Member's Memo | July 2021
Since the whole country is thinking about infrastructure, I thought I would as well. It is not sexy, nobody likes to fund it, but just like our country’s infrastructure, if you let it go, eventually it crumbles.
The infrastructure of our social sector is no different, except that it is not bricks and mortar or roads and bridges. This is an infrastructure of human beings, relationships, and capacity to do the work. It is the people, places, goods, services, and dollars necessary to serve communities in a sustainable way by helping to build community assets. Philanthropy has spent decades investing in capacity building efforts, much of it related to accounting for dollars and reporting on outcomes, not often on better ways to help people build skills and organizations in communities where they live. Philanthropy has not charged itself with learning to trust communities to meet their own needs, by building the capacity in communities, by investing in infrastructure. Power and resources remain proximate to those outside the communities and is meted out in ways that maintain the status quo.
Trust builds trust. Trust a person and they become trustworthy.
We saw during COVID-19 the inequity in how our systems failed to exist and reach deep into communities of color, rural communities, and disenfranchised places. Some funders trusted communities to know what they needed and funded them without long applications, reports, and all the systemic trapping of our institutions. Few of us offer Black, Brown, Indigenous and poor communities’ resources in the ways in which their leaders and community members would like and need, to build a sustainable infrastructure in their communities. Gates Foundation did just that through the Momentum Fund in partnership with United Philanthropy Forum where they funded the infrastructure needs of 129 organizations led by Black, Brown, and Indigenous leaders in their communities.
All communities need organizations of learning, health, finance, and culture alongside small businesses and must be supported to create the infrastructure upon which communities thrive. These things should not be brought into community or shared with community; they should exist within the community. Nonprofits need to be built up and be given money for programming yes, but they need it for staffing, rent, transportation, technology, renovations, and their reserve funds so they become stable community organizations. They need infrastructure investment in the communities where they work and live, or they will crumble.
Let’s continue to support leaders and partners to build thriving communities across Maryland.
Maggie Gunther Osborn
President + CEO
Maryland Philanthropy Network
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