Making Power Moves: Why the best moment is now

Written by: Rev. Starsky D. Wilson

Date: May 03, 2018

Over last few years, we’ve kept up a dizzying pace. Movements from #BlackLivesMatter to #MeToo to #EnoughIsEnough have kept philanthropy on our toes. In the best-case scenario, we’ve heeded the charge to pay attention, leaned in closer, rethought our work, took more risks and changed policies or practices that haven’t worked to improve the lives of the people we serve.

To be real about it, all this action and reaction, thinking and learning, changing and trying has worn many of us out.

I know it has taken a toll on me and the team at Deaconess Foundation. And despite the demands and the urgency of the moment, every now and then you’ve got to stop and take stock. It’s time to hold up the mirror. Quite frankly, I’m not sure we can afford not to.

The continuation of reflection, learning and doing

In 2014, we knew we were launching a new strategic direction to build community capacity, then found ourselves on the streets during the Ferguson uprising.

In 2015, trustees and staff helped facilitate grassroots engagement of 3,000 citizens to deliver a policy-centered call for regional racial equity through the Ferguson Commission, while collaborating with philanthropic partners to build power for local accountability.

In 2016, we tried to model change by working with the ABFE to train our board of trustees, staff and community advisory board in Responsive Philanthropy for Black Communities. We also recalibrated our theory of change to integrate results-based accountability, the Program for Environmental and Regional Equity’s Changing States framework and racial equity.

Rooted in our ongoing journey, last year we helped facilitate field-wide learning by leading Grantmakers for Effective Organizations’ Racial Equity Advisory Group. Then, at the beginning of this year, we opened a 21,000 square foot community action tank in an underdeveloped neighborhood, co-locating with long-term partners and granting space for convening to power-building policy advocates.

We’ve got way too much going on! But, we just added one more thing. Deaconess joined a group of foundations using NCRP’s Power Moves: Your essential philanthropy assessment guide for equity and justice to help assess and learn about how well (or poorly) we’re doing building, sharing and wielding power with our partners. 

Embarking on a power journey

We’re clear that racial equity and public policy change are the most sustainable approaches to advance child well-being in the St. Louis region. Neither is possible without power. 

So, we want to know just how powerful we and our partners in this movement for children really are. We’re making the time to assess ourselves and reflect with our colleagues for a couple of reasons.

First, we’re aware of the potential for self-deception. The privilege of philanthropy and power dynamics with many of our partners allows us to blame others for a lack of missional progress and social change. Meanwhile, we pat ourselves on the back for valiant efforts.

Those of us who regularly gather and are blessed to don platforms to discuss and frame explicit equity work, efforts in marginalized communities and the latest research increasingly avoid conversation about political wins and winds. Yet, our theories don’t become action without power.

And, because the case studies we present at conferences are like our personal social media feeds (only showing the best of our lives), partners on the ground and in community may give us a reality check when friends in the field applaud our leadership.

Second, we recognize The Power of Moments. In Chip and Dan Heath’s book by this title, the brothers discuss how peak moments in our lives can change everything. These times, they say, are marked by elevation, pride, insight and connection. (They warn against using the E.P.I.C. acrostic, so don’t tell them I did.) The year 2014 was a pivotal, yet tragic, moment in our history. It was the 250th anniversary of the founding of St. Louis, the 125th anniversary of the Deaconess mission and the beginning of a renewed movement for racial justice in our community. It also launched us on this path to build power.

We want 2018 and 2019 to be E.P.I.C. as well. The mid-term elections and federal political change have elevated the moment for us. We hope this process of learning in connection with colleagues will lead to insight we can be proud of. 

Who needs another thing to do? We do.

And so, do you. Because you want to build, share and wield power for social change.

It’s time to make Power Moves.

The Reverend Starsky D. Wilson is president & CEO of Deaconess Foundation and chair of NCRP. He also serves on the boards for Grantmakers for Effective Organizations, Chicago Theological Seminary and the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference. He is an advisor to the Democracy Fund and Let America Vote. Follow him at @revstarsky or @deaconessfound.

Editor’s note: Deaconess Foundation is one of nearly two dozen foundations and philanthropy advisors participating in communities of practice as they begin using Power Moves. We’ll announce the list of participants in the coming weeks. Stay tuned!