Having been at NPC for 18 years, I have wrestled often with what we (and what I) can bring to the table in working towards diversity, equity and inclusion in the charity and philanthropy sector.
We were founded by a group of investment bankers. Most of our founding team came from financial services. I myself have benefited from huge privilege in my life – as a white, male, middle class, cis, Cambridge-educated, ex-management consultant. As an organisation, we have always benefited from good access to philanthropists and foundations, as well as charities and government. And we continue to do so.
I used to believe that evidence and data could shift the balance of power in philanthropy and the charity sector; that better data on unrecognised assets and unmet needs, and on outcomes and impact, would redirect flows of resources so that those who needed more support to develop and grow their excellent work could get the job done. But then came a dawning realisation that these tools get captured by the existing power dynamics; they flow with the contours of money, access, and influence. They don’t break through existing power structures, so they don’t really shift the power to where it could be.
So should we give up on impact, data, and all these apparently technocratic approaches?
Martin Burt’s Who owns poverty? helped me reconcile between what felt like conflicting viewpoints at the time; empowering primary constituents and communities versus measuring needs, assets, and outcomes. I realised that what we need to do is put the right tools in the right hands; to create structures with the people they’re supposed to benefit, so that they can be truly empowering and liberating.
All of which is a long preamble to saying that I am truly excited by what I hope we at NPC can bring to the table on DEI. Because NPC, with one foot in philanthropy and the other in the charity sector, is I believe especially well-placed to synthesise different perspectives, bring together different stakeholder groups, and create new approaches from this fusion.
Our work on transparency and inclusion in philanthropy, which we call Open Philanthropy, is at the heart of this. As I write, the team is recruiting two multi-stakeholder panels to run the entire grant-making cycle of a fund we have raised to tackle financial hardship. These panels will set strategy, focus, and make funding decisions together. And they’ll be made up of people with lived experience, practitioner experience and funding experience. We don’t know how the process will go – that’s partly the point – but we’ll be sharing what we learn, so stay in touch to find out!
We are inspired by many of the important and pioneering movements we see in philanthropy – participatory grantmaking, user involvement in governance, community-led research, systems mapping, racial equity and justice funds and foundations, open grants data, open strategy, and open and trusting grantmaking.
In fact, we think we need all of these to succeed for philanthropy to have even a slim chance of achieving what it needs to. And we think they all need to be brought together in new, hybrid approaches that combine the legitimacy and potential scale of bottom-up approaches with the coordination, leverage, learning, and replicability that top-down approaches promise. Blending power between funders, practitioners, and communities, between data and trust, between the now and the long term, and between urgent needs and vital infrastructure.
That, I think is the real promise of a diverse, equitable and inclusive sector. And if at NPC we’re innovating, learning, and sharing with this goal fixed in our sights, then I believe we earn the legitimacy to play a role in the field, and in achieving the changes we all want to see.