Philanthropy Misbehaving

By Jessamyn Lau

This week I heard a couple of fund raising horror stories. I was appalled by the behaviour of my fellow funding professionals. They are outliers, for sure, but it saddened me to hear of those few who sometimes turn talking to funders in to a dreadful or demoralising event.

Please, if you thrive on the inherent power imbalance in philanthropy, or don’t have respect for the people at the table with you, find another profession or industry. After 3 years in philanthropy I’m not yet an expert but feel protective of the approach to philanthropy many influential funders have worked hard to create. Funders like Philanthropic Ventures FoundationMulagoDraper Richards Kaplan and many others around the world. Those who constantly try to improve the way they walk the line of respectful candour, are conscious of the time they ask for from grant seekers, and simply trust their grantees.

It was put really well by Gayle Williams, ED of the Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation, who I’ve never met but is quoted in a great Council on Foundations publication, ‘Wit and Wisdom’:

“Know that the culture of philanthropy is a culture of privilege and try to maintain a sense of humility within that place of power and privilege. People in the field can’t pretend that it doesn’t exist. We can either behave in privileged ways, or we can work to maintain a deep sense of who we are and act with integrity and authenticity. There’s no easy way to deal with this tension, but we have to struggle with it. I’d worry if we didn’t struggle with the privilege that surrounds us.”