What Might Foundations Do?

Judy Pigott, author and UFE donor, recently wrote a new article on philanthropy, “What Might Foundations Do?” We have shared it here with her permission. Take a few minutes to read this thought-provoking piece on how we can all become “fellow travelers, not conquerors” on the road to a more just society!

If 2020 has shown us anything, it is that we are all vulnerable to COVID-19 with its heartbreak, and that Black Lives Matter. When we face inequities, and understand how marginalizing anyone weakens us all, we can move from fear to action. There is something to be done by each of us, from wearing a mask and keeping safe distances, to changing accustomed holiday plans into those that might safeguard loved ones, to taking a larger role in creating a more balanced, equitable society – one in which we are fellow travelers, not conquerors.

With talk in philanthropic circles about the importance of Equity, Diversity, Inclusion and what might help move us all, as a country, toward a more just, sustainable, and respectful life, it seems time to ask ourselves what role charitable foundations might play. Well, we could get over ourselves. We, and I speak from a role I’ve held for many years within a family foundation, could start by letting go of a mistaken idea that the dollars we currently control are actually ours. We could see, instead, our task of stewardship as leading toward the creation of equitable access to rights, resources & representation. This might include that we:

1. Recognize that the financial wealth, IS NOT OUR MONEY – the money no longer belongs to any individual(s), or Foundation. It is community property, to be administered for the common good.

2. Articulate values, vision & mission – then follow these. If the reason for establishing a Foundation was based on tax avoidance, start over.

3. Exercise fiduciary responsibility fully, recognizing that this not only applies to financial decisions, but also, maybe more importantly, to the ethical.

4. Ask “who made up the rules for this?” … find out. Then use the values, the vision, and the mission to determine a better way.

5. Become accustomed to gaining insight & information by centering BIPOC communities, taking direction from those most impacted by whatever injustice our mission leads us to try to address.

6. Acknowledge that current intergenerational wealth exists because of a system based on systemic racism, exercised throughout our history. Founding Fathers (read, white, land owning, literate men) made the rules.

7. Their/our wealth was made and accumulated through genocide of Indigenous Peoples, enslavement of African people, and through the extractive practices related to many immigrant groups. Foundations have an opportunity to change this narrative.

8. The 501(c)(3) status was enacted in response to a growing mega- wealthy class and the mobilization of community groups during the Civil Rights movement. The formal policies and restrictions that came with c3 status muzzled organizations while giving them a way to fundraise more effectively via tax breaks — a fundamental process of deradicalizing movements. (Cami Aurioles from Community-Concentric Fundraising 11/2/2020).

9. Think of existing in perpetuity as a financial version of hoarding.

10. Cease and desist from first using our operating expenses as part of our IRS mandated minimum distribution, and increase this minimum distribution to 10% from the current 5%.

11. Get ready... for the good of our earth and the future.





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