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The voice of Scotland’s vibrant voluntary sector

Published by Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations

TFN is published by the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations, Mansfield Traquair Centre, 15 Mansfield Place, Edinburgh, EH3 6BB. The Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) is a Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation. Registration number SC003558.

“Nothing pure about philanthropy”: Sector grapples with systems of oppression

 

SCVO’s The Gathering heard from Lankelly Chase about their radical plans. 

Charities need to contend with the “extractive capital markets” that they remain invested in, voices from across the sector have said.

Following years of discussions about their role in the sector, in 2023 the Lankelly Chase board decided that they could no-longer operate following the traditional philanthropy model, and over the next five years they will dismantle and close down, distributing all of their assets including the endowment and all resources.

The foundation has operated for over 60 years, distributing grants addressing the problems caused by injustice, but now hopes to address the causes of injustice.

During an event at SCVO’s The Gathering, representatives from different groups discussed Lankelly Chase’s decision. 

Jess Cordingly, director of transition at Lankelly Chase, said: “Fundamentally it came down to three contradictions in our work that we couldn’t escape. Who holds the money, versus who does the work. Charity versus justice. We spent over a decade trying to be the best philanthropists we could be.

“These were all great things that we hope other finders try, and they improved our model philanthropy, but they didn’t touch our core contradictions. It’s still a charity model, not a justice one. Our money is still invested in extractive capital markets.

“Our board is now staffed by exceptional individuals. This current group have lived and learned experiences of systems of oppression. From their position of being deeply accountable, and being active in different ways to challenge this. They could see what the staff found it hard to see - that we could never get rid of these contradictions - they are in philanthropies' DNA. We are redistributing our knowledge, assets, experiences and endowments. 

“We’re not suggesting all funders should do the same. But we need to know these contractions exist, grapple with them, and find answers.”

The decisions that organisations and boards reach as they really grapple with Scotland’s colonial history might be different, but the attendees heard that we are all connected through the interlocking social, climate and economic crises that are playing out in our communities. 

Charlotte Bray, trusts and foundations manager Scotland at Dogs Trust, said: “I’ve tended to think that the job of ethical fundraising has been done for me.Having worked with corporates and individuals we’re used to doing due diligence. But we’re starting to see there’s nothing pure about philanthropy.

“This is a bit of a call to my sector and work to open up conversations about how we reach decisions. What if philanthropy is flawed? It’s an interesting idea.  There’s a power dynamic and this is an uncomfortable conversation. 

“Ultimately, we are still asking for money and you are still holding it. Your decision is brave, it’s right, but it’s also terrifying and I’m interested to see what direction it takes.”

Others at the event said that organisations need to recognise their own role in the current system of capital, and how radical changes