A Time to Give
29 May 2017 at 8:47 am
Dr Jason Franklin is a philanthropist, a passionate advocate for increasing charitable giving, an award-winning adjunct professor and the first holder of the W.K. Kellogg Community Philanthropy Chair. He is this week’s Changemaker.
In 2016 Franklin was named in The Chronicle of Philanthropy’s 40 under 40 honor roll of innovators in the US at the intersection of philanthropy and public service.
He is a highly-rated speaker and advisor, working with everyone from new young donors to high net worth families and has a background in grantmaking and donor education, not for profit strategy and leadership, social entrepreneurship, and urban policy advocacy.
In June 2015 he was appointed as the W.K. Kellogg Community Philanthropy Chair at the Johnson Center for Philanthropy.
In his latest role his aim is to make community philanthropy more effective and to explore how to best mobilise donors to give together in a community and to specific communities amid the shifting economic, social, political and philanthropic patterns that are reshaping philanthropy.
He previously served as executive director of New York City-based Bolder Giving, which inspires people to give big and take more risks with their philanthropy and was credited by Melinda Gates as an inspiration for the billionaire Giving Pledge.
As an adjunct professor at New York University Franklin teaches the next generation of young social change leaders and philanthropists about the impacts of philanthropy on policymaking and the changing trends of giving and the nonprofit sector.
He has also served on the boards of the Proteus Fund, Solidaire Donor Network, WiserGiving, and 21st Century School Fund and is a member of the Funding Queerly Giving Circle, Threshold Foundation, and the High Impact Documentary Funding Circle.
What can Australia learn from America in terms of philanthropy?
One of the things I’ve been talking a lot about with people this week has just been the willingness of American philanthropists to engage in policy work, and engage in the work of social justice movements and economic justice movements, which I think is really critical globally, in Australia and in other parts of the world as well.
We are living in a moment of heightened economic inequality and that partly is making philanthropy possible but it’s also undermining the institutions that allow for vibrant societies to continue to exist.
So I think you are seeing a step-up of American philanthropists engaging in movement work and fights for justice and that is something that I hope, more often Australian philanthropists will do as well.
In terms of the current global climate, there has been lots of change and upheaval in the past 12 months, and the US has just seen the end of Trump’s First 100 days. Is philanthropy reacting in the right way to the world today?
I think philanthropy is starting to react to that in the right ways, but it is definitely just a start. We finished Trump’s first 100 days, he has introduced his first budget which has horrifying implications for tens of millions of people in the US. His proposed changes in health care law would leave 23 million Americans without health insurance and philanthropy is responding, but not big enough and not strong enough yet, to push back against these types of threats.
So, I remain hopeful that we are at the start of a journey of increased strength and increased mobilisation but it is really going to be critical for hundreds and thousands more people to step-up if we are going to see the fight won rather than lost.
You have said before that “giving has to move at the speed of trust”. Can you expand on that?
So that is actually a quote from Alicia Garza who was one of the co-founders of the Movement for Black Lives, and it was in talking to philanthropists. Solidare helped organise an event at the Ford Foundation that Alicia spoke at. And she said that, in order for our new movements for justice that are rising up in the last two or three years and continue to sprout – from the climate justice alliance, and the climate march, to the Black Lives Matter movement – social change is happening more quickly than ever, movement mobilisation and protests and direct action are happening more quickly and so philanthropy also has to respond by moving faster and historically philanthropy is a slow moving vehicle.
We invite you to submit a proposal then we’re going to look at the proposal, then we’ll invite you to submit further details, then we’re going to review it, we’ll do a site visit, we’ll have three meetings, we’ll sit and think about it a little bit more and then finally six or seven or eight months later, a grant will be made. Social movements will have progressed radically faster than a six or eight month cycle. So giving at the speed of trust, means actually changing our own processes in philanthropy to match the pace of social change and movements around us.
How can philanthropy speed up?
I think there are a couple of things that can be done. One, is to actually segregate our money. Much of our giving will still move at a more steady pace, because social change is also a long-term work. So one strategy is setting aside some part of your grant budget, 5 per cent or 10 per cent, $5,000 or $10,000, you can do it dollar wise as well. Say this money will move faster, we won’t require as much paperwork, we’ll do shorter proposals, we won’t need to get everybody’s sign off, we’ll empower one or two decision makers within a foundation. You can set those structures aside. And I do think smaller dollars can move more quickly. Bigger dollars need increased due diligence, and so we’ll do it more slowly.
As you mentioned there is a need for long-term work. In America you are starting to see some five-year funding plans, what is the benefit of having that longer term?
