More Than Money
Issue #32

Passing the Torch: The Great Wealth Transfer

Table of Contents

“The Impulse to Make a Difference”

An Interview with Cynthia Carey-Grant

Interviewed by Pamela Gerloff

A lot of people want to do good in the world, and at some point, they begin to think about how they can use their wealth to help others beyond just their own family. We spoke with Cynthia Carey-Grant, senior consultant to Changemakers, to explore what it would mean for individuals to think in new ways about increasing the impact of their legacy in the world.

MTM: You have said, “As this nation engages in a historic transfer of unprecedented wealth, it is imperative that the philanthropic sector prepare for the resulting moral questions.” What moral questions do you think individuals need to be aware of as they consider giving philanthropically?

Carey-Grant: For me, the issue is not so much about whether individuals will be philanthropic—most philanthropic money comes from individuals—it’s about how people will be philanthropic. How will they make decisions about where they will give their money? Who will be included in those decisions? How those questions get answered will determine whether or not philanthropy will be allowed to reach its highest level of purpose.

MTM: And what is that highest level of purpose?

Carey-Grant: I think it is to democratize the impulse to make a difference—so that your philanthropy is not just something that comes from your own personal issues, but instead meets a genuine need that is identified by the people who need it. It’s shifting the paradigm so that not so much of the inspiration for giving comes from our limited individual experience. How do we change our giving so that it becomes more strategic and effective in creating positive social change?

MTM: How do people “democratize the impulse to make a difference” and become more effective in creating positive change?

Carey-Grant: One wonderful resource is the book Inspired Philanthropy by Tracy Gary. That book will help guide individuals who want to leave a legacy of good with their money. It’s a workbook that helps you examine your own philanthropic vision, mission, and goals, and put them into action.
    The book also helps readers look more broadly at creating change. It used to be that wealthy individuals would just decide on their own where they wanted to focus their philanthropy— and that’s O.K., but a new vision of philanthropy is emerging. We’re trying to solve complex problems and, to do that, we need the assistance of experts who can address community problems. If you’re in business, you have a responsibility to the people who have a piece of your business. You make decisions in some areas and you go to experts to help you in other areas. The same principle should be applied when you want to make a contribution in the greater society. Financial resources are just one component of the solution.

MTM: How can individuals leverage their resources to “make a contribution”?

Carey-Grant: One myth typically associated with philanthropy is that we don’t have enough resources. I disagree with that. We have plenty of resources—what we don’t have is the will to leverage them and use them in the most strategic way. So the first step is to recognize the need to be strategic and develop the will to do it.
    We also have some strange ideas about money. For example, individuals will go to lots of places to get advice on how to make money, but they don’t seek out advice about how to leverage money to make a significant difference in the world. However, there is a burgeoning industry now where people are starting to provide support and assistance for making philanthropic decisions. There is a whole sector of community-based philanthropic organizations where people are working to shift inequities. There are all kinds of women’s funds, people of color funds, and gay and lesbian funds, for example, and there are people working with them who can help you and inform you. Lots of family foundations are identifying ways to be much more informed about their giving. Some are even pooling their resources with organizations such as the Funding Exchange , which is a nationwide network of community-based foundations that are funding social change. It’s all about democratizing philanthropy, where the people who are being affected by funding decisions have input into them. Under this model, just because you have the financial resources doesn’t give you the whole say.

MTM: Can you give an example of leveraging philanthropic resources by drawing on community expertise?

Carey-Grant: Let’s say I care about reproductive rights and, in particular, about how reproductive rights impact young women of color. Maybe I don’t have personal experi- ence with that, but I want to make a difference in that area and I have a million or 10 million dollars to put toward it. My challenge would be finding the organizations that have the expertise to address the problem and finding an institution to which I can give resources that follows principles of accountability and inclusive decision-making. If we don’t take this kind of approach, we’re just continuing to do things the way we’ve always done them. One definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.

MTM: What is your ultimate goal in “democratizing philanthropy”?

Carey-Grant: The bottom line, for me, is whether or not we’ll be able to use our philanthropic resources to create a just society for all people. I think that means that we have to invite people to participate with us in deciding what that looks like and how we’re going to create it. That’s where sharing decision-making, as challenging as it may be, and valuing different perspectives can make a difference.

For resources and information about social change philanthropy, community foundations, and other organizations that seek to democratize philanthropy, visit: .

Cynthia Carey-Grant is a senior consultant to Changemakers , a nonprofit organization that collaborates with others to transform the field of philanthropy.

© 1990-2005, More Than Money, All rights reserved