October 27, 2011

Philanthropy Traps and the Power of Hope


By: Susan Wolf Ditkoff

Susan Wolf Ditkoff Yesterday I had the privilege of spending the day with Marshall Ganz, the well-known community organizer. As he spoke eloquently about the power of stories to create social change, he also described “inhibitors” to action—inertia, apathy, fear, and isolation—among individuals who may be well-intentioned, but who can’t see a clear path forward.

Ganz didn't just talk about inhibitors to action; he discussed the antidotes too, the things that can unlock effective change—a sense of urgency, outrage, hope, and empathy. As he reminded us: These motivators aren't "touchy feely." They are prerequisites to effective problem solving; they inspire the best in us all, perhaps hope most especially.

I was struck by how many of his lessons are directly applicable to philanthropists. As a donor it can be truly difficult to see a clear path and far too easy to fall into a change-blocking trap. For example, you may think you're creating change—charging forward with the best intentions—only to realize that you have underestimated just what the challenges ahead will require. Or you may try to fly solo despite the reality that tackling important causes will most certainly require you to work with other concerned players and philanthropists.

But we needn't let the most common philanthropy traps get the better of us. We have the wisdom of the philanthropic community to help advise us, and we too have access to the antidotes—a sense of urgency to kick-start our philanthropic efforts, empathy to help us see what's needed, and outrage to keep us going when things get tough. And, of course, we have hope, which gives us our most cherished and powerful story that social change is even possible in the first place.

For more on how to overcome philanthropy traps, read "What Are the Five Most Common Traps I Should Avoid in My Philanthropy?"

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