National Philanthropy Day Panelists Call for Systemic Change

300 hear panel discussion that embodied AFPSEWI’s commitment to equity and inclusion


Screen shot of 2020 NPD panelists
Photo credit: Boutique Photographer

AFP of Southeastern Wisconsin celebrated National Philanthropy Day virtually on November 10 by bringing together a diverse panel of local nonprofit leaders to address “Philanthropy's Role in Advancing Equity, Inclusion and Systemic Change.”

Over 300 nonprofit professionals and community members listened in – and joined the conversation via an active Zoom chat throughout the program – as panelists Ellen Gilligan (CEO, Greater Milwaukee Foundation), Joe’Mar Hooper (Executive Director, Safe & Sound), Brianna Saz-Perez (Executive Director, Layton Boulevard West Neighbors), Tony Shields (President and CEO, Wisconsin Philanthropic Network), and moderator Christopher Boston (Senior Pastor, Lamb of God Missionary Baptist Church) offered a Milwaukee perspective on the current urgent national dialogue around racial equity and calls for major systems change.

Mr. Hooper set the stage by citing multiple studies that rank Milwaukee as the worst city in the country for Black people in terms of education inequality, employment and income gap, incarceration rates and other measures of quality of life. While these grim statistics underline the urgent need for change, he has faith that “we have the solutions within ourselves” – that the talent, strength, and knowledge in our community can and will lead to solutions. 

In response to questions from the moderator and attendees, panelists reflected on what it will take to achieve meaningful change. Major takeaways included:

  • The imperative of looking at racial equity work through a different lens. Mr. Shields spoke of nonprofits limiting their own progress by fitting potential solutions “into the bucket of what they are already doing” rather than taking the risk of thinking outside the box.
  • Nonprofits and philanthropists must take the lead on changing public systems in order to address systemic racism, as government and public systems have failed to do so. This means embracing new ideas and uniting around strategic investments to strengthen communities.
  • At the same time, philanthropy itself is a system that must change. Ms. Gilligan underlined the imperative of shifting the power dynamic – including people of color on nonprofit boards and in nonprofit leadership so they become equal participants in decision-making and resource allocation. It also means valuing and investing in grassroots organizations, many of which are led by minorities and people of color, so they can acquire the tools needed to build capacity. As Mr. Hooper noted, Milwaukee has a high number of nonprofits per capita, but they are siloed. How can they collaborate to build sustainable communities and achieve collective impact, rather than competing with each other?
  • Creating meaningful change means taking risks. As Ms. Saz-Perez pointed out, “What seemed like a risk before now seems like a greater risk to not take.” This could mean funders trusting a small organization that is doing something different in the community or testing a new idea. Or recognizing that the value of investing in long-term change can’t be measured through quarterly progress reports. On a personal level, said Mr. Shields, it means being open to conversations with people we didn’t engage with before, being disruptive rather than walking on eggshells, and being willing to make others (and ourselves) uncomfortable.

In developing the panel, AFPSEWI was acting on a resolution by its board of directors to take meaningful action on social justice and racial equity, which they unanimously adopted earlier this year. This commitment reflects priorities embraced by AFP Global, which launched the IDEA (Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Access) Impact program to work toward a fundraising profession that is diverse, inclusive, and equitable.

For Dawn Hutchison-Weiss, who co-chaired the NPD event with fellow board member Elizabeth O’Hara, the program’s topic resonated profoundly with AFPSEWI’s core values and mission: “AFP is a membership organization that provides fundraisers with opportunities for career development, education, and networking. But this panel – and, indeed, National Philanthropy Day itself – is an exceptional example of another facet of the organization’s mission:  advancing the potential of philanthropy itself to serve our most profound community needs.”

Kudos to Dawn and Elizabeth, who successfully re-imagined the event during this most extraordinary year – and in the process brought together diverse thought leaders from our community to articulate a vision for progress and change. We hope that we can gather in person again next year for the annual NPD luncheon to celebrate the power and impact of philanthropy. 

View the 2020 NPD panel discussion "The Role of Philanthropy in Racial Equity and Inclusion"

Contributed by AFPSEWI member, Amy Blumenthal, CFRE, Vice President, Ter Molen Watkins & Brandt


Thank You to Our 2020 National Philanthropy Day
Title and Gold Sponsors

2020 NPD Sponsor Logos2020 NPD Sponsor Logos