Pam offers insights on the field, compares government transparency to what she sees in Philanthropy, gives her thoughts on Philanthropy’s role in community change and what she thinks Philanthropy should be doing.
Here are some of the highlights.
On what she’s learned about philanthropy since coming to it from government:
“When I first came to work in philanthropy my first impressions were “No accountability, no urgency.” Particularly compared to the multiple layers of public oversight and transparency in my old job…What I’ve found in this arena is that there is tremendous accountability to the trustees, and rightly so, but the only external accountability is what you yourself bring to the table.”
Comparing accountability in government and philanthropy:
“When a nonprofit drug abuse clinic imploded, my colleagues in the public health department had to somehow maintain those services…A key underlying difference is that local government has real responsibilities for the community; its failure to act responsibly and timely has real-life impact.
In most of philanthropy we aren’t responsible in the same way. So, for example, even if a foundation had a grant to that same childcare center, it wouldn’t necessarily feel responsible for making sure those parents had a place to take their kids the next day. It’s not that philanthropy should be the same as local government. I get that we play different roles. But philanthropy definitely has things to learn from its public sector counterpart.”
On taking risks:
“Part of my old job was running a community development loan fund, and I learned the importance of balancing risk in a portfolio. If every business we made loans to was successful, then we knew we weren’t reaching the people who most needed our community development money, that we probably weren’t making loans to all of the right people.
From what I’ve seen, most foundations don’t usually look at risk in balancing their grants portfolios. As a sector, we are more risk averse than our governmental counterparts, and yet have less reason for being so.”
On philanthropy’s ability to drive community change:
“…I wouldn’t be here if I thought philanthropy couldn’t do a thing. Philanthropy is critical in supporting community change, social change. But…I don’t see philanthropy as the driver of change. I see philanthropic resources — both intellectual and financial — as incredibly important, but when we forget we’re the flea, not the elephant, philanthropy can make tremendous miscalculations.”
On what philanthropy should be doing:
“First, if we’re serious about community change, we can’t do it without the community…
Second, we need to have effective relationships with government, particularly on the local level…
And, yes, part of our role should be R&D: supporting innovation when it really adds value, helping make good work great, investing in leadership and strengthening organizational infrastructure…”
Read Blue Avocado’s full interview/article with NCG member Pam David online.