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Reflecting on philanthropy: a donor perspective

Over the last year and a half, The Stop has worked hard to transition our fundraising from donor-centric practices to a community-centric model. The Community-Centric Fundraising (CCF) movement works to address the entrenched inequities that exist in philanthropy and to embed activism and social justice in fundraising. Grounded in 10 principles, CCF urges nonprofits and funders to challenge donor-centric, competitive and transactional strategies, engage in transparent conversations about wealth and race, and fundraise in ways that reduce harm to the communities we serve.

As part of our commitment to CCF, we’ve had conversations with individual donors, partners, and institutional supporters about the problematic aspects of philanthropy and how we can implement a more community-centric approach.

One of our supporters reflects on their commitment to CCF and how it applies to her family foundation.

What are your approaches to philanthropy and your relationship with the organizations you support? How are transparency and trust important to you?

When our family founded our foundation in 2010, I held a mostly traditional view on philanthropy that I had inherited through popular culture and my upbringing. This included the idea that all types of philanthropy are inherently positive, and that it serves an important role in filling in gaps in society left unfulfilled by government services.

It wasn’t until my mid-twenties that I realized that I should question and critique the notion of philanthropy as it had been previously taught to me. Upon learning about and connecting with Resource Movement (RM), I began to develop a more critical approach to philanthropy. RM is a movement that “organizes young people with class privilege for a more just and equitable world” across Canada. I began having conversations with fellow members, whose views and movements inspired me to bring a radically different approach to our family foundation. As a result, in 2019, we implemented a five-year giving plan with the following goals and objectives:

  1. To support organizations that address the root causes of racial, economic, and environmental injustices as well as organizations meeting the immediate needs of communities in the GTA, in Ontario, and across Canada
  2. To give larger donations over a set period of time; allowing our partners to better plan for a five-year period.
  3. To provide larger amounts of funding quickly, as needs arise. This allowed us to give to a more diverse base of organizations, for example as a sort of “emergency response” at the beginning of the pandemic, or in support of Black communities around the sentencing of the murder of George Floyd, and to Indigenous organizations with the discovery of mass burial sites at former Residential Schools in 2021.
  4. Trusting and empowering the organizations whom we fund to decide where funds go–acknowledging that our partners know best where help is needed most
  5. Having frank and uncomfortable conversations with our partners. As Edgar Villanueva wrote in 2021; “reconnecting might mean having vulnerable, difficult, awkward conversations with people who are harmed by the system we benefit from”.[1]

These goals and objectives have been critical in creating transparency and trust with the communities we are supporting.

How do you think foundations can employ the principles of community-centric fundraising?

Our family foundation was/is inspired by the Community Centric Fundraising 10 Principles. Part of this meant educating ourselves on systemic racism and intersectionality[2]. It meant acknowledging our own privileges as citizens and as board members of a family foundation within a colonial state. This knowledge helped shape our giving principles to give to organizations focusing on addressing the root causes of racial, social and environmental inequities.

It also means showing up to the table with our partners and sharing our story. This meant acknowledging how our family’s wealth was originally generated (it was, and continues to be created by mining in Canada). It means acknowledging the inherent power imbalance between donors and “recipients,” and working together with our partners to minimize these imbalances. As a donor, part of reducing these power imbalances means having less of a say in how funds are used—trusting that community leaders know where funds need to go. Or letting go of a need to measure an organization’s “output” as proof of progress. The problems we are facing are complex, which calls for actions and solutions that are specific to the needs of a community. As a fellow RM member said, “wealth does not give you monopoly over good ideas or intentions”. Or as Stephan Yang stated in Legacy and Innovation: A Guidebook for Families on Social Change Philanthropy: “partnership in this context means that the organizations and leaders working for social change—who are deeply connected with the individuals, families, and communities most affected by injustice—are the experts”.[3]

One setback that we found in integrating community-centric fundraising is that foundations are limited to giving to registered charities only. This is a major barrier that prevents us from giving to smaller organizations or individuals that are doing important and timely work for their communities. We are grateful for organizations such as The Stop, which share finances and resources with other community actors.

What would an ideal future of foundations look like to you?

Not everyone in my family will agree, but my vision of an ideal future is one without the need for foundations. Of course, this would require a radical rehauling of society—changes that would allow everyone to mutually flourish and prevent wealth from concentrating in the hands of a few. It would mean a just taxation system, one allowing the government and affiliated organizations to provide support where needed. It would also include reparations for decades of injustices and systemic prejudice, including Indigenous nations and communities, and to communities of colour. To quote Anand Giridharadas, many global elites involved in philanthropy lack the self-awareness that philanthropy can perpetuate inequalities, wherein they “believe and promote the idea that social change should be pursued principally through the free market and voluntary action, not public life and the law and the reform of the system that people share in common; that it should be supervised by the winners of capitalism and their allies, and not be antagonistic to their needs”. [4]

I invite others with class privilege to question the narrative of meritocracy[5], and to challenge the idea that the privileged and wealthy know best when it comes to deciding on how surplus wealth is redistributed in society.


[1] Villanueva, Edgar. Decolonizing wealth: Indigenous wisdom to heal divides and restore balance. Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2021.

[2] Intersectionality is : « the complex, cumulative way in which the effects of multiple forms of discrimination (such as racism, sexism, and classism) combine, overlap, or intersect especially in the experiences of marginalized individuals or groups” https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/intersectionality

[3] Yang, Stephanie. Legacy & Innovation: A Guidebook for Families on Social Change Philanthropy. United States, Changemakers, 2008.

[4] Giridharadas, Anand. Winners take all: The elite charade of changing the world. Vintage, 2019.

[5] Meritocracy is, “the idea that people get ahead based on their own accomplishments rather than, for example, on their parents’ social class. And the moral intuition behind meritocracy is that it creates an elite that is capable and effective and that it gives everybody a fair chance at success.”

Illing, Sean. “How Meritocracy Harms Everyone – Even the Winners.” Vox, Vox, 21 Oct. 2019, https://www.vox.com/identities/2019/10/21/20897021/meritocracy-economic-mobility-daniel-markovits.