Right Side Up?

Our system works just fine

I do not believe 

We need to reimagine or redesign 

The social constructs benefit me

I am uncomfortable if

I must give and share power generously 

I, as funder, get to decide 

I cannot see how 

The community should be the one to preside 

Lived experience is overrated 

I do not agree 

Those people have the solutions we have awaited 

Give project support with lots of strings 

It is not smart to 

Trust those groups to do the right things

Treat injustice with band-aids 

I do not want to 

Remove the systemic and institutional barricades 

Give people fish every day 

Then no one needs to 

Take the fence around the pond away 

Incremental steps are a more palatable transformation 

I do not care that

We need bold, radical, organized agitation 

I became frustrated with philanthropy very early in my career. The traditional model of philanthropy perpetuates the very injustices that it claims to want to remedy. Many funders refuse to see the assets of the communities they want to impact. They do not trust them to participate in designing the solutions that would impact their lives. The process of getting a grant is long and paternalistic. And funders refuse to engage in systems changes work, in part, because they do not want to challenge their social standing or the social order. It is why less than 10 percent of funding goes into communities of color. 

Donors of Color looks, feels, and acts differently. It treats community-based organizations with dignity and respect. It trusts people with lived experience to design their own solutions. It seeks and embraces bold ideas, radical imagination, and revolutionary action. It builds power and disrupts the status quo. It is a different type of funder and donor organization. An organization for us and by us. And it is desperately needed because most of philanthropy is, as described in the above poem, deficit-based, racist, paternalistic, and shallow. 

Despite being disheartened so early in my career, I have stayed in philanthropy for the past 10 years, fighting to change it, because I know there is another way. We can lead other funders to a better way. The traditional model of philanthropy is upside down. All we have to do is turn everything right side up. So, why don’t we do that? Now reverse the poem.

We need bold, radical, organized agitation 

I do not care that

Incremental steps are a more palatable transformation 

Take the fence around the pond away 

Then no one needs to 

Give people fish every day 

Remove the systemic and institutional barricades 

I do not want to 

Treat injustice with band-aids 

Trust those groups to do the right things

It is not smart to 

Give project support with lots of strings 

Those people have the solutions we have awaited 

I do not agree 

Lived experience is overrated 

The community should be the one to preside 

I cannot see how 

I, as funder, get to decide 

I must give and share power generously 

I am uncomfortable if

The social constructs benefit me

We need to reimagine or redesign 

I do not believe 

Our system works just fine

By: Brenda Sears

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