The nonprofit sector is bigger than charity. Social movements such as Black Lives Matter and #MeToo continue to shape America and reflect the awesome nature of the social sector.
By Tifany R. Boyles, Red Philanthropy
Philanthropy plays a powerful and expansive role in society. Unfortunately, the definition of philanthropy has become too limited.
When you think of it, perhaps you think of giving or fundraising. You might think of nonprofit organizations, “do-gooders” and acts of charity. These ideas should not be minimized as they are invaluable. While philanthropy includes these cornerstones, it is much more inclusive and formidable.
Philanthropy comprises of all actions that do not benefit yourself or your family but create a positive social impact for others. It is the vehicle in which we express our values and shape society. Philanthropy is not sweet. It is a wildfire.
In the seminal book Understanding Philanthropy, Robert Payton and Michael Moody define philanthropy as “voluntary action for the public good.” These leading nonprofit academics and practitioners understood how broad the idea is; and how influential. To better understand this definition, this 2019 article from Lilly Family School of Philanthropy author Abby Rolland explores the definition of “public good” in greater detail.
In this series, we will look at aspects of philanthropy that expand beyond our immediate association of charitable giving and unpack the less-considered-but-just-as-mighty forces for good.
Civil society is a powerhouse for change
Civil society is one powerful pillar of the nonprofit sector in that it consists of volunteers mobilizing as activists to create positive change for the community. To dig into the definition of “civil society,” this article, written in Sociology Discussion by Shelly Shaw, aptly captures its purpose, evolution, and potential. Shaw wrote:
“Importantly, civil society has long been playing a pivotal role in influencing the state’s policy on social welfare, articulating views on current issues, serving as the voice of constructive debate, providing a forum for the exchange of new ideas and information, initiating social movements by way of creating new norms, identities, institutions. Civil society is, together with the state and the market, one of the three spheres that interface in the making of democratic societies.”
The social justice awakening in this country via Black Lives Matter (BLM), #MeToo, and like organizations reflects the invaluable role civil society plays in America. Prior to these movements, other mobilizations have helped shape this country, as well. And, the impetus and infrastructure of philanthropy have magnified the impact of these movements.
The suffragettes, advancements in mental healthcare, civil rights, environmental conservation, and gender equality are all civil society movements born out of philanthropy. The very backbone of these movements was “voluntary action for the public good.”
BLM was born out of injustice. The movement did not originate in the nonprofit sector; rather it was developed out of anger and fear of the inadequacies of our judicial and penal systems. The co-founders, Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi, created #BlackLivesMatter in response to the acquittal of Trayvon Martin’s alleged murderer, George Zimmerman.
However, the mobilizing of voices, the marches, the time, testimony, and talent devoted to raising awareness was fostered by both grassroots advocates and amplified by institutional nonprofits such as the NAACP and ACLU. The movement has been fueled by its donor community via the Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation.
In 2020, the foundation reported having raised more than $90 million to support BLM. The foundation is leveraging these funds to ensure that BLM is known for more than protests; rather it is mobilizing the initial intention for social change to achieve long-lasting equity. The foundation states, “We want to uplift Black joy and liberation, not just Black death. We want to see Black communities thriving, not just surviving.”
Tarana Burke, founder of the #MeToo movement, created a place for women to safely share their stories of abuse in order to support survivors of sexual violence. This began simply as a place to remove the gagging fear of speaking out so women would feel empowered to tell their story of pain and trauma so commonly experienced but quelled.
By definition, this is philanthropy. Burke gave her time, talent, and testimony, all of which are valuable resources and gifts, to create positive social change for society and women everywhere. This forum turned into a historic movement for awareness building and social action.
In summary, one woman’s desire to serve others and influence society was translated into philanthropic action in which she created a free forum to empower marginalized voices with the goal to ease suffering and shape behaviors.
Burke’s values, when properly mechanized within civil society, have created a global shift in awareness and have translated into change. This change was not just experienced in social circles and culture. The effect has soaked into the private sector via examples such as Time’s Up and the legal system via criminal cases such as the watershed Weinstein prosecution, among other influences.
Jeannie Sager, director of the Women’s Philanthropy Institute at the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, reflects on how civil society and philanthropy coexist to create formidable change. She shares that “demonstrations for racial justice have drawn increased attention to chronic underfunding for women and girls of color. A 2020 study by the Ms. Foundation for Women found that grants to women and girls of color totaled $356 million—about 0.5 percent of the $66.9 billion contributed by foundations in 2017.
“To address the lack of resources dedicated to this population, a group of Black women leaders created the Black Girl Freedom Fund in 2020. Led by Grantmakers for Girls of Color and with collaborators, including Burke, the campaign seeks to direct $1 billion over the next 10 years to helping Black women and girls succeed.”
It is clear that civil society and philanthropy are interwoven. These movements serve as a reminder that philanthropy, or “voluntary action for the public good” can result in shaping society for generations to come.
Of course, not all civil society movements are philanthropic; meaning, not all of them serve the public good. One ignominious example of this is the Ku Klux Klan (KKK). Unfortunately, philanthropy and civil society are like anything powerful: There will always be a risk that infrastructure intended for positive change can be manipulated to create harm and pain instead.
In 2021, we have seen movements used for both positive and negative outcomes. That doesn’t mean we don’t keep trying to create communities to help others. It just means we proceed pragmatically, knowing how ideas can be hijacked if not steeped in an awareness of its powerful potential.
Remember the inclusive definition of philanthropy
Philanthropy is a means to create prevailing, social change. Ideas and agendas are born, tested, and developed here. Movements such as this bring new voices and decision-makers to the table. Sector leaders need to remember this as we invite new generations of socially conscious leaders to engage.
By Payton and Moody’s definition, this work is broader than giving and more inclusive than “do-gooders.” It is a space filled with tools and resources to design democracy and shape humanity.
As society continues to evolve, it is important to note that philanthropy and the movements it has fueled are intimately connected. It is a disservice to acquiesce to this notion that philanthropy is for the affluent or a means to simply serve the needy. It is more than a feeling of generosity. It is a mechanism to express our values and beliefs during our lifetime.
As the next generation is introduced to the social sector, keep an expansive mind to the many ways in which they can engage and contribute to positive social change. By understanding the full scope of philanthropy, we will be able to sculpt a society emboldened with the tools and knowledge to serve one another.
Tifany Boyles is the director, global philanthropy at Street Business School (SBS) and owns a philanthropic consulting company, Red Philanthropy. Tifany leads philanthropic partnerships, thought leadership, and stakeholder engagement for SBS as they scale their entrepreneur training and self-efficacy program through a social franchise model to ignite the potential in one million women globally. She has previously worked with corporate foundations, such as Western Union Foundation, and multi-lateral NGOs, such as UNICEF, to foster an environment in which women and children can achieve equality and overcome injustice. Tifany holds a bachelor’s degree from Pepperdine University and a master’s degree in philanthropic studies, concentrating on impact investing for gender equity, from the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at IUPUI. She is also certified in “Women’s International Health and Human Rights” through Stanford’s Center on Social Innovation and in “Women in Innovation” from Yale’s School of Management.