The Understated Importance of Privilege

Mark Hecker’s, Founder and Executive Director of Reach Incorporated, recent blog post on the Unsectored gave me pause.

However, as “data” and “impact” have become larger factors in funding decisions, a frightening selection bias is emerging.

It has become commonplace for funders – corporate, foundation, and individual – to require “proof” before any money is provided. Often, institutional funders will not even consider a request before an organization has been operating for a number of years. So, how is an organization supposed to survive those first few years? How can a great idea see the light of day without the support of the philanthropic community? To this point, the answer has been stated without question. Those in the philanthropic community often say, without reservation, that early organizations must “bootstrap it” or “start off with friends and family.”

Clearly, I still have a lot to learn about the nuisances of grant making. Each decision to fund or not to fund an organization is colored by an organization’s own experience and knowledge base. Hecker further explains, “that his [organization’s] success is almost completely attributable to my own personal privilege,” but so often the philanthropy community does not acknowledge these intricacies. Because of this curious observers may assume that the grant making process is shrouded in a layer of secrecy or worse inexplicable luck. But, how can we be thoughtful and effective grant makers if we are not addressing this? Furthermore, why should the public or private donors continue to champion our causes if we’re not taking a critically assessing how and why organization’s succeed?

We are supposed to care about improving our communities and do the best we can to carry out the organization’s mission, right? But if we are not addressing the personal assumptions and expectations we as grant makers each have, what good are actually doing?

More specifically,

“How do we create a community where organizational success doesn’t require personal privilege?

As I continue to understand what personal privileges I benefit from, I realize that it’s a difficult task to take on. And for many people, they are still uncomfortable talking about their own privileges in an open and honest way. But, I sometimes I wonder if it is because we fear that acknowledging our own privilege means it may be challenged.

 

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Well, what do you think?