Half Empty is OK, But Full Disdain is Not

If we were to assemble America’s red and blue bubbles into a national Venn diagram, we wouldn’t see a lot of intersection on issues like pandemic response, but we would see big overlap in the realm of emotions. Disbelief. Suspicion. Anger. Fear. Exhaustion. Following this bitter election season, we all have some or all of these feelings vying for control of our psyches right now.

Of course this overlap won’t produce any warm, fuzzy feelings. But maybe, just maybe, they’ll give us a reason to start talking with each other at the local and state levels. Mario has already been approached about supporting an effort to help get people working together in communities in Ohio and move away from the view that the winning side simply gets its way. He’s also been in conversations about collaborating on efforts to advance nonviolence as well as encourage others just to meet and listen to the “other side.”

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During the long week of ballot counting, Lowell received an email from a mentor who invested most of his time mobilizing progressive donors and voters this year. Counterintuitively, the mentor was reaching out to express his disappointment that a respected foundation was giving up on efforts to mobilize philanthropists from across the aisle so it could focus only on a narrow set of liberal philanthropists. Why was he disappointed? His long career has proved to him that one-sided approaches that intentionally or inadvertently contribute to political polarization aren’t as effective as those that do the opposite.

We share these anecdotes in the spirit of encouraging you to test your empathy and use effectiveness, rather than ideological purity, as your lens for your work in your community. By all means, pursue your mission with passion! But please keep your eyes on the prize of long-term, sustainable change. For example, if you run a progressive nonprofit focused on climate change, how can you engage the conservative chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, who now says carbon pricing “is worth putting on the table?” If you lead a conservative organization promoting pro-business solutions, how can you build authentic relationships with community leaders focused on creating good jobs and economic inclusion?

We’ll be straight-up honest and admit that we’re both seeing the glass as half empty right now. That’s because our country is more than half full of contempt and disdain for “the other”—those who vote, think, worship, love, and look different than “we” do. So we’re going to try to engage leaders on the “other side” who care about community just as much as we do and feel just as strongly as we do about the corrosive effects of contempt. Building authentic relationships across tense divides is slow, painstaking work. But it’s really the only way.

In the spirit of empathy,

Signatures: Mario and Lowell
Mario and Lowell

Mario Morino is chairman of the Morino Institute, co-founder and founding chair of Venture Philanthropy Partners, and author of the lead essay in Leap of Reason. Lowell Weiss is president of Cascade Philanthropy Advisors, co-editor of Leap of Reason, and advisor to the Leap Ambassadors Community.

Updates From Around the Leap Community

We’re so excited for Leap Ambassador Fay Twersky, who was just named president of the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation. Lowell had the honor of working with Fay (as well as her wonderful wife, Jill Blair) at the Gates Foundation. Fay is the ultimate example of a leader blessed with high IQ, high EQ, and a passion for improving our sector’s effectiveness. The Blank Foundation is lucky to have her!

Speaking of the Gates Foundation, Melinda Gates just announced a new commitment of $70M to help ensure that effective COVID-19 vaccines get distributed without delay in poor countries. The size of the commitment isn’t particularly newsworthy for the world’s largest foundation. But there’s an important element that shouldn’t be glossed over: Most of the money will be used to support an “advance market commitment,” an innovative philanthropic tool for giving pharmaceutical firms a financial incentive to develop and deploy products in places where they otherwise couldn’t earn the kind of profits their shareholders expect. It’s a great example of how philanthropy and the private sector can make highest and best use of their respective strengths.

When Lowell profiled the Weingart Foundation for the Leap Ambassadors “Funding Performance” series, he learned about the powerful legacy of its late board member John W. Mack. Weingart is now honoring Mack with a fellowship focused on leaders building and strengthening social movements. If you have a passion for and track record in fighting for social justice and racial equality in California, we encourage you to apply before the deadline (January 11).

BBB-Wise Giving Alliance CEO Art Taylor just shared the new Donor Trust Report 2020. Unfortunately, many of the insights are discouraging. For example: “Impetus to support charities decreased from 48.2% in March to 42.8% in August.” “Civil rights and community action organizations are among the least trusted charity types overall.” “Charities report that COVID-19 has negatively impacted their ability to fulfill their programmatic activities as planned (77.0%).”

On a more-optimistic note, the Center for Effective Philanthropy’s new report Foundations Respond to Crisis: A Moment of Transformation? demonstrates that foundation leaders are making positive changes in their funding practices, including loosening grant restrictions, increasing spending levels, and doing more to listen to constituents. For example, 57% of survey respondents said that they have implemented the practice of making grants “as unrestricted as possible” since the pandemic began. In the words of one foundation leader anonymously quoted in the report, “This has been a wakeup moment for philanthropy.” Kudos to the Ford Foundation for sparking introspection and change through the funder pledge it spearheaded.

Events/Webinars for Raising Performance

Dec 1-2–Online
Racial Equity: Moving Companies from Promise to Action” virtual conference; Council on Foundations

Dec 2–Online
Racial Justice in Philanthropy: From Transactional to Transformational” webinar; SSIR

Dec 10–Online
The Future of Family Philanthropy: Positioning Families for Greatness” webinar; National Center for Family Philanthropy

Dec 10–Online
Expand Your Fundraising and Donor Engagement with Digital Marketing and Cloud Computing” webinar; Candid

Jan 12-Mar 10–Online
Journeys to Equity: Becoming a Better Ally” series; Exponent Philanthropy

Feb 17-18–Online
Democracy, Civil Society, and Digital Technology” virtual conference; SSIR