Exploring Our Annual Conference Theme: The Power in Philanthropy

Thursday, May 16, 2019

“In the social change world, we tend to use the word “power” a lot. But it’s not always clear what we’re referring to. Even when it is clear, what’s often even clearer is that we’re not referring to the same thing.”   -Farhad Ebrahimi, How to Think About Power (Especially if You Have Some)

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We are just a few weeks out from welcoming changemakers from throughout our region to San Diego Grantmakers' Annual Conference on Tuesday, June 4. If you haven’t registered yet, now’s the time! Today, we are taking time to share a bit of context for this year’s conference theme: The Power in Philanthropy

Power is a loaded word. As we are increasingly confronted with its negative connotations – be it people in positions of power abusing their privilege, power exuded by force, or the innumerous ways in which people are placed in powerless circumstances – our own understanding of the word has evolved to include shades of jaded skepticism. If power feels so inherently bad, how do we reconcile our desire to do good in the world with the enormous power we, as the social impact sector, hold?  

For this reason, all too often power falls to the editing floor. That’s why on June 4, we are giving it top billing. 

Our theme challenges us to unpack how power - in all of its forms - explicitly and implicitly affects every aspect of our work.  We are all taking part in systems, seen and unseen, with deeply embedded power structures that influence our culture and norms. Understanding these often-invisible underpinnings of our work enables us to come together on solid footing and in turn explore ways we can harness our inherent influence and positions to accelerate our impact.  

Leveraging the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy’s Power Moves framework, together we will reinvision what philanthropy can really accomplish by better activating our collective power. How can we dive in to the evolving nature of power rather than shrink away? How can we harness our power so that we may grow and share it, in new and transformational ways? Can we recalibrate our relationship with power in service of the communities we care so deeply about? 

Measured in dollars alone, our collective power in San Diego is staggering. According to Candid, there are 908 grantmakers based in San Diego, with a total asset size of more than $8.2B and combined giving that exceeds $1.5B. And we know that is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to our region, where we have hundreds of corporate givers and a robust ecosystem of impact investors who aren’t always captured in the data.

Let’s work together to redefine our relationship with power, and collectively realize our own ability to influence change. On Tuesday, June 4, we will be listening, learning, challenging, and committing to actions that build, wield, and share power to accelerate progress towards a region where we all thrive. We hope you’ll join us.