Working in philanthropy often means simultaneously holding competing values as true, or at least viable. And, there are many classic tensions of values in philanthropy to navigate. Strategic philanthropy, relationship-driven philanthropy, and impulsive giving can all useful tactics. Donors can be both builders and buyers in their support of nonprofits’ growth. The freedom of nonprofits to evolve in the pursuit of their missions and the firm legal protection of donor rights can comfortably co-exist. Effective conservation happens through both systemic policy change and individual action.
I’ll admit that I’m a “both-and” philanthropoid and a pragmatic optimist. I’ve worked for too many types of donors and grantmaking committees to be completely stuck on one approach to giving or community problem-solving. Of course, I have biases based on experience and upbringing and a firm set of values for my personal giving. But, I’m generally willing to help donors and grantmaking committees pursue the philanthropic pathways and giving styles that are most meaningful to each of them.
My “both-and” brain was excited when I read Have Your People Call our People, a recent opinion piece in NPQ by the John R. Oishei Foundation’s Paul Hogan. Hogan wrote about the competing tensions of grassroots culture and organization culture in philanthropy. In short, donors biased to a grassroots culture celebrate individual neighborhood champions and entrepreneurs. Donors biased to an organization culture put their faith in established nonprofits and structured planning processes.
Hogan does a good job of showing the faults in both cultures and of describing the challenges of navigating the middle ground between them. His experience likely feels familiar to members of Grassroots Grantmakers and other grassroots-oriented donors and philanthropoids who are surrounded by organization culture types.
I’ve encountered both criticism and support when I’ve worked in both of those cultures. Like Hogan, I see the value and problems of both. Most of all, I wish more donors, grantmakers, and nonprofit leaders were willing to work in both cultures – simultaneously holding both to be truly viable and helpful.