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Asking for a friend...Why does philanthropy change its focus and strategy so often?

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Why does philanthropy change its focus and strategy so often, and on time frames that are unrealistic for minor victories let alone systemic change? 


This week's column was written by NCG's very own President and CEO, Dwayne S. Marsh. Thank you Dwyane for sharing your wisdom with the field!



Dear Why Does Philanthropy Change Its Focus,  

This is not a new question for the field. I can remember from my early days in philanthropy in the mid-90s having the same query. This field is never as monolithic as it seems. Even then, some foundations made deep, substantial investments that recognized the importance of confronting inequitable systems. Yet too often we see institutions show impatience, abandoning an approach before it has time to take root, particularly in the communities which need the most sustained investment.  

(It’s worth noting philanthropy isn’t the only sector where this happens, but that’s the subject for another Asking For A Friend). 

The irony is some of this emerges from a deep sense of accountability on the part of a foundation. There is an intense desire to show strong stewardship of the resources entrusted to philanthropy; when the metrics don’t move quickly, there is tremendous pressure to course correct, or move to a new “answer” even before the investment has had the chance to make a meaningful impact.  

This decade has made the need to invest with both scale and scope crystal clear to a growing swath of our sector. At NCG, we sit at the fulcrum of a field evolving to demonstrate it can support transformation in our most trying times. This is why we have chosen to ground our practice in a commitment to racial equity, because we know it is essential to confront the systems that have withheld political and economic power from so many – even the systems in our own industry – and build meaningful timetables for change.   

This is also why it matters who your partners are. It requires us to hold the line on the long arc toward justice even as we act with all of the alacrity the moment demands. Centering equity demands that we invest in those at the forefront and unleash their ability to lead the collective transformation we need.

NCG is a community to turn to that holds the values you embrace if you seek solidarity. Stay the course. Make long-term investments in grounded partners. This is a key part of that evolution. And increasingly, we see our members stepping up and doing just that.  

Good luck, and let us know how we can be a part of your journey.

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