Wealthy donors and grantmakers: You can no longer hide behind neutrality after the terrorist attack in Charlottesville

Written by: Aaron Dorfman

Date: August 14, 2017

Aaron DorfmanNow is not the time for the philanthropic sector to hide behind a false perception of neutrality.

Some foundation staff and leaders may decide this weekend’s events and others like them are irrelevant to their grantmaking, or that to engage their foundation on issues of political extremism is to jeopardize their institution’s role as mediator, convener or dispassionate investor in the public good. This decision would be irresponsible and wrong on the facts.

There can be no neutrality in a nation where well-organized violent demonstrations and the federal government itself actively retrench centuries of structural racism and inequality.

The lesson in Charlottesville is clear: The nation’s philanthropic sector must deploy all the resources at its disposal to counter the rising tide of neo-Nazism and white nationalist violence. That means deploying a foundation’s public leadership role, its convening power, its invested assets and its grantmaking dollars to protect threatened communities – and to do so on those communities’ terms.

Here are just a few ways the philanthropic sector can meet the challenge of this moment and ensure they are among the forces for good at a time when the forces of violent oppression are gathering strength:

1. White foundation staff and leaders must speak out.

It is crucial for white foundation leaders to be vocal about their personal and institutional opposition to white nationalist politics and polices. This means not just condemning violence, but confronting the myriad ways white supremacy impacts our communities, our institutions and our grantmaking itself.

People of color are putting their careers and often their bodies on the line – white allies in leadership positions must join them.

2. Philanthropists must invest in ways to attract new people to the resistance.

Foundations and major donors can help create avenues for participation for people and communities who have to date not been involved in the movement to oppose white supremacy. The violent far right presents a threat to our democracy and to our safety. All of us are at risk.

Philanthropic investments to invite broader, deeper participation in organizing, advocacy and the political process are sorely needed now, when the white nationalist threat is attracting wide national attention.

3. Philanthropists must invest in broad-based movement building.

The movement to resist white nationalist policies at the federal, state and local levels and to oppose the real and immediate threat white supremacists pose to the communities you serve must be broad and inclusive in order to succeed.

White nationalist ideology is not just about race and ethnicity; these groups define their objective as a society where white, heterosexual Christian men and women dominate every facet of our public life.

Foundations must invest in movement building that cuts across the many issues we care about such as race, poverty, civil rights and others.  It must nurture transformational relationships between and among all communities threatened by the violent far right.

Now is the time for wealthy donors and leaders of foundations to step up and take a stand. America is counting on you.

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