Time for Philanthropy to Step Up

November 15, 2016

Philanthropy Northwest members: Join us for a call to discuss the election, 1:30 p.m. Wednesday, November 16.

No matter how you voted last week, it’s clear that the election shined a light on deep divisions in our country among socioeconomic, racial, gender and generational lines, to name a few. This is a particularly troubling development for those of us working in the philanthropic sector, where our work is often focused on trying to bridge and heal divisions in our communities and reduce inequities.

Nancy Jamison, President and CEO of San Diego Grantmakers, stated recently that philanthropy has a crucial role to play in healing these divisions and “creating sustainable, just, and equitable communities for all.” Even in today’s divided country, the vast majority of Americans put more trust in philanthropic organizations, and the charities they support, than in nearly all other institutions. A recent report by Independent Sector, for example, found that 74% of Americans trust charities over the federal government. A 2015 Chronicle of Philanthropy poll found that more than 80% of Americans said charities do a very good or somewhat good job helping people. In this day and age, getting the vast majority of Americans to agree on anything is quite remarkable.

This high level of trust and confidence by the American people places a special responsibility and opportunity on the philanthropic and nonprofit sector to leverage this trust and confidence to play a leadership role in healing the divides in our communities. The 33 regional philanthropy associations that are part of the Forum’s nationwide network, representing more than 5,500 organizations, are ideal organizations to lead these efforts. The most valued asset of regional associations is that they are viewed by all parties as a trusted convener and connector in their communities. They are able to bring together philanthropy, nonprofit service providers, local and regional government, business and other community groups in ways that few other organizations can.

The Forum will help them play that role, as we always have, but we will also step up to lead as well. As a leadership organization it will be our responsibility to lift up important conversations, data and people, and to hold ourselves accountable to strengthening the transparency and openness of philanthropy. We must also participate in ensuring that the knowledge and data that informs philanthropy tells the story of all Americans.

The Forum is well-positioned to play this leadership role. In 2017, we will begin implementing a new vision to be the place where philanthropy’s infrastructure comes together, expanding our network to include national philanthropic affinity groups and other national philanthropy-serving organizations (PSOs). This will allow regional and national PSOs to work together more effectively to support, inform and advance philanthropy — something that is needed now more than ever before in our country. We will be poised to mobilize a new kind of nationwide philanthropic network to advance the common good.

If there were ever a time for philanthropy to step up as a leader for our communities and our nation, the time is now. Let’s expend not just our financial capital, but also our trust capital, to come together to move our nation forward.

David Biemesderfer is president and CEO of the Forum of Regional Associations of Grantmakers, which includes Philanthropy Northwest. This post was originally published on the Forum's website. Follow him on Twitter: @dbiemesderefer