When the Going Gets Tough

Last month, I wrote about a growing movement of youth grantmaking programs that we're now tracking on YouthGiving.org. Earlier this month, I was in Disneyland at the annual Youth Philanthropy Connect conference, where as a community, we stood paralyzed in sadness as we learned of the deaths of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, Lorne Ahrens, Michael Krol, Michael Smith, Brent Thompson, and Patrick Zamarripa. The juxtaposition of the "happiest place on earth" with — as we discussed openly at the conference — "tough stuff" was chilling. It also was illuminating, leading to important discussions about racism, power and privilege, community, connection, and empathy.

Philanthropy has the power to act. It has the power to raise its voice, take a stance, and invest money in initiatives that address root problems and structural issues in our world. It has the power to empower disadvantaged communities to be a part of changemaking. This can come in any size and form. One example: Down the street from my apartment, the Brooklyn Community Foundation's first-ever youth grantmaking committee awarded Youth Voice Awards two months ago. One went to 17-year-old Shaqur Williams, who partnered with a local arts nonprofit, Off the Page, to produce a play debuting this week about race and policing. Another: The Washington Regional Association of Grantmakers hosted a learning series called "Putting Racism on the Table." With powerful and publicly shared talks from field leaders and accompanying resources, we strengthen our collective understanding of the complicated dynamics underlying these tragic events and acknowledge together what cannot be ignored.

And, even when we may not be able to act with funds or with convening power, we can act with empathy and compassion. Difficult events happen in the world every day, and while the media amplifies some and not others, we need to acknowledge that everyone is affected at some point based on past experiences, values, and identity. We may have different points of view, but everyone feels pain and frustration in the context of the world around them in some way, at some time. Use your power to acknowledge "tough stuff" experienced by peers, grantees, your staff, and your broader community; it will build trust and connection, the essential preconditions for long-term change.

IssueLab, a service of Foundation Center, has just released a new Special Collection on Race and Policing, which GrantCraft users might be interested in. This special collection includes research from nonprofits, foundations, and university-based research centers, who have not only described and documented the issues of racism and discrimination in policing practices, but who also provide much-needed recommendations for addressing this chronic and tragic problem. 

This letter originally appeared in yesterday's GrantCraft newsletter. To sign up for our newsletter and special alerts, register for free

About the author(s)

Director of Stakeholder Engagement