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Organizations, individuals, and foundations are redefining what philanthropy means and determining how they can put the full strength of their organizations behind a greater good by leaning on the resources they have to make a difference as a contributing member of their community. Thanks to Rebekah Splaine Salwasser, Executive Director, Red Sox Foundation, Bithiah Carter, President & CEO, New England Blacks in Philanthropy, and Joan Christel, Senior Vice President, Head of Corporate Citizenship & Global Inclusion, State Street for your insights and this thought-provoking discussion on the current trends in the philanthropic world and how we can encourage our organizations and employees to re-examine how to give and how to become more involved.
While we often think of philanthropy as making monetary donations to different causes, based on the definition of philanthropy, it is “where our heart is.”
As Bithiah Carter shared, “Too often we have equated philanthropy with money or treasure. The greatest treasure is love and how we show it to our community through time, talent, treasures, ties, and testimony – treasure is often the least of them all.” As many charitable organizations had their donations impacted by the pandemic, they had to get creative about ways to give back to society. For the Red Sox Foundation (which historically had generated most of its revenue live at games), they had to get extremely creative to fundraise. This included selling masks, in-field cardboard cutouts, and messages. They also had to work to leverage new ways to support nonprofits that were just as helpful as dollars, leveraging their brand to empower, engage and motivate nonprofits during a difficult time.
Funding organizations at every level of their work and allowing them to make the best decisions for themselves, and the organizations they serve, is on the rise. While businesses that donate want to know about outcomes, the business world is also looking for innovation and to trust organizational leaders in order to broaden outcomes. As Rebekah Splaine Salwasser, Executive Director, Red Sox Foundation shares, “we are balancing supporting hundreds of nonprofits that apply for funding and making outcomes. We still give unrestricted gifts and stay in other lanes. We will continue to say yes and still make an impact.” Bithiah Carter adds, “We see a shift to a hybrid model – we trust you, but we want you to share what you are doing. We need better partnerships and communication. We need to think through what we can do collectively that is innovative.”
Most funds are made up of white men and often the recipients and the donors look nothing alike. That is changing as funds like the New Commonwealth Racial Equity and Social Justice Fund (made up of 19 black and brown executives that came together after George Floyd’s murder with a goal of $100M in funding to black and brown individuals and organizations) are formed.
As Joan Christel, Senior Vice President, Head of Corporate Citizenship & Global Inclusion, State Street shared, “A critical role that philanthropy plays is in the strengthening of society. Philanthropy can’t close the gaps. We have to address systemic inequities and structural issues as well. Philanthropy working in tandem with advocacy and policymaking are what affects lasting change.” State Street did some reflection over the last year on this very topic and engaged a third party to do a racial equity audit of its grant portfolio to better understand who they are serving. As a result of this audit, lifting restrictions on how gifts can be used and updating its grant-making guidelines, State Street is keeping itself honest about how its efforts are impacting communities and refining its giving as part of an evolving process to be the best it can be.
If your brand holds the power, serve as a convener. The Red Sox Fountain established an “Emergency Hardship Fund” and leveraged players, owners, and Red Sox Nation to contribute $750k via gift cards to those struggling with food security during the pandemic. It also established the WIN (Women in Nonprofit) Network and connected the members of its two core programs (the Red Sox Scholars and its Recreational Program) through online services during the pandemic when it couldn’t convene its members in person. The programs plan to continue to augment in-person services with online support even post-COVID.
Sometimes organizations can get wrapped up in systems that they think are doing the right thing by focusing on philanthropy in a vacuum. The last 18 months ripped off a band-aid to expose a wound and we cannot unsee it. We know zip code, race, and gender matter. This made us think: “where have we been funding? What matters? Where are we trying to go?” We need to think more about how to move the needle and what outcome we are seeking, and that will give us the sense of where we need to land to get this work done.