Five year funding is still incredible rare in the United States as well, it is partly why within Solidaire we launched this campaign and we picked out The Movement for Black Lives as the first movement. We are hoping over time to be able to work with immigrant justice movements, economic justice movements, climate justice, to replicate this model in other communities. But to make a five year commitment really changes the power dynamic between donor and activist to say: “We’re with you as an ally and a partner over the long term.”
What I have been really so surprised by is how it has also changed the nature of the conversations and the nature of the plans. That after making a five year commitment organisational leaders can feel more empowered to have honest conversations with their donors, because they don’t have to worry about how things will look when I have to come back in three months or six months and ask for money again.
And we’ve also seen organisations start to really think, more expansively themselves: what are the types of campaigns over three or five years that are going to be needed and to acknowledge that wins take time and rather than having to make an overly optimistic pitch to get money for one year, that really isn’t going to viable, you can make a really thoughtful pitch about how are we going to build a five year campaign, start to develop the ideas, recruit the people, do the mobilisations, shift three times as we lose or things change, to get to a place of victory over three, four, five year times. I think it is actually leading us to create better strategies because we are being more honest.
So why doesn’t it happen more often?
You give up power when you make a multi-year commitment. You make a judgement now and there is a certain dynamic of wanting to be needed every year. You have to let go of your own ego and really realise that the focus of moving the resources is about the movement, not about me. That’s hard for some people.
I think it’s also just going against decades of practice, that for better or worse, or sometimes not even for any reason except it is what we’ve always done, we continue to do what we always did. So we have developed systems, we have developed whole board meeting cycles and everything else around a six month grant cycle or a nine month grant cycle and change takes time, and people are just hesitant of any change. Lord knows I need to adopt a new fitness workout but I haven’t done that either.
There has been a lot of controversy recently around the massive donation made by Andrew Forrest. When high profile figures such as him make a donation it is often celebrated and questioned in the media. It becomes about the person as much as the donation. Does that matter or is money, money?
There are lots of questions embedded in that question! I am a firm believer in celebrating generosity. Anybody who chooses to give, I celebrate the decision to give, because I think our societies are better when more people act in a generous way and so, that’s a first and a baseline.
There are a lot of other people with a similar scale of resources to Andrew Forrest who didn’t give at that scale and so at one level, incredible praise is due to him and every other individual who makes a decision to give, especially those who choose to give big. And he is a billionaire so the gift of even $400 million has a different impact on his own life than somebody who is making $30,000 a year who chooses to give $1,000. I think we also need to hold as a society proportionality better and celebrate what each gift means for the person who gave it. And so at Bolder Giving, the organisation I used to run, we focused on the question of how much people were giving as a per cent of what they had to give, so to really always frame it in terms of proportionality. Because we overlook many small gifts because they are smaller, even if the sacrifice to make them was much bigger.
The last thing is around, what the giving goes to, and I think there we all bring our own values and our own assessment for are these the most important things in our society. And there is room for a lot of debate and a lot of discussion. I think in Australia and in the US, we would both be better to have more conversation as a society about what are the most urgent issues, and then to celebrate the generosity of everybody giving to every issue and encouraging more giving to the most high priority issues at the same time.
Philanthropists who have a lot of money, in one sense, get to choose the cause that gets helped while people who don’t have that money don’t have the same power. But are philanthropists the best people to choose where we spend the money?
So this is one of those questions that is hard to synthesize down to one that can go into an article. Because we live in a society that has private property ownership, so if I make money, it is my money and I have a decision making authority over it.
I have chosen personally to move a lot of the philanthropy I move through shared decision making vehicles, like the North Star Fund in New York city that actually engages activists to be the leaders and deciding where grants are made. So I was on the board of the North Star Fund for 10 years, a donor to the North Star Fund and I didn’t decide where those gifts went, activists decided instead. I think that especially if you are focused on social change, inviting those who are on the front lines of justice to actually have a voice in deciding where resources are going to fuel the fight for justice, makes for better grant making.
But again I think it is both, and I want to celebrate generosity, and actually talk about power and decision-making tied to effectiveness in decision-making. If you believe in focusing on cancer research I think engaging cancer researchers in the decision making about how to do it rather than deciding to be the expert will make your own giving around cancer research better. If you are focused on the arts, engaging artists and curators and collectors to help you think about how to advance the arts, will make your art giving, better.
With people at the top-end, do they have a responsibility to give?
Particularly at a moment like today where we have such extreme inequalities in wealth, I think we are literally coming to the point of fraying and even breaking the social bonds that are implicit in the social contract to be our society. That everybody has the opportunity for success, that hard work can set you up for taking care of your family, and leading a life that is fulfilled, we have such a concentration of resources that those basic promises that our societies are founded on are more and more often being called into question and I think it is both incumbent on people with wealth, and I include myself in that equation, we have to give more, not just enjoy wealth for our own sake but for what it is to the broader society. And ultimately we need a society and a government and a set of laws and regulations that promotes a more equal distribution of wealth. I think that when that happens it will be better for me, as well as those who do not have. I think I would be better off as a person with wealth if wealth was more equally distributed, because the quality of our environment, the quality of our arts, the quality of our cities would be lifted up and I would benefit from that equal distribution.
