This post also appeared as an update on PACE’s Medium publication.
“This moment” is a catch-all term many of us in philanthropy, the nonprofit world, and beyond have begun to use to refer to the daunting mix of political and social division, conflict, and upheaval our country is experiencing. At any given moment “this moment” can refer to this administration, the opioid epidemic, or a myriad of inequity and social injustices. But what does “this moment” really mean for philanthropy?
Dr. Robert (Bob) K. Ross, CEO of the California Endowment gave a speech one morning at United Philanthropy Forum’s annual conference called “A Gift-Wrapped Call to Action: How Will Philanthropy Respond?” In it, he unwrapped “this moment,” and the opportunity it presents for one mission in particular: civic engagement. Dr. Ross charged each of us with making the most of this gift: an opportunity to rebuild and re-inspire our communities, with equity at the core of this mission. Here are some of his words of wisdom:
- Remember where you started. Take a moment to remember the day before you started your journey in philanthropy. Remember the passion and excitement about the possibilities you envisioned before you then. And find them again. “You took this job because you believe in the power of philanthropy and its role in civil society.” Let that belief continue to inspire you.
- Wake up. For equality, equity, opportunity in America…and for philanthropy, the last 12 months have been the best thing that could have happened. “Nothing wakes you up like a punch in the face,” he said.
- Get in the game. “You can sit on the sidelines and wait it out, pretend. But that would make you complicit.” Our field is tasked with tackling many daunting challenges — it’s easy to feel overwhelmed, but it’s not the time to take a seat. We need everyone on board.
- Tell a new story. Part of our work will mean crafting a new narrative for our country. “It’s on us to create an inclusive counter-narrative in the fight for America’s civic soul. We need a story of all of us.”
- Equity makes the conceptual notion of equality real. And right now it’s just a concept. Dr. Ross reminded us that our country’s foundation for equity and civic engagement pales in comparison to the infrastructure that exists to support and train people to lead in capitalism and our economy (MBA programs are abundant, but what is the counterpart to build equitable civic leadership?). Part of our work is filling this gap with similar supports to build our communities.
- Make no mistake: this is more than just civics. “This moment is about the civic soul of our nation: it’s about who we are, what we stand for, and what we believe. Our work is civic. It is moral. It is spiritual.”
- Get young people involved. “Whatever you’re doing to engage young people, double it. If you’re not doing anything, start.” These issues will impact our future, and shape that of the next generation.
- This work isn’t negotiable. Philanthropy’s obligation to support the work of civic engagement is critical for the future of our shared nation. For those funders already supporting this work? Double it and then “supercharge it,” he challenged us.
- Remember this when you consider risk: Someone in your family struggled . . . someone in your family weathered a storm so that you could be here today, with the privilege to do this work. Remember that, and make it count.
- Take action. “Stand up your values — and those of your organization — against those that are shaping our nation’s current political arena and dialogue. Your mission is under attack. Do something.” There are a lot of competing voices in this moment; sometimes finding yours or that of your organization is as simple as going back to your values, and speaking from them.
- Our jobs — to improve our communities — are a gift. And in philanthropy just as in America, we can only be the best we can be together.
This gift is one we take seriously at PACE. Dr. Ross’s charge to “double what you’re doing in civic engagement and make sure philanthropy is leading the way” speaks directly to our mission — we couldn’t agree more. PACE supports philanthropy at the intersection of civic engagement and democracy, working alongside a community of funders who are committed to strengthening our nation’s civic fabric and soul. We invite you to join us.