I had the opportunity of spending an afternoon this past November with participants in the Council on Foundations’ Career Pathways Program. These were mostly younger people in the field who were preparing for the next steps in their careers. When I asked them what they wanted to be remembered for in philanthropy they produced the following list:
- Being an ethical partner in community transformation
- Collaborating with others in and outside the field; inspiring collaboration especially with nonprofits
- Addressing the problem of the capitalization of nonprofit organizations
- Making a meaningful difference on some difficult, complex issue; helping to achieve justice, beyond charity
- Bringing about systemic change
- Keeping the field honest about what it has accomplished
- Keeping inalienable rights in focus; addressing the structural barriers to social change
- Redistributing philanthropic dollars to native communities; helping to empower these communities
- Focusing on accountability and governance; being accountable to the people we ultimately aim to serve
- Empowering people to “stir the pot” of philanthropy; remaining accessible to stakeholders
As I look at this list of aspirations five months later, I’m still humbled by it. Transformation, collaboration, honesty, empowerment, justice. There’s a lifetime of intense labor and, I would add, prayer, rolled into these goals. And I wonder: If we were to poll a room filled with the New Technocrats, would these be their bywords? Would the differences we observe (if any) be a matter of emphasis, or would they reveal deeper differences?
There are a number of affinity groups that focus on bringing together younger grantmakers. Their challenge, as I see it, is to avoid simply turning younger practitioners in the field into older practitioners in the field. How can these organizations most effectively encourage their members to give voice to their life-giving ideas without also causing them to lose their jobs? The unfortunate reality is that the culture of many foundations is based on a cult of personality, one in which the CEO sees himself as a kind of philanthropic auteur, characteristically limiting any inquiry, discussion, or action that might undermine his sense of institutional authorship.
Younger people in the field: take heart! We narrow-minded dinosaurs will someday go extinct! Your work will eventually help us find our soul, enabling us to lift ourselves out of the Tar Pit of Mediocrity!