Listen, Act, Reflect, Repeat

Reflections from Jessan Hutchison-Quillian about a Next Generation Giving Project (NGGP) event.  NGGP is a cross-class giving circle formed in partnership between Resource Generation’s Seattle chapter and Social Justice Fund North West.
Monday night was the third gathering of the Next Generation Giving Project. Things were a little different this time: we were coming together to learn from the experiences of experts outside the group and we also were sharing space with other members of Social Justice Fund. We were lucky enough to hear from and talk to a panel of five different people all doing important work for social justice in the Northwest.Jessan
As a young person with wealth who is pretty excited about moving my resources to build a more just world, this was an excellent opportunity to hear from individuals who have experience in giving funding and also from individuals with experience in receiving funding. It is interesting to recognize that there are significant challenges on either side.
Effective funders are willing to become partners in the work that they support. I felt this emerged as a theme throughout many of the conversations. One of the panelists, Peter Bloch Garcia, summed it up with the phrase “ask and listen before you act.” Asking and listening can be the first steps in creating a relationship with the organization you care about; building this relationship will give you confidence in supporting the organization in the long term and also to opening up and sharing resources beyond just cash.
Giving long term support is essential; movements to envision and create the sustainable and just world we would all love to live in aren’t going to be built in a year. Constant scrambling for funding leaves organizations in a place where they can’t realistically plan for the long term. We can alleviate this by communicating our support clearly and giving it consistently over time.
Long term support gives organizations a chance to try new things and not be scared if they don’t work out. The ability to try something new and maybe have it fail, but know that your funders will still trust you and have your back creates an environment where real exploration and innovation can happen. As funders who want to see societal and structural change, we can play a huge part in the movement by helping to create this support structure.
If we as funders really build relationships with the organizations that we support, we open up the possibility for much deeper support than just dollars. As people with class privilege, we often have access to powerful people. We know the manners, the language and the values needed to fit in with other wealthy people. Sharing this access can open up possibilities for big change.
We can give something more fundamental: we can give our friendship. We can listen, we can be a sounding board for new ideas, we can be cheerleaders. We can share in celebrating the victories and feeling sad about the failures and losses. We can do this in friendship; not in the traditional philanthropy way of “buying” the “product” of social change which the organization sells through annual reports and stories of people helped. We can go beyond this. We can be a partner in the movement; we can create it together.
As much as I can sit down and think through and write down these beautiful principles, I know that I don’t nearly apply them perfectly in my giving. It’s still scary for me to build that relationship. How will I ever feel that I’m giving enough time/money? How will I know I’ve picked the right place and people to invest myself in? What if they send me a fancy gift basket that makes me feel really awkward?
And this last one is what can really worry me: What if they give me special treatment and influence because of my big paycheck? I want to give because I recognize that the power imbalance that comes with my wealth is unjust. Special treatment or undue influence on the group is totally counterproductive.
With all these questions and reservations I’m beginning to recognize that I must offer myself as a funder the same thing that I would like to offer those that I fund: acceptance of imperfection and a willingness to learn along the way. I don’t need to have it all right from the start, but I do need to take steps, figuring things out as I go. I need to listen, act, reflect and repeat. I think that participating in this giving project will be a great place for me to give concrete support to important work for social justice while growing in my ability to become a full partner and participant in the work I want to support.
Many thanks to the intelligent, honest and well-spoken panelists for taking time out of their night to share their stories and wisdom with us:
* Peter Bloch Garcia, Chair, Latino Community Fund
* Jeffrey Hedgepeth, Grants Program Director, Pride Foundation
* Jeremy Louzao, Co-Director, Seattle Young People’s Project
* Yuh-line Niou, Public Policy Coordinator, Statewide Poverty Action Network
* Xuan-Trang Tran-Thien, Organizational Consultant
So what about you? What do you do when you give your resources? do you follow these kinds of principles? are there other principles, ideas or strategies that are really important to you?
Leave a comment and let’s start a conversation about it.