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Let's Put Love Back into Philanthropy

Thursday, April 26, 2018

NCG member, Masha Chernyak of the Latino Community Foundation recently spoke at our event, Social Justice in Disaster. She touched on relationship building with grantees and what trust brings to the way we do grantmaking. Hear more about her take on relationships with nonprofits and why love is a key ingredient, below. 

By Masha V. Chernyak, Vice President of Programs and Policy, Latino Community Foundation

How do we measure love? Asked Sammy, Founder and CEO of Fathers & Families of San Joaquin, during our Latino Nonprofit Accelerator retreat session that focused on evaluation. The question struck me—and everyone else in the room. Why is that such a radical question, I wondered. Why are we so afraid to talk about love?

In the nonprofit sector, love is the secret ingredient, the programs are a vehicle.

In the first-ever Latino Nonprofit Accelerator, an incubator for grassroots nonprofits, we are putting love at the center of our work. We’ve written it into our Theory of Change. Through the 15-month intensive Accelerator, we provide grants, access to world class design, fundraising mentorship, culturally rooted retreats, and hands on support to amplify the work of our nonprofits, ensuring they grow into strong, anchor institutions.

But we know we will fail if we only focus on skills, knowledge, and training. We must build confidence and change organizational culture. We must inspire our leaders to prioritize fundraising and to see it as an extension of their community organizing. I know that we can’t get there without love and respect for our leaders.

As Cornel West said, “you can’t lead the people, if you don’t love the people.” 

Latino nonprofit leaders often tell me that they feel alone in this work, forgotten by philanthropy. It’s been my personal mission to make them feel seen and heard. Through the Accelerator, we are introducing them to other funders, mentors and allies who are eager to meet and support them. That works has already been transformational for everyone involved.

As for the Accelerator, we have big goals! We want to help each organization raise new revenue, increase visibility, and own their incredible impact. We will be measuring their success and ours. We will be asking ourselves—were we honest, vulnerable, did we, the funder, show up as our full selves? Did we listen with compassion and understanding? Did we give hugs? Did we care about our nonprofit leaders as people, and did we lighten their load? And most importantly, did it make a difference?

So what does success look like for our groundbreaking Accelerator? It’s when our nonprofits step into their full power. It’s when they define their own measurements, share their authentic stories, and make big, bold asks to funders. It’s when they feel lighter, stronger, and bolder. It’s when they have the power and resources to stay on mission. It’s when their big dreams are fully funded and their staff are thriving.

Over the years, I’ve learned that our grant investments matter. But they are not everything. It’s how we show up that really matters. It’s how we listen and how we love. After all, it is what our nonprofits give to our youth, our families, and our communities— a sense of hope, healing, and belonging. As for the funders and mentors we are engaging in the cohort, they are our extended family. It’s time to get rid of the us vs. them in the philanthropic sector. It’s not serving anyone. Success is getting to “we, the people.”

If we are really working towards social change, we must put people at the center of our work. I don’t think we can build strong institutions, change policy, and shift the narrative about our communities without love. It’s the key ingredient. It’s time we own it, measure it, and communicate its power. Philanthropy needs it, and the world needs it too.

For those of you in philanthropy who are reading this and saying to yourselves… it’s too hard to change our culture or to put love into our grantmaking process, I challenge you. Every day, we are asking our nonprofits leaders to change complex systems, like the criminal justice and education system. Have you ever heard them say, that’s too complex of an issue to tackle, it’s too hard to change? I haven’t. That’s why I’m so passionate about my work and why I’m fighting to put people…and love back into philanthropy. It’s the least I can do.