Movement Commons at Justice Funders

An End to Philanthropy, for the Love of Humanity

Notes on walking through the proverbial portal¹ to find power in our abundance

It’s the year 2031.² And you, and I, have just walked through the two heavy doors at the back of the large conference room, coffee in hand. The room is bustling with people, young and old, finding their way back to their seats.

This is the concluding session of an historic social movement gathering, attended by a representative of nearly every progressive social movement, gloriously pulled back together by this year’s unprecedented political opening.

From the front of the room, two speakers, standing behind podiums on a raised stage, begin speaking:

That, while financial resources are certainly important to movements, it has been and always will be people’s individual and collective civic and political journeys that give life and dynamism and power to social movements, and it is social movements that have historically brought about leaps in human progression towards a more just and a more caring world.

And, that in 2031, spurred by accelerated donor organizing efforts over the last decade,³ movements in this country have never had access to as many financial resources as they do today.”

The speakers then continue,

“Given this, we have decided the following:

That, because of this, starting today we will begin the process, as we had begun planning for in 2021, to convert the 20 to 40 percent of our time currently spent fundraising with a solely financial metric back to power-building.

That we call on our friends and family currently working in philanthropy, whether within foundations or at philanthropic intermediaries, to similarly drawn down their work providing foundations and wealthy donors with exclusive services and support. We pledge to fully support these friends and family members in the transitions to new professional possibilities for meaningful and passion-driven work, purpose, and even public service.

And, finally we will let foundations and wealthy donors know that after submitting our final reports, we will no longer be applying for additional money.

  • If the pandemic year 2020 was an opportunity to bring our proverbial house back down to its studs, for us as a country to reckon with our underlying foundation, perhaps it also revealed that philanthropy — given its accumulation of wealth via extractive labor and laws tilted towards obscene accumulation rather than redistribution — should be metaphorically understood as discovering that someone has tapped into each one of our water supplies, siphoning it off, only to then be allowed to apply for the possibility to receive a portion of it back.⁵
  • Simply put, we would rather that our water no longer be siphoned off.

Please know that our wish is to free foundations and our wealthiest supporters, and all people, from the notion that their capital needs to be their currency to join movements and find guides and political homes and support along their political journey.

  • We want to liberate them from an unfortunate identity of “philanthropist,” and the continued tying of who they are and the good they can do in this world with how much capital they continue to hold and have access to.
  • We invite them to again be in communion with us, in cross-class, multiracial sites of collective action and belonging and transformation.
  • And, we acknowledge that capitalism can be corrosive, and brutal, even for those with the greatest access to capital.

To clarify, our social movements are not rejecting additional financial resources.

  • If this is the assumption, than that in itself shows the insidiousness of philanthropy and the co-dependence that it seeds — planting the idea that one must labor for another in order for generosity to flow.
  • Instead it is our hope that their giving, whether as reparations or redistribution, continues, modeled off of how those communities who give most significantly, give⁶.

There simply is no longer a need, in 2031, for philanthropy to draw ever more time, talent, and attention away from the demanding but regenerative work⁷ of transforming ourselves and our relationships with one another and the planet.

That exchange of small percentages of wealth for moral and political cover, at both the individual and societal level, is no longer tenable, nor justifiable.

The speakers concluded:

  • for the love of our organizers and resource mobilizers, who have too long been trapped by the demands of capital inside a world of hyper-inequality, finding themselves having to choose each day between responding to the retired librarian, for example, reaching out to offer her time, talent, and treasure, or the program officer, requiring a multi-page proposal in exchange for consideration for funding;
  • for the love of our dear friends and family in philanthropy, working in service to our communities, but so often pulled far away from us, both figuratively and literally, into increasingly imbalanced spaces of power and privilege;
  • and, for the love of “philanthropists” themselves, too often taught that safety and joy could be found in one’s own wealth, rather than in our collective well-being;

We do this for the “love of [theirs and our] humanity.⁸”

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Note: This post is based on the research and work of Justice Funders’ Movement Commons Project, as well as the organizing & technology platform, Giving Side. Follow Mario Lugay and Justice Funders to be notified of future posts.

[1] see: Ahrundhati Roy, The Pandemic is a Portal

[2] see: Stacey Abrams and Lauren Groh-Wargo, How to Turn Your Red State Blue, on organizing towards a ten-year plan, and Robin D.G. Kelley, Freedom Dreams

[3] see: Justice Funders’ Resonance Framework, as well as the Donors of Color Network, Resource Generation, Solidaire, Thousand Currents, Way to Win, Movement Voter Project, Third Wave Fund, Groundswell Fund, East Bay Community Foundation, The Crisis Charitable Commitment, among others

[4] see: Incite, The Revolution Will Not Be Funded; Edgar Villanueva, Decolonizing Wealth; Lucy Bernholz, Blueprint Series; Anand Giridharadas, Winners Take All; Erica Kohl-Arenas and Megan Ming Francis, Movement Capture and the Long Arc of the Black Freedom Struggle; Chiara Cordelli, When Philanthropy is Uncivil

[5] see again: Edgar Villanueva, Decolonizing Wealth

[6] see: People and communities that give generously

[7] see: Movement Generation, Strategy Framework for a Just Transition

[8] see: “Philanthropy means the love of humanity,” as quoted in the opening remarks of every philanthropic conference

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