalization of nonprofit organizations
- Making a meaningful difference on some difficult, complex issue; helping to achieve justice, beyond charity
- Bringing about systemic change
- Keeping the field honest about what it has accomplished
- Keeping inalienable rights in focus; addressing the structural barriers to social change
- Redistributing philanthropic dollars to native communities; helping to empower these communities
- Focusing on accountability and governance; being accountable to the people we ultimately aim to serve
- Empowering people to “stir the pot” of philanthropy; remaining accessible to stakeholders
- What can we do to avoid simply turning newer (and I'm using newer instead of younger on purpose) practitioners into older practitioners - sucking out their aspirations to be replaced by those that are more aligned with the status quo?
- How can we encourage and support newer practitioners to continue to give voice to these life-giving ideas - in a way that makes change but doesn't cost them their jobs?
I think this is somewhat but not mainly generational. I think there is something about what happens after people come on board as staff - how they find their way, how their aspirations find a place to take root and grow, and how they see (and are seen) by the institution. I think the hope that shines brightly in Albert's column can only be realized if we acknowledge and get smarter together about what it takes to advance change inside our philanthropic institutions.
When I came to philanthropy more than two decades ago, my wish list would have been very similar to the younger generation list that Albert shared. And, to my surprise, my steepest learning curve was about the work that was needed inside the foundation to make the room for a different type of work out in the community. It was that internal work that kept me up at night.
I know that I am not unique in that experience. There are those of us oldies who have experienced times when we had to decide if we were going to let go of our ideals in order to keep jobs - and know people who went both ways. There are those of us who found encouragement to hold tight to our ideals and keep going - primarily through association with others who were or had been in internal change making positions. There are those of us who learned through success and failure about pacing - when to be quietly persistent, when to push and when to pull back. And also how to take care of ourselves so that we do not find ourselves in the pit called burn-out.
There is a a cyclical part of this process that comes from naivete about what change requires and the powerful institution-preserving, hard-wiring that contributes to the power of institutions and systems to resist or slow-down change. When we talk about what it takes to shift an institution - especially ones that have a noise-cancelling mechanism (aka an endowment) that tunes-down messages from the outside world - we can probably find more stories of hope and earnest intentions than real change. Isn't it because our intentions are so earnest, our hope is so real, and our experience has shown us how hard it is to overcome institutional resistance to change that we find the stories of remarkable institutional shifts to be so inspiring?
So besides waiting for the dinosaurs to die off, I am wondering what more can we do to prepare people who have the vision of philanthropy that Albert described to be the most effective internal change agents possible? What can we dinosaurs who have been around a while do to give the new staffer who is coming on board to staff a grassroots grantmaking program (which contributes to at least 8 or the 10 aspirations for a new philanthropy that Albert listed) a clearer heads-up that the change-agent job is just as much about what happens inside the foundation's walls as it is about what happens in the community? And what are the tools that we can offer them to help them be effective as internal change agents, keep their jobs, and use the progress they see as fuel to keep going?
I welcome your thoughts on these questions.