Philanthropy, You in Danger, Girl! Five Things Philanthropies Need to Do Now in the Trump Age

02/05/2017 06:25 pm ET Updated Feb 05, 2017

These first two weeks in Trump’s America have been chaotic and stressful, but already emblematic of the dire needs philanthropy must step up to. From those who could be left out of affordable health care to those bandied about in an educational system with an uncertain future to immigrants and refugees encountering the suffering that they were attempting to flee, this short time has lit a fire in all of us working on the progressive side of philanthropy.

But even we aren’t immune to changes and dangers that could be inherent to a Trump administration. Some of my colleagues suspect that foundations could be targeted as a source of revenue, and that our ability to support work that goes against Trump’s agenda could be detrimentally affected. Others are concerned that tax policies that encourage giving could be curtailed and new limits on our political activities could be implemented. And, in the wake of the fallout from both Clinton and Trump’s foundations, we collectively face an uphill battle to restore public trust.

Foundations who are progressive and who prioritize support of communities of color in the age of “whitelash” must remain focused. The communities we aim to help will need our work now more than ever, and we can’t afford to lose focus or veer off the path. Here, I offer five points to affirm our commitment to the work in these uncertain times.

Put Progress First

Philanthropy has always been a critical pillar of democracy and has helped to fill in gaps, convene diverging parties and prop up services outside of government. That reality hasn’t changed. But we must seek new avenues to continue our work, particularly on the local level. County and city leaders, for example, have very practical needs to govern their locales so they should become important allies on numerous social challenges that we seek to resolve. Likewise, the private sector offers opportunities for investment and amplification that we must investigate and engage.

Change the Narrative

The election demonstrated the power of the dominant narrative, and in 2017, we must take it back. With his unrelenting focus of propagating fear and hate, Trump—whether we like it or not—owned the message. Funders must make empathy and compassion the central message now. We can move toward that goal by supporting new and different voices, from religious leaders to artists, who help shape American culture.

Get on the Ground

We have to admit that we could do a much better job of stepping out of comfort zones, our coastal enclaves, and connecting with a broader swath of Americans. Doing so does not equate to changing our values and should not signal a repurposing of our missions. These times require reflection on those parts of our society that feel overlooked. Their concerns and needs align with many of the needs of communities of color that we support. There’s room here for a grander vision, and an appeal to examine where we fund and strategically expand that giving footprint within our broader commitment to achieving equity for the most marginalized communities.

Stand Firm on Progressive Values

While there may be a rush within the charitable world to move center, it’s important that progressive philanthropy be firmly resolved to continue supporting values like racial equity, tolerance and economic justice. We must be likewise resolved to augment giving as needs arise in response to real threats to our most vulnerable communities. Now is the time, in fact, to build power on the progressive front by supporting a justice-focused movement that coalesces many different issues and experiences. That includes elevating work led by people of color, as well as embracing equity at a level foundations have not been comfortable with in the past. That also means being courageous and not overly cautious as we’ve been in the past.

Empower Your People

It’s a new day for our grantees, our partners on the ground, effecting the change we collectively seek. Funders should be cognizant of the new risks they face, and also at this early stage, that there are still so many unknowns. We must be prepared, therefore, to offer more flexibility, unrestricted funds, rapid-response funding and simplified application processes. It’s a clarion call, too, to bring new people to the table and strengthen connections throughout the progressive community. It’s all about taking care of our people.

Philanthropies who serve progressive movements must awaken to a world marginalized people have always lived in. We should not risk our own obsolescence by avoiding difficult conversations and discouraging the risks our people must take. For foundations who have not been a part of the progressive movement, now’s your chance to walk with us. Welcome. We urge you to reach out to us and other philanthropies for partnerships moving forward, together. It can’t wait.

Edgar Villanueva is vice president of programs and advocacy at the Schott Foundation for Public Education and a recognized voice in progressive philanthropy. He is author of a forthcoming text on philanthropy.

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