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Confluence Philanthropy: When Will Philanthropy Lean Into Funding the Plumbing?

- By Tina Joh

This blog was originally posted on the Confluence Philanthropy website. You can read the original article here.

I had the opportunity to join a Confluence Philanthropy event for the first time in March, in a lovely, sustainable setting in Brooklyn.

Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisor’s session on “Yes, But Can it Scale” on the second day of the conference came after hearing some unpleasant truths – since 1995 women and people of color in high status and high power jobs have plateaued – and before more unpleasant truths to come – nearly a quarter, or 24%, of California’s workforce lives in poverty. But this standing room only lunchtime session offered some action-oriented options and ideas for taking our innovative day-to-day, deal-by-deal work and blowing it up so that we can shift to an “impact economy”, in short, an economy where social and environmental goals drive how markets, finance and investment work, not the other way around.

Investment managers came to learn more about the role they can play in helping scale social businesses; funders came to learn more about the role of philanthropy towards building the broader field of impact.

Our moderator Heather Grady, VP of Global Philanthropy at RPA, queried a rock star panel that helped pack the room. As investment managers and philanthropists, they each described their perspectives on scaling and what it takes.

–        Funder and Investor Laura Callanan with Upstart Co-Lab and NYC Inclusive Creative Economy Fund described how a “creativity lens” to investing allows artists, as the original social entrepreneurs to use unrestricted capital to grow and scale.

–        Venture Capitalist and Entrepreneur Kesha Cash from Impact America Fund described how the wealth of knowledge that traditionally overlooked communities hold contributes to individual enterprise impact but also to overall community health.

–        Investor and Philanthropist Eric Stephenson with Cordes Foundation and Align Impactdescribed how the foundation uses both philanthropic grants and return seeking investments to achieve impact; 100% of its balance sheet goes toward impact.

–        Thought Leader and Lender Susan Witt with Schumacher Center for a New Economicsdiscussed investing and contracting methods that achieved both return and impact for local economies.

Not coincidentally, Kesha, Eric, Susan and Laura’s responses aligned with the actions and recommendations featured in Impact Entrepreneur and RPA’s report that stemmed from a 2018 convening, Building an Impact Economy: Call to Action.  This call to action asked of us, as funders, to commit a bare minimum of 1% of assets—meaning both philanthropy and return seeking capital—to building a coordinated infrastructure for the movement. Just 1%. To map the movement, clarifying who is doing what and what gaps need to be filled.  To create a “strategic umbrella” back at our foundations that will that will integrate both philanthropic and return seeking all capital in one funding continuum – break down silos, so to speak. And to shift fiduciary culture towards mission orientation.  It’s been a while since the US Department of Treasury changed rules that will let us expand our definition of risk. Let’s do something with this.

While each panelist had their unique story, everyone’s remarks reminded us that right now there is not enough philanthropic support for the collective infrastructure to help it scale.  We are afraid that as funders, we don’t understand the criticality of movement infrastructure.

It can be difficult for us to feel excited about supporting infrastructure. Truth be told: my kneejerk reaction while registering for this conference was to conserve my professional development budget.  Then I realized that Confluence, as one of the premiere movement builders in the space, needs infrastructure support itself.

If these four stories are not enough to convince us, our own field provides strong evidence that funding infrastructure works. Emerging research findings of Ford Foundation’s Building Institutions and Networks (BUILD) program—a $1 billion initiative to fund the long-term capacity and sustainability of nonprofits—found that funding infrastructure (through flexible funding) works:  flexible funding… shows considerable promise as a transformative approach to social justice grant-making.  The Full Cost Project recommends an evolved grantmaking framework based on what it actually costs an organization to achieve its mission. The upshot: supporting infrastructure and talent. In the environmental field, a new infrastructure organization, Mosaic, out of the Pisces Foundation, is created with the theory of change that a stronger environmental movement infrastructure will lead to more environmental wins.

We were presented with more truths and more transparency like no other conference I’ve attended.  We have been called to action.  Let’s answer.

This blog was originally posted on the Confluence Philanthropy website. You can read the original article here.

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