Resourcing Social Change – Summary of our September 2021 Conversation

At the monthly meeting of our Integrity Body (known in most organizations as the board), we continued applying Catalytic Thinking to one of the most important issues in the whole social change arena: Resourcing our work.

Since its inception, Creating the Future has stood firm in our belief that current funding systems are in large part responsible for preventing organizations from accomplishing their potential. The idea that people with money ultimately make decisions about what will get funded – and therefore get done – means that the people closest to the problem are often forced to mold themselves to the wishes of people who are far removed from those issues, all in the name of getting funded.

Creating the Future has, since the beginning, refused to step into that arena.

The result was the decision to self-fund – relying on teams of committed volunteers making only stipend wages (Hildy and Dimitri currently take home $500 apiece per month. Yes, you read that right. And our faculty have generously worked their tails off for not much more than that.).

The resources necessary for accomplishing our mission to date were all self-generated from classes, demonstration projects, and public speaking, along with a handful of generous individuals who provide ongoing support. All this, while we continued to consider what it would take to align funding with our values.

As Creating the Future begins taking grander steps to facilitate and support systems change in the world, that piecemeal approach to resourcing will not be adequate to accomplish those outcomes. It is therefore time to reimagine what resourcing might look like, with Catalytic Thinking as our guide. Importantly, it is time for us to put that reimagining into action – to test our hypotheses in a real world experiment.

At our August meeting, we began this conversation where Catalytic Thinking always begins – considering all the people who will be affected by whatever actions we take. That list was long, as the resourcing of social change has the potential to influence how we think about money period, especially in this neo-liberal, capitalist society. (You can read a summary of that meeting here.)

Once we had listed everyone, we began to consider what it might take to involve them in this conversation, noting that in part, the work will be for US to join in THEIR conversations – conversations that are already happening, all around us. To that end, we invited our community members to be part of the September meeting, as so many of our community members have been in the roles we discussed in August.

That leads us to our September meeting, where we took up the next question in Catalytic ThinkingWhat would “good” look like for all those individuals and groups?

The following is a summary of the questions that were asked, and the thoughts expressed in answer to those questions. We hope you will add your own thinking in the comments below.

For all those folks who will be affected, what would good look like? What would it look like if the outcome is what we want?

