Wield power to yield change: Anecdotes and tips from the field

To be bold public advocates for equity, funders need to ask themselves hard questions, listen to the wisdom of communities and lead by example.

Written by: Reed Young

Date: December 06, 2018

What does it mean for funders to wield power equitably with all the assets at their disposal? Tough conversations and incremental changes.

In the 4th webinar in NCRP’s Power Moves series, funders and nonprofit leaders shared insights and stories on exercising public leadership to advance social change.   

The presentation, “Leveraging Your Leadership: Wielding power beyond grants for greater impact,” co-sponsored by Mission Investors Exchange and The Funders’ Network for Smart Growth and Livable Communities, featured moderator Rodney Foxworth, executive director of BALLE, and 4 sector leaders:

  • Edie Blakeslee, vice president of grantmaking & community leadership at Coastal Community Foundation of South Carolina (CCFSC).
  • Bina M. Patel, founder of Saathi Impact Consulting.
  • Kevin Walker, president and CEO of the Northwest Area Foundation (NWAF).
  • Zalalem Adefris, resilience director at Catalyst Miami, steering committee member of the Miami Climate Alliance and a philanthropic trustee of the Solutions Project.

What are best practices for wielding power in philanthropy?

Wielding power covers a broad array of best practice in our Power Moves assessment guide compared to the other 2 dimensions in our framework.

To provide context for the conversation, NCRP’s senior director of assessment and special projects, Lisa Ranghelli, shared an overview of our research. Through our Philamplify project, which provided the basis for Power Moves, we found that funders who effectively wield power:

  • Convene grant partners and community stakeholders while also playing a supportive participant role at other convening tables.
  • Organize and collaborate with peers that share common concerns, and with other sectors such as government.
  • Inform, raise awareness and advocate by using reputation and expertise to bring visibility to critical issues and amplify the voices of the most marginalized.
  • Deploy non-grant financial assets creatively to advance foundation and grantee goals and shift power to underinvested communities, such as mission investing.

Highlights from the panel

Rodney set the stage for the conversation, drawing on his vision of restorative investing to combat a legacy of structural racism in our global economy: 82% of all wealth created in 2017 went to the richest 1%, and the world’s billionaires saw their wealth increase by $762 billion while the poorest 50% saw no increase in wealth.

Edie discussed the potential of slow and incremental changes that lead to larger transformation, with a focus on tapping community wisdom rather than just traditional institutional partners. She shared how CCFSC hosted “Community Conversations” and heard from 750 residents from 9 counties in the area they serve – many of whom were not familiar with the foundation. They used learning to inform their new Civic Engagement Agenda, including a new focus on policy advocacy, and closed feedback loops by sharing updates via in-person and virtual town halls.

Bina challenged funders to ask uncomfortable questions, and to unveil the white culture that is embedded in our sector and institutions. She emphasized that there cannot be progress without challenging the normalized way of thinking about this work, creating a different analysis and enabling those who have suffered from oppression to heal from that trauma.

Kevin exemplified Bina’s call to ask the tough questions by opening with a story about the source of the wealth that created the NWAF and how it relates to their commitment to funding in Native American communities. He encouraged foundations to foster accountability by leading by example and inspiring peers, as the foundation does through its high levels support for Native American causes and leaders. Today 40% of the foundation’s grant dollars go to Native-led organizations, and NWAF is increasingly recognized for its leadership in Twin Cities philanthropy.

Zelalem shared how The Kresge Foundation wielded power effectively by convening social justice organizations, including Catalyst Miami, through its multi-year Climate Resilience and Urban Opportunity initiative. The cohort came together for 4 in-person peer learning events to explore best practices for climate resilience funding, from which the foundation has shared valuable materials. Based on her other experiences with grantmakers, she cautioned funders to align their power with the goals of grant partners to wield their power responsively.

Join the conversation! Download Power Moves: Your essential philanthropy assessment guide for equity and justice and catch up on previous webinars in the series, including a toolkit overview and deeper dives into building and sharing power.

We’re eager to be in relationship with you as you delve into your own conversations about power, privilege and “risk” in philanthropy. Reach us at powermoves@ncrp.org and stay tuned for other Power Moves programs in 2019!

Reed Young is events and webinars intern at NCRP. Follow @NCRP on Twitter and join the conversation using #PowerMovesEquity.