Six Recommendations for Shifting Philanthropy Forward

Monday, November 28, 2016

Six Recommendations for Shifting Philanthropy Forward
by Sampriti Ganguli, CEO, Arabella Advisors

In the wake of the elections, philanthropy faces a new future. This is always true when a new administration takes over. But this year the implications for many of us—and, indeed, for the entire nonprofit sector—look especially significant.

The cultural and political landscapes in which we give and invest are shifting, and we all need to shift with them. We don’t yet know the details of the Trump administration’s plans on many issues, or how the new US Congress will respond. We do know, however, that major changes are on the way in many of the areas we care about, from the environment to health care to issues affecting women and girls.

Given this reality, all of us in the nonprofit sector need to rethink the tools, strategies, and partnerships we can best use to move forward, both in the short and longer terms. And we need to move quickly, if also responsibly and wisely.
During the 2008 recession, Arabella worked with clients across the philanthropic sector to quickly fill funding gaps, protect threatened communities, and respond effectively in a time of urgent scarcity and uncertainty. Now, we again see a need for philanthropy to act decisively—to advance the issues and support the communities we care about in a fast-changing context. To start with, we recommend that you:

  1. Think locally as well as nationally and globally. There may still be opportunities to make progress on some issues at the national level, but the best bets in other areas will be at the state and local levels. Governments at these levels often have significant power within our federal system, and local progress on issues can establish models and pave the way for broader adoption and impact down the road.
  2. Redouble (or start anew) your advocacy strategies. If you have an existing advocacy strategy, examine how the new administration and Congress may affect it. If you don’t, consider the ways in which your voice and the voices of your grantees may be able to inform policymakers—and strongly consider devising a longer-term advocacy strategy. Also, make sure your board understands the power of advocacy even if it might not be a strategy you have commonly used.
  3. Consider funding active collaborations across issues, geographies, and demographic communities. We see significant potential for these to amplify the outcomes many of us seek on the causes we care about, including: preserving human rights, especially rights of women and girls; safeguarding civil liberties; providing better education outcomes for all Americans; preserving our planet; and supporting those who are most socially and economically marginalized in our society and abroad. Collaborating with other grant makers and aggregating funding and expertise is often the most effective way to amplify impact.
  4. Examine ways to put your corpus to work. Grant making alone may not fill the coverage gaps for the communities and causes you care about. If you haven’t yet done so, consider developing an impact investing roadmap that identifies ways to put your investment capital to work to augment your philanthropic giving.
  5. Reflect your values. This is a time to affirm your fundamental values and commitments to your staff, your community, your grantees, and all of your stakeholders. In times of uncertainty, reinforcing who you are and what you believe matters more than ever. Balance the temptation to withdraw into conference rooms and formulate responses with the need to be accessible and present. The nature of our work requires that we resist the temptation to seize up in periods of uncertainty and turmoil. This may well be a time of system adjustment, and part of our job is to maintain a vision of the communities, nation, and world we want as that adjustment unfolds.
  6. (Over) communicate, especially to your grantees, and particularly to those who receive government funds and are feeling particularly vulnerable. Reassure them of your moral and, if appropriate, financial support. Likewise, engage your organization in conversation and dialogue rather than simply increasing the amount of communication delivered.

In the coming months, the policy landscapes and operating contexts for much of US philanthropy are set to change. What will never change is our commitment to you, to the sector, and to our shared impact goals. We stand ready to support you and your organization in any way we can, with every tool we can bring to bear.

As details of this transition become clearer, we will be in touch to share insights and discuss common goals in relation to particular issues, geographies, populations, and approaches. In the meantime, feel free to contact us at any time if we can be of assistance to you and your organization.

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