The Philanthropy Game

by Chris McGivern & SF Team, 7 July 2020

It’s time to examine philanthropy in a post-capitalist world.

Money is an element of the relationship between the funder and those who it funds (in our case, the Foundation and the Fellows), but we’ve moved away from being simply a funder and towards being a holistic support system.

“Money is power” is a cliché because of the truth it holds. It’s also wildly incorrect. Traditional philanthropic models use money as a proxy for knowledge or wisdom, wielding the exchange of money as pay-to-play. This is because true power comes from knowledge, but money is a more tangible metric to measure.

If money could solve all the world’s ills, it would have long since fixed poverty, health, and the other great challenges of our times. But money is a blunt tool and change doesn’t happen by simply banging things with a hammer. We need thinking, experimentation, bravery, policy, technology, and a myriad of other pieces of magic to fall into place in order for true social change to take root.

Money is a resource, not a goal. Centres of power in most funding models lack balance. Any power gained from a finite resource like money is also finite. Giving away money means giving away power.

Conversely, shared power born of infinite resources like knowledge, community, and trust is limitless. The more you share power the more you create. Collective power and its growth lie in paradox – you must give it away to expand the community and grow the knowledge and trust that fuel collective power.

Money is an effective tool, but a poor substitute for community. When power is exerted by the use of money and placed at the centre of the relationship ideas are created and experiments undertaken in order to obtain or unlock further funding. Money ultimately becomes the measure of success which leads to the purity of the idea being abstracted and the original undertaking rendered corrupt. By focusing on infinite resources and collective power we build stronger futures for everyone at the table.

The central idea of empowering social change isn’t just funding it, but broadly redistributing power. Distributing money alone doesn’t redistribute power. We want to enable people whose lived experiences best suit the challenges they are trying to solve. A member of a community uniquely understands the challenges faced by that community better than an outsider and it’s for this purpose that we bring them to the table rather than assuming we know better than they do. When thinking through ideas of social and ultimately behaviour change, we recognise the markers of progress are not easy to count or measure, but are messy, protracted and sometimes obscured. It is important to create space between the source of the money and where the money is going in order to feel progress and render money a resource and ensure it doesn’t become a corrupting influence to collective power.

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