  • The concept of a “table” (in terms of “being at the table”) is a big barrier to leaders of color. Where is the table? Who is there? How do they find it? How do they get a seat? Reimagining the future would mean reimagining how opportunities are made available.
  • Participatory grantmaking – bringing the communities being served into the grant-making process and setting priorities
  • Affected individuals would have a say in how resources are allocated and there would be trust between parties
  • Not having to jump through hoops
  • Each community of change would reflect and ask themselves “are we inviting the communities we’re trying to fund?” “Are we intentionally seeking the groups attempting to make change in the communities they serve?” If the answer isn’t yes, then we’re not making change.
  • There would be no foundations: they are a concentration of inequity and, in the ideal, that wouldn’t exist.
  • There is an option in between what we have now and the non-existence of foundations. Currently, foundations are influential as opposed to obligated. There would be a shift where foundations feel obligated to reinvest wealth in a reparative way. The funders would have to find the table and have the obligation of figuring out how to disperse the money in a meaningful way. The power would lie with the community.
  • There is a difference between inviting people to come versus being where they are. Funders would move from “doing for” to “doing with.” What would it look like to put the money out there and just let people take what they need?
  • Corporate philanthropy is often a way of putting a band-aid on a situation, but there is also a tax benefit, which undermines the idea of a social conscience.
  • There would be a sense of community. We wouldn’t use words like “grant,” “apply,” “give,” or “receive.”
  • There is a step beyond obligation. Funders are not obligated because the money is not theirs to give. Foundations have a single piece of the pie and everything revolves around that piece of the pie. The current process forces everyone else to learn how to get money. This is a skill funders already have. They know how to get money, they already have it, so it would be their obligation to find the money to fund the community’s priorities.
  • The dynamic of a Request for Proposals would be reversed. Rather than an organization asking for money, foundations would ask to support organizations.
  • We give foundations so much power. What if we just ignore them and talk about fundraising without foundations and resourcing with more than just money?
  • If we are flipping the script of foundations applying to give funding, could foundations also have staff and outreach to go, find and support the people to give funding to?
  • It wouldn’t be about money, but about accountability. We would be accountable down to communities rather than up to funders.
  • We don’t talk as much about the cost of the system. The system as it stands is inherently wasteful. So if we changed, it would mean that we could focus on the things we are good at.
  • This extends beyond just nonprofits. In the social enterprise world, you spend more time figuring out how to say what you do in under 3 minutes than actually doing the thing.
  • “Pitching” is rewarding the wrong skills. It rewards the debate society skills learned at Oxford/Harvard, rather than the social change skills learned in the community.
  • A producers’ cooperative would be like a farmers’ market, where the foundations are the producers. A buyers’ cooperative would be like ACE Hardware, where the individual stores come together to buy things cheaper. What would it look like if the nonprofits were to act as a buyers’ cooperative to leverage more power than they could individually?
  • There would be trust. The reason foundations do what they do is that there’s a system of distrust. “Good” would look like a trust-based system where the assumption is that it works and the goal is to connect; We don’t have a trusted holder of public funds. What does a trust-based system look like when we have a need to reinvest?
  • The ideal is the communities would just have what they need to thrive, but we’re not there yet and there needs to be an in-between space.
  • We are embedded in a system of competing for scarcity and this is where the current process thrives. A change would include cooperation and enoughness. It’s all out there.
  • Trust would feel like everything that needs resourcing gets what it needs.
  • Relating back to the idea of “The Table”: if there is no table, then it’s simply about conversation, fractals, and networks. If it’s about conversations then it’s about expanding the narrative.
  • What do we mean by healthy agency, by helping, and by contributing?
  • There are entities in experimentation right now and doing amazing things. The word needs to get out more and be heard, shared, and testimonialized.
  • Examples: Thriving Resilient Communities Collaborative, Baobab Foundation
  • We would peel back the layers of the words that we’re using
  • We would facilitate mutual agreement around the future we want to see
  • -1 is competing for scarcity, 0 is cooperating with availability, and +1 is flourishing from enough
  • We seem to have a place of “stuckness”: we keep asking what good would look like in a shitty system. Do we need to accept this reality? If we didn’t have this system, what would resourcing social change look like?
  • Example: Partnership for Hope – 14 organizations share and have access to a shopping center for youth aging out of foster care
  • What if organizations shared resources and funding?
  • If there were no foundations or current systems, what would resourcing community look like? What would the ideal system of resourcing community look like?
  • The Whitman Institute did a deep dive and decided to divest of all funds and sunset. Their next iteration will be to become the Trust-Based Philanthropy Network. They were doing ok until they became an organization. The future must be fluid and based on collective enoughness, not necessarily formalized under structures that demand that hoops be jumped.
  • All the money is behind a dam and unless someone opens the valve, the money doesn’t come out, but if we remove the dam, then the resource can flow and the ecosystem can thrive.
  • If none of the current system existed, we would be in community with each other and everyone would provide. It would be a “we” and not an “us/them.”
  • It would feel like us, like we’re all in this together.

Reflections: During our conversation, what stood out to you?

  • If we could inventory the Six Types of Working Genius in a clear way, maybe this would be a step towards transacting more towards skills and gifts rather than monetizing them.
  • A New and Ancient Story
  • Asset-Based Community Development
  • “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” R. Buckminster Fuller
  • We have good quality conversations when there are more people present for these meetings
  • The 2008 financial crash ended neoliberal settlement. Economies are just not working for people anymore and everyone is looking for the next settlement. Not enough people are asking about the role of community moving forward. We shouldn’t ask how to fix what’s there already, but what’s next.
  • There’s a difference between movements and organizations.
  • In the social change arena, we have a unique ability to completely reinvent the systems we work in because we don’t have a profit mandate
  • When you feel stuck in whatever the conversation is, it’s an indication to go higher. We’re asking what funding should look like. We need to be asking what community should look like. We need to have conversations that don’t immediately feel like they have anything to do with resourcing.
  • We’re trying to fix a problem and that goes back to the -1 all over again. We need to create something.

What’s Next?

As Creating the Future continues to advocate for resourcing systems that reflect the equitable, humane, healthy future we want to see, the following are next steps for that effort.

  • Engage others. As we have imagined what is possible, it is important to engage others who are having these conversations, as that is the only way that change will happen – all of us together. Building / engaging / reimagining the whole field of social change vs. one or two organizations having these conversations in a vacuum.
  • That means board members engaging in those conversations – finding those conversations, getting involved with them, and inviting people from those places to join our conversations as well.
  • Move beyond the existing conversation about reforming philanthropy, and start asking what it would take to resource healthy communities, period – what would that resourcing look like if it reflected the communities we all want to live in?

We hope you will join in as we continue to explore this topic!

Photo credit: Photo by Monstera from Pexels

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