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What's Philanthropy Got to Do with Social Change?

Sean at Tactical Philanthropy, is beginning to appreciate that philanthropy, whether tactical or strategic, is heavily marked by what you might call social class. Even rich newcomers from business are uncomfortable with the term, "philanthropy," preferring the term "social investing," or "social benefit usury" (I was kidding about the usury part, but not the investing part; in either case the word reflects a lack of moral imagination and a certain narrowness of education). I use "giving" because it chimes with "gifted," and the most gifted givers I know never went in for making money; they disdained it, and began giving from the get go, giving of their time, energy and creativity, in roles that serve other people but don't pay much.

Philanthropy blogging is becoming an awful lot like reading way too many professional journals: The official story told by the officials in official upper middle brow language that will upset no one and change nothing, often accompanied by advertising, or a business model that ties the words back to an influx of cash and a nice soft life.  We already have that folks! We don't need to duplicate the shiny shrink wrapped surface of American mass mediated society with its well polished news delivery systems. Were philanthropy, social investing, charity, and giving to converge with social organizing, guerrilla news reporting, and testimony presented from insiders willing to consciously dramatize the institutional constaints of their own official role - now that would be of interest to me. Talking heads with blogs, we have that already in other forms.

As we begin to speak, as Sean is,  in our human, fallible voices as citizens we can link to one another, drive our respective positions upwards in Google, and send a flow of attention around the net to those whose viewpoint is not merely a reflection of what one might read in an annual report, press release, brochure, or text book.  The web is not just an alternative medium for distributing the same old same old only cheaper, better quicker; it is a medium, like agar in a lab, on which all kinds of new forms of sociability can be cultured - like a bacillus, like pencillen, even, to cure the body politic. What will be interesting is to see who in the field of social change philanthropy links outside their comfortable circle of professional allies to outsiders,  weaving a new web of potentially disconcerting conversations, and who prefers to operate on the Castle Walls, trumpet in hand, as an official herald of the official message: "You rabble down there! You will be pleased to learn that the philanthropists have arrived via secret tunnel and are now safe within the palace, feasting! They have commissioned me to convey to you their best wishes. When it is your turn to speak you will be recognized by my minion moving among you with a pig's-bladder filled with air.  You will recognize him from the bells on his cap and toes. Then, will come the sparsio. I will toss candy and nuts. Then you can express your gratitude and return to your huts, until the next Festival of Fools. The philanthropists would like me to express their thanks for your continued servitude."