If you’re looking for ways to support your community but aren’t sure where to start, we’ve assembled some key takeaways that area experts offered in a recent online discussion about the state of giving.
Speaking on both the impacts of the pandemic and the current racial justice uprising, panelists offered practical assessments for how to think about this current moment and how to discover your role in supporting current needs while shaping a better, more equitable future.
The discussion featured Kiran Ahuja, CEO of Philanthropy Northwest; Jason Clark, president and CEO of Second Harvest; Palmira Figueroa, campaign manager at the Social Justice Fund NW.
And while nothing can replace the full conversation (you can watch it above or find it on The Seattle Times Facebook page), here are some key takeaways.
Have we reached giving fatigue?
Question: Now six months into the pandemic, have we reached giving fatigue?
Kiran Ahuja: “I think [the crisis] has spurred incredible levels of engagement and giving from so many folks. … And especially with our Washington Food Fund, that we did in coordination with the governor’s office and with the three major food banks in Washington. We’ve seen an investment right now of already $13 million just in that fund, of which almost 9,000 are individuals. …
“There is a real question from the institutional side if there will be continued engagement. My sense is that there will be.”
Jason Clark: “We’ve seen donor response that has been kind of above and beyond. … And at the local level we’ve seen giving remain fairly strong. I would say at the same time that the need has been dramatically bigger than I ever expected, as well.”
“ … I would echo that the concern is: What does the federal response look like? That will have a huge impact on whether giving will continue to fuel our response as long as it can. Or if we just begin to become overwhelmed.”
Before you give, do your research
Question: Can you offer any advice for people who are looking to give right now, but not sure where to begin?
Palmira Figueroa: “I would say to people that they need to focus on building more knowledge. … You should definitely reach out to organizations and not just … be in the moment with the urgency but really get back to your senses on why it is that these things are happening in the world and who I am in those conversations. …
“If I am a donor, then I need to be a responsible donor. And being a responsible donor doesn’t mean give everything you have. It means to plan. It means to analyze. It means to analyze, ‘How much am I making? How much is this community making? How can I step up in my giving?’
“Because even though everyone is impacted by COVID, we definitely know who is most impacted. And especially now with the uprisings that has definitely put a light on the disparities around race.”
‘Who really owns this wealth?’
Question: How is the current racial justice uprising impacting philanthropies and the organizations they support? Has it forced a rethinking?
Kiran Ahuja: “Even before this racial reckoning or uprising … there had been discussions happening within philanthropy [focused on]: ‘Where are our dollars landing? Are they hitting in communities of color?’
“Oftentimes those numbers have been pretty dismal across the board for many, many years. If you take any particular community — Native Americans, African American, Latinx, Asian American — they can say pretty much for their community across the country nationally, they get less than 1% of all philanthropic dollars. …
“Part of the conversation has moved toward … decolonizing wealth. … This has been a big discussion within philanthropy about acknowledging where the wealth comes from and really reframing who is the steward of this wealth, who’s responsible? I would like to say that this particular moment is pushing the envelope and accelerating those type of discussions.”
Pulling all the levers
Question: We’re seeing the need for food assistance more than double in parts of Washington. With this large increase in need is the traditional donor-based model enough? Should we be rethinking how we approach food assistance?
Jason Clark: “I guess the way I’ve come to think about it is charities really have to build some critical mass to really start spinning off a lot of social good. And that in a lot of ways just comes down to having the capital and the asset base to continue leveraging that. … I don’t see why we wouldn’t take advantage of that in a crisis like this. We have that tool. …
“It’s also true at the same time that we need federal resources to deal with these things that happen at a scale and just, frankly, during normal times. … Is it really a great world where the food bank has to feed 50,000 people a week in Eastern Washington with like 1.7 million people in it? I don’t think that’s ideal. …
“I guess the way I think about it is when we’re up against a really complex issue, like poverty and racism and all these issues, we need to pull all the levers. One lever isn’t going to fix all these things. And so how do we keep doing that better and better?”
‘Challenge us to do better’
Audience question: Because philanthropy is based on a racist system to protect and build wealth, can we reasonably expect it to address systemic racism and other inequities?
Palmira Figueroa: “We [at Social Justice Fund NW] do the work in a very different way than most other foundations that I know. I think that the institutional sector, the philanthropy sector, is pretty racist. If you see how the board is comprised in most organizations, big foundations especially, the decisions are being made mostly, as in the government, by white males. And so the structure would have to dramatically change for that to happen.”
Kiran Ahuja: “I would just say it will be challenging. But I think what’s necessary is holding our feet to the fire.”
Jason Clark: “I would just add the philosophy that we’re really aggressively adopting at Second Harvest is making donors part of our mission. And the more that donors say that this matters in the community, it will force our organization to respond. And so I’d encourage people not to pull back from philanthropy but to run toward it, but have expectations and challenge us to do better.”