Social justice philanthropy

The true measure of the wealthy should be their generosity, said Bradford Smith, president of the Foundation Center.

“If philanthropy is indeed becoming the new status symbol of the wealthy it will do a lot more to change the world than buying Gucci bags,” he said.

This is an excerpt from a recent Reuters article about the way in which philanthropy has become a new status symbol among the ultra-wealthy. On the one hand, it’s promising and true. Indeed, if more wealthy people were donating to Oxfam, that would have more of a social impact than were they to use this same amount of money on a shopping spree at Tiffany’s. It doesn’t matter what their motivation is as long as it gets money out of their bank accounts and into those of organizations doing good work around the world.

On the other hand, it reminds me of how wildly far we are from going after real parity when we’re giddy about the fact that rich people might donate their monthly handbag budget to “those less fortunate.” As INCITE! details in The Revolution Will Not Be Funded, the dynamics of philanthropy are far more complex than most of us admit. Wealthy donors making idiosyncratic choices about who deserves money, and how much, replicates the power dynamics that created inequalities in the first place, and rarely do much to foster real, systemic change. For more on this and other foundational ideas of “social justice philanthropy”–a radical new approach to wealth redistribution, check out Tyrone Boucher, below, who also writes a blog called Enough. (This, by the way, is one of eight new videos that some friends of mine have just produced in conjunction with my new book, Do It Anyway.)

Thanks to Felice for the heads up.

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One Comment

  1. Posted August 20, 2010 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

    Do people give to be patted on the back or out of being inwardly moved to make things better? That seems to be the central question to me.

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