Philanthropy Then and Now: Mid-Career Reflections

By Katy Moore

After 11.5 wonderful years at the Washington Regional Association of Grantmakers, March 20, 2019 will be my last day. As I reflect on my 16-year career in philanthropy, having worked with more than 1,000 grantmaking organizations at the local, regional, and national levels, I had a few thoughts.

1. Don’t be daunted by the size of the problem.
Imagine having an annual grants budget of $1.5 million – the average giving level of WRAG’s member organizations. With that $1.5M, your board might ask you to, for example, build a stronger community for residents of the Greater Washington region (that’s about $.025 per resident), improve the health of Northern Virginians (that’s about $1.50 per resident), or improve the lives of children in underserved communities in Washington, DC (about $30 per child). Philanthropy is nothing if not ambitious. But, philanthropy’s resources compared to the scale of the problems the sector is trying to tackle can lead to what Grant Oliphant calls a “feeling of desperate impotence.” In these moments, it’s critical that we get out of our offices and into the community to connect with the people whose lives are forever changed by the investments we’re making.

2. Giving away money for a living can go to your head.
Many people who work in philanthropy understand their privileged position and are incredibly humble about how they approach their work. There are, however, a small handful of others who have either never worked in the nonprofit field or, if they have, seem to have forgotten what it was like to fundraise, work in direct service, or be woefully underpaid for working in the community. Philanthropy cannot achieve its goals without the nonprofit sector. We’d do well to treat them as the valued partners that they are. I’m a BIG advocate for term limits for program officers, for philanthropy professionals serving on nonprofit boards and for volunteering to be part of nonprofit pro bono projects. This helps philanthropy practitioners stay grounded in the nonprofit reality.

3. Affordable housing is the ultimate upstream strategy.
No matter what issue area you’re funding – from health to education to economic mobility – affordable housing is a good bet. Kids can’t do well in school if they slept in a car last night. You can’t improve someone’s health if they don’t have a safe place to live and cook healthy meals. It is difficult for families to build wealth without affordable home ownership options – this is especially true for families of color. So, whether you’re funding affordable housing directly or engaging in impact investing, it should be part of your portfolio since housing is at the root of so many social challenges.

4. Racial equity isn’t an issue area. It’s the heart of all issue areas.
We in the social sector really like to examine social problems. We commission research, we read, we call on experts. We do all this so that we can understand complicated, interconnected social challenges and be better positioned to invest in solutions. As philanthropy continues to dissect social ills, racial disparity remains the constant. The color of a person’s skin is still the number one predictor of life outcomes in America. That’s why so many funders are now putting racism on the table and doing their grantmaking with a racial equity lens.

If we, as a sector, are truly dedicated to improving the health, wealth, and vitality of our communities, racial equity must be the lens through which we conduct our work. That includes not only our grantmaking, but also the work we do internally with our institutions. The white culture of philanthropy is omnipresent and undeniable, especially when you consider that 90 percent of foundation leaders are white and approximately 95 percent of the $60 billion awarded each year by US foundations goes to white-led organizations.

It’s time for philanthropy to own and examine its whiteness. White funders must increase their racial literacy, examine their own white privilege and their institutions’ white culture. By doing so, we can unmask the power and privilege that whiteness (and white wealth) have created.

5. The future of philanthropy is here
Over the course of my career, I’ve watched the philanthropic field grow in sophistication and creativity – from the way it makes grants, to the way it invests its endowments, to the way it cultivates future leaders. And, while philanthropy – that most traditional of institutions – hasn’t always been lauded for its entrepreneurial spirit, innovation has always been a part of its culture. Here are just three recent trends I’m excited about:

Impact Investing – Just think what we could accomplish if we mobilized for social good the 95 percent of philanthropic assets that are currently sitting in trust funds and the stock market!

Participatory Grantmaking –Who knows better what a community needs than the community itself? Check out this video to learn more from one funder already putting this strategy into practice.

• Philanthropy’s increasing willingness to invest in advocacy and use its voice as a tool for social change. As one of my favorite authors, Brené Brown, writes, “Leaders who live their values are never silent about hard things.” If you’re being silent about the community challenges you see or the changes you’re trying to make, just know that your silence is sending a message.

Traditional philanthropy was built by money and privilege. Over time, thankfully, the ivory tower has started to crumble. As I reflect on my career and my efforts to break down the intrinsic power dynamics between the philanthropic and nonprofit sectors, I’m proud of the strides that the field has made and of the direction we’re headed.

I hope that as I change gears to focus on nonprofit fundraising and capacity building that we can stay in touch! I will be relying on you, my network, to encourage me to remain bold in my efforts to push the social change field to achieve more. I hope that, together, we will continue to be audacious in our efforts to make this region a place where everyone can participate and prosper.

Thank you for 11 wonderful years!

Since 2007, Katy Moore has been a part of the team at the Washington Regional Association of Grantmakers (WRAG), a powerful network of more than 100 of the largest and most respected philanthropic institutions in the Greater Washington, DC region. Starting June 1, she will join The Orr Group, a fundraising consultancy with offices in DC and New York. Stay in touch and follow her work on Twitter and LinkedIn!