In terms of the next generation, hundreds of thousand of young people did not register to vote in the last election in Australia despite it being mandatory and a lot of people think millennials are disengaged in the current systems. How does philanthropy intersect with that?
So one of the things that I think is really critical, we started to see in the US, from a decline in participation and a walking away, a re-engagement in civil society. The women’s march, the climate march, the march for science, that have all happened recently have all been record setting in the level of turnout in the US that we’ve had, particularly from young people and those in their teens, twenties and thirties. I think that is really critical. We need people to vote, walking away from the election will not lead to a more fair election, actual engagement and showing up is really critical.
But I said at the Next Gen event this morning, I am engaged in social enterprise myself, I have a project looking at partnering with a local NGO to help provide housing for formerly homeless veterans. And I think social enterprise is critical, but social enterprise isn’t enough, advocacy and organising is needed to complement social enterprise, but at the same time advocacy and organising is not enough because we need social enterprise to illustrate the type of world we want to live in, and the type of economy we think is just and sustainable and thriving for all. So we need both at the same time and we need to encourage people to engage in both. Not in either or situation.
Does philanthropy need to change to engage millennials in different ways?
Philanthropy is not a thing. Each thing that we change, changes philanthropy. Each launch of a new giving circle, each launch of a new donor community, changes philanthropy. I think there are changes that we have to undertake to change the field of philanthropy to be more effective.
In the US it has been a rising drumbeat to talk about inequality, to talk about climate change, to put questions of power at the centre of the conversations we engage in. When we politely dance around the uncomfortable conversations, we don’t end up with effective strategies. I think that is critical everywhere around the globe and I have been encouraging that here during my visit in Australia. I think risk taking is increasingly needed, and we will fail in some of our efforts for social change, we have to accept that, try and fail again, accept it, try and fail again and keep going until we succeed. I know the marriage equality movement for example, in the US went through multiple permutations, early success, dramatic failure, rebuilding, and another failure, rebuilding again, and ultimately we came to a point of success with the supreme court decision that led to full equality. There were moments along that journey where people could have quit and said marriage equality would never happen, but perseverance is critical when you are seeking social change. And so just like looking at the marriage equality movement here in Australia, the hope for a referendum which didn’t get realised, doesn’t mean you walk away from marriage equality, it means you sit down, develop the next strategy to keep working towards social change.
With a lot of charities they are very accountable to the people giving them money, they can be scared to risk the donations that have been given with such good intentions, so it can mean they avoid taking risks all together and are less innovative, how do you balance the two?
I think we have a very limited definition of failure in the field of philanthropy. We either say it was a wild success or a complete failure, when actually most things lie in the middle. It didn’t work out perfectly, but we learned. If you learned what didn’t work there is a success in that that will contribute to the next effort. And on the flip side, I can tell you, doing the same thing over and over will lead to failure of not achieving your bigger goals, even if you get measurable impact of re-employing four people but you haven’t ended unemployment, you have benefited five mothers, but you haven’t ended teen pregnancy. We could also judge many of our current activities as failures, for their inability to change the underlying dynamics that have lead them to be needed in the first place. And so when we reframe the questions of success and failure, to talk about immediate results and long term systemic change, we really change the equation of how we do our planning and what we’re willing to take on.
There is a of discussion now around storytelling, and about getting the right message across. Is there a lot of room for improvement in what we’re doing?
Oh my gosh there is so much room for improvement, we have so much room for improvement in the US as well, we are far from the experts and far from perfect. But facts are not stories. Presenting the facts in the right way is not actually storytelling, storytelling is about a journey, storytelling is about the personal experience, it is about the failures as well as the successes. I find that too often because we are all rushed for time, I have been working for years to get to email zero, and it is like that ever elusive goal of being caught up, and so we’re all in information overload and so we whittle down our pitch to something narrow and something specific: “If you give me $5,000 I can engage 15 students and teach them art”. That is set of stats that is not a story, and stats don’t inspire people to incredible generosity. They move people to renew their gift. So I think that storytelling is the key to reaching people at an emotional level, it is key to building trust in a deeper way, if I can explain the story to you of why I am launching something that is a bigger risk, you are more likely to join me and be along for the ride. But it is about giving ourselves the charge to develop stories that take longer to tell and longer to hear, because they provide the transformation that numbers never give us by themselves.