A Vision of Hope for Philanthropy in 2019

Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation, greeted the new year with a letter in which he reflects on the foundation’s hopes for its grantees, the communities it impacts, and the world.

We know that the communities most proximate to the problems possess unique insight into the solutions. That is why, in everything we do, we ought to ensure that the people affected by our work are guaranteed a voice in its design and implementation. To this end, diversity and inclusion must be priorities throughout our organizations—and especially at the top of them. One recent BoardSource survey suggests that the boards and leadership of foundations are remarkably homogeneous. We must work to become more heterogeneous in an increasingly diverse world or we risk cynicism and backlash from stakeholders who don’t see themselves represented in our institutions.

Walker also makes the case for believing in those the philanthropic field funds:

Finally, we must trust those we fund, and fund them adequately to do what they believe is best, not what we think is best. This means putting ourselves in the shoes of prospective grantees and communities, treating them like partners rather than contractors, and entrusting organizations with long-term general support funding and project grants that provide adequate overhead. It means acknowledging the power imbalance that often makes our grantees reluctant to engage honestly and authentically.

According to Walker, there is “a movement of philanthropists not merely concerned with funding good works but also with improving how we fund them.” He says that he is inspired, among others, by Agnes Gund’s leadership in creating Art for Justice.

I believe they and many other philanthropists represent a movement from generosity to justice. To me, this is the best response to philanthropy’s deepest flaws and inherent contradictions.

Read the full letter here.