When $2 Million Calls: With Opportunity Comes Responsibility

September 2, 2021 Leave a comment
The image is released free of copyrights under Creative Commons CC0.

This summer, the Interaction Institute for Social Change received news that we will never forget. After we prodded first to see if it was a scam, we learned that we were one among what MacKenzie Scott called 286 “high-impact organizations in categories and communities that have been historically underfunded and overlooked.” We were informed that we were selected to receive a major grant through a rigorous process of research and analysis by Scott and her research team.

After shedding joyful tears, I was thrilled to share this news with our team. Many years ago, we aspired to attract an angel investor, but never had the capacity to pursue one rigorously. Since then, we occasionally joked about this possibility, but never really thought we would be on the receiving end of the biggest charitable donation of our careers. The $2 million gift, with no strings attached, was validation for a team whose members have been humble over the past thirty years as we worked to build collaborative capacity for social justice and racial equity.

In the midst of the excitement and overwhelm of the unexpected gift, we also recognized the responsibility that comes with our windfall. For many organizations led by Black, Indigenous, & other people of color (BIPOC) — like ours, operating on relatively small budgets — a cash infusion of this magnitude could enable us to grow our programmatic work while also focusing on often neglected internal needs. Yet, rather than rejigger our budget, we are choosing to take a long pause before doing anything with the grant. We are faced with answering an otherwise hypothetical question that we often pose to the networks and organizations we work with: ‘What would your non-profit do with $1 million?’ In our case, what would we actually do with an unrestricted $2 million grant? 

We are keenly aware of the freedom to make expansive choices and explore new possibilities now available to us. At the same time, we are also aware of: 1) the countless entities we support or are in partnership with that did not get a grant as we did, and 2) that the grant has created an implicit power and equity differential between IISC and those with whom we work. So what is the way forward?

To guide our response, we are drawing on our organizational values — to ensure that this gift benefits not just our organization but also the ecosystem within which we operate including our clients and partners. 

Social change is possible through shared power and equity, network building, and love — our lens for collaborative change which guides our internal and external work. As we consider how we will spend these grant funds, and what we want to do with them, we hope to foster a sense of power-sharing, ensure equitable outcomes, build relationships and networks, and express love in action.  

With that in mind, we are clear that decisions on how we spend the money will be led by BIPOC staff, including our affiliate consultants and trainers and our board members, with input from other IISC stakeholders. We want to ensure that historically marginalized and racially oppressed groups and communities have an equitable share in the power and control of organizational and societal resources. This is particularly important to us because BIPOC are typically not centered in big money spending decisions. Furthermore, centering BIPOC is an act of trust, with the understanding that the people involved in the decision-making will do so with the strengths, aspirations, and needs of their organizations, networks, and our communities in mind.

Transformative leadership is the kind of leadership we need in the 21st century. With this organizational value, we are considering how this potentially transformational gift to IISC is an opportunity for us to lift up organizations and networks that were not chosen for the grant. We are already using our position to leverage funds for other great organizations. We are excited that this is one way we can expand our circle of influence and promote greater equity in philanthropy.  

The change we seek in the world ultimately comes down to the decisions we make about how we expend resources in our lives from the individual to community, organizational, and societal levels. IISC envisions a healthy planet where people thrive, value their differences, and work together for peace and justice and we are committed to leveraging the gift from MacKenzie Scott towards realizing this vision. As we come out of our pause and initiate conversations on how we will utilize the grant, we invite you to stay tuned as we share what we are learning and where we land.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.