Organizing Money and Transforming Movements
By Akosua Meyers
Someone recently asked me, “what about philanthropy excites you?” While everything excites me about philanthropy, there are two areas that are particularly inspiring to highlight: 1) giving is a collective power, and 2) we have new ways that donations, whether institutional or individual, can fund social justice movements in a transformative way. Upon reflection, I recognized my response may have mixed reactions given that major donors and institutional philanthropy have not had the best rap in the age of equity, accountability, and transparency. But take a walk with me on this.
First, there is power in organizing money for the movement. The beauty of philanthropy is that we all can be philanthropists. I know that sounds a bit cliché. But honestly, your gift of $10 a month, $100 a year, or $10 million over 5 years does matter. In many ways each gift holds equal value to the movement if sustained and increased over time. If we move beyond the amount of money and focus on the collective impact on people and families, our combined generosity can make the transformative change we seek a reality—not 100 years from now, but today.
Underneath the complexities of big philanthropy, and regardless of our giving capacity, we all share a deep passion and commitment to change. We want change that is transformational and devoted to making a difference. And, we want to sustain it so nonprofits, movements, and people will feel its impact for generations.
Getting back to this question of what excites me about philanthropy, Second, I am excited about its evolution. I especially like the idea that we all can be philanthropists and that being a funder does not translate to having complete control over the direction the movement’s work is taking. I am fired up by philanthropy stepping into the role of being co-conspirators rather than dictators. Yes, there is much transformation still required in philanthropy. I am not downplaying that at all.
However, on National Philanthropy Day, I want to acknowledge the philanthropy trailblazers. They are those leaders, allies, validators, and advocates who go against the status quo to carve out new approaches to funding the movement. They are those willing to take the road less travelled, relying solely on the inspiration and bold vision of movements to drive their giving priorities. They are those willing to take uncalculated risks and invest in the long haul. And they are those who understand movement work is a marathon, with moments of sprinting required to leverage opportunities for real transformation. On this day we should recognize philanthropic champions who understand that today’s struggles require action that comes with no strings attached. They are the champions willing to bring others along, acknowledging there is power in numbers.
I am also excited about the new wave of philanthropy that unapologetically emphasizes the urgency to meet systemic challenges that plague us, like poverty and racism. We can address such issues and so many interconnected ones through strategic collaboration, values alignment, unrestricted and sizeable multi-year investments, and letting the movement—which includes those who are directly impacted—lead.
I do a victory dance each time a movement leader crosses over to lead a foundation. It matters! I was deeply humbled when a collective of Girl Scout troops donated their cookie sale proceeds to CLASP because they believed in our mission. I am inspired by individuals who understand and deeply value what is at stake and are willing to not just give, but fully embrace the true meaning of fundraising—organizing money and people. There is a new wave of philanthropy that is collectively redefining what it means to give, and I’m here for it.
2020 reminded us of the importance of staying focused on what matters. The world is in crisis, and our need to double down on the fight against poverty, racial inequity, and injustice is greater than ever. Protecting our democracy, economy, and climate are top priorities, domestically and globally. The ability to give is power that we all have access to—if we allow ourselves to fully own it.
So, thank you for being a donor, funder, and partner in the movement.