As this year comes to a close, it is clear that we are in the midst of a sea change. After the presidential election in November, we are undergoing significant changes that affect us deeply in our communities, across the United States and worldwide. The election and its outcome have been deeply divisive, both underscoring and exacerbating divisions that were already there. It will come as no surprise that a report from Harvard Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy determined that both Presidential campaigns were covered negatively and with very little discussion of policy.
What I know is that the power of philanthropy is needed more than ever. Philanthropy – literally the love of humanity – has a long and storied history in the United States, evolving as our democracy and institutions evolve. Now philanthropy must find innovative ways to respond. We cannot simply redouble our existing efforts. We must find unique solutions to complex and seemingly intractable community challenges at the same time as we continue to support ongoing needs for education, healthcare, food security, and clean air and water.
When I started a philanthropic and strategic advising firm seventeen years ago – with the encouragement of my mentor, the legendary philanthropist and community collaborator Warren Hellman – the field was just getting started. Now the field of philanthropic advising is thriving, with far greater recognition that philanthropy can help shape our world. Philanthropy is stepping in when people are left behind. Philanthropy is asking, and answering, big questions about the role of wealth in overcoming inequality and strengthening public-private partnerships.
We are heartened that non-profit organizations across the United States are seeing a huge surge of donations and volunteers. We are hearing from our non-profit friends that they are seeing an increase in the number of business leaders applying for non-profit jobs for the first time. We are hearing from brand new and established philanthropists who want to do more.
Some philanthropists are inundated with the variety and volume of donation requests and need help determining the most effective organizations and leaders. Others are establishing an emergency fund beyond their usual generous giving. Some have children and grandchildren who are making smaller donations for the very first time. Other new philanthropists are just starting family foundations. Still others are thinking about funding advocacy and civic engagement for the first time as a complement to their support for direct services. And many philanthropists want to align their philanthropic strategy even more closely with their investments through impact investing.
No matter how much time or money you’re able to give, there are many ways to make a meaningful impact. Here are some questions to consider to help guide your giving:
- Do you want to give crisis response funding, for example to help vulnerable groups of people including immigrants, LGBT people, low-income women, people of color, religious minorities?
- Would you like to fund a longer-term strategy for change by supporting organizations that are building power through policy, grassroots organizing or voter registration?
- Are you moved to donate to specific issue areas such as civil liberties, racial justice, climate and sustainability, education, health care, reproductive justice, or community arts?
- Do you want to give back to your own community, to other states, nationally or internationally?
- Would you like to put a partisan stake in the ground or work across the aisle on issues such as reducing the influence of money in politics, promoting robust media and fostering civic participation?
- Can you help fund bold, cross-sector collaborations and public-private partnerships?
- Have you considered your investment portfolio as a vehicle for change similar to your grants portfolio?
- Would you like to develop a mission statement to guide your giving – even if you have just a few dollars to give?
Whatever you decide, philanthropy in 2017 should commit to keeping an open dialogue with communities, being responsive, measuring impact and accelerating change. We must also show greater empathy for the organizations we support by giving visionary non-profit leaders the flexible funding they need to respond as effectively as possible, as quickly as possible. Now more than ever we must live our values every day, on behalf of equity and opportunity; respect; love; civic participation; freedom and democracy.
Susan Mayer Hirsch is the CEO of Hirsch & Associates LLC, Philanthropic Advisors. For more than thirty years, she has worked strategically, creatively, and collaboratively to craft public-private partnerships that solve community problems. She founded Hirsch & Associates in 1999 to help families and individuals with the desire and means to tackle complex civic challenges, including economic equity, social justice and access to quality education. She is a member of the Family Foundation Network, the National Network of Consultants to Grantmakers, the Council on Foundations Philanthropic Advisors Network and serves on the Advisory Committee of the Butler Koshland Fellowships and the UCSF Memory & Aging Center and the Boards of Education Outside and the Center for Investigative Reporting.