Truly Shifting Philanthropy’s Power Dynamics Requires New Structures for Giving

by Donna Daniels and Kelley Buhles

Edgar Villanueva brought conversations about power dynamics in philanthropy into the open with his 2018 book “Decolonizing Wealth.” Now, the Black Lives Matter movement has accelerated calls to action and philanthropists are responding with commitments to give more money to organizations led by people of color and to racial justice initiatives. That’s a necessary step, but if we really want to dismantle structural racism, we also must radically rethink grantmaking processes.

This rethinking starts with donors ceding power to nonprofit and movement leaders and trusting them to make decisions based on their expertise. It also requires confronting philanthropy’s tendency to move at the pace of privilege: Donors determine where the money goes and for how long, and set the time frames needed to achieve results. They may engage in an extended decision-making process to award short-term grants—often one year, rarely as many as three—but expect recipients to deliver outcomes right away.

This asymmetry contradicts the goal of addressing—and redressing—an embedded power structure. How are communities that have been systematically disempowered supposed to figure out repair in three years, or even five? It won’t happen that fast, and it won’t happen at all under the dominant philanthropic structures. We have to build new ones to get us to a different place.

Grantmaking approaches that provide transparency about decision making and solicit advice and concerns from the community move us in the right direction, but they won’t get us where we need to go. To reach the regenerative, non-extractive economy that many philanthropists say is their goal, and to avoid perpetuating inequitable systems, we need to put communities in the decision-maker role.

Read full article on Inside Philanthropy.

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