What does love have to do with philanthropy?


Alandra Washington


I was truly inspired during the 2019 Council on Foundations breakfast and opening session plenary session on Tuesday 30 April. The reminder of the meaning of philanthropy, the love of human kind, was a clarion call for all of us in the philanthropic sector to examine and deeply reflect on not only what we do, but how we do it.

As Kathleen Enright, the new president and CEO of the Council on Foundations, opened up the conference with her keynote address Transforming Ourselves To Transform The World, she took us back first to the origins of the word philanthropy—a word which can sometimes seem amorphous. She admonished us to begin with the premise of love as a way to do even more to transform our communities, the country, even the world. She also challenged us to understand how we must continue to transform ourselves in order to do the real work of helping to transform our communities. Following Kathleen’s keynote address was a panel moderated by Tonya Allen, president & CEO at the Skillman Foundation, who concurred with Kathleen’s premise and pushed us a little further to think about philanthropy as an exercise in radical love. The distinguished panelists—Don Chen, president, Surdna Foundation; Brian Hooks, president, Charles Koch Foundation and Jessamyn Shams-Lau, executive director, Peery Foundation, all shared with us how they believe radical love is practiced in this privileged space we sit, called philanthropy.

This dynamic opening to the conference shared many key learnings and nuggets of wisdom in the pursuit of being intentional about how love shows up in philanthropy:

Love is being intentional in creating just and equitable communities where space is created for all voices to come to the table, reshape and even transform the table.

Love is ensuring our grantees and community partners are sitting at the table in upholstered chairs instead of folding chairs (Tonya, thanks for that clear analogy).

Love is as funders being vulnerable about our failures and admitting to our grantees, partners and communities that we made a mistake, and then learning from it.

Love is shifting the power to our grantees and partners, listening and learning from them and allowing them to lead the way.

Love is no longer working in the philanthropic gilded box.

Love is purposely moving into uncomfortable spaces in an effort to make real impactful and transformational change.

Love is taking a risk with those whom you have not traditionally worked with and who are outside of your philanthropic clique.

Love is being frustrated with the status quo and being willing to do something about it.

Without this kind of intentional love showing up in all the work we do, philanthropy becomes just another empty 12-letter word.

Dr. Alandra Washington is vice president of quality and organizational effectiveness and transformation lead for the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.

Comments (2)

Jacquelyn King

I need this framed and put up in my office. Equity, humility, accountability, empowerment, innovation, risk, change and growth. Thank you so much for sharing, Alandra!

Philip Scamihorn

I LOVE this reminder! And he who abides in Love...

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