Four Suggestions for Social Justice Funders, #4

On a panel at the Emerging Practitioners in Philanthropy pre-Council on Foundations Conference in April, I presented four suggestions for social justice funders to consider.  Previously, I wrote about the first three of these, Find a Political Home, Build the Vehicles to Move us Forward and Develop your Skills as an Organizer. Below, I share the fourth of four suggestions.

4) Choose to be a Member

To be clear, I would only share this last suggestion with those who already engage their jobs, philanthropy and the larger non-profit sector with a commitment to social justice values and practices.

For those who do, I encourage us to see ourselves as members of a social justice movement rather than as something more removed, rather than to see ourselves simply as supporters.

As I’ve been taught to understand it, membership implies mutuality – mutual investment in one another, mutual ownership of our shared work, mutual accountability to shared goals, and mutual discipline and care in our approach  – in ways that the role or term of supporter or even volunteer do not.  While maybe only a subtle distinction, I do believe that it matters and particularly so in regards to the limits of where we go as a social justice movement.

As an example, a volunteer committee I was a part of became a membership committee of the community based organization with whom we worked.  To get to that point, it took years of working together, many missteps and months of consciously organizing ourselves as volunteers. It was a recognition of the trust, relationships and accountability built between us volunteers and the organization’s existing members and staff, but more importantly for all of us, it was an ask of us … it was an ask to not abdicate our respective positions, privileges or power, but to instead respectively bring them to bear in the organization’s grassroots organizing efforts and to tie our development, our growth and levels of commitment and responsibility with those of the organization’s other members.  As a funder, it’s also been the ask that I’ve been trying to answer in the affirmative.

End note: I realized in drafting these four suggestions, that any one of us could be entirely successful in our foundation jobs without following any of them.  But, having been in philanthropy now for some time, I’ve increasingly come to believe that to be successful as social justice funders we must at least consider thoughtfully each of these four suggestions.  And, I guess my hope is that for an increasing number of us, success as social justice funders is what we’re working towards.

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