Interview with Cynthia Carey-Grant
by Pamela Gerloff
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
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?
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.
And what is that highest level of purpose?
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?
How do people “democratize the impulse to make a difference”
and become more effective in creating positive change?
One wonderful resource is the book
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.
How can individuals leverage their resources to “make
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
, 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.
Can you give an example of leveraging philanthropic resources
by drawing on community expertise?
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.
What is your ultimate goal in “democratizing philanthropy”?
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
resources and information about social change philanthropy,
community foundations, and other organizations that seek
to democratize philanthropy, visit:
Carey-Grant is a senior consultant to
a nonprofit organization that collaborates with others to
transform the field of philanthropy.
© 1990-2005, More Than Money, All rights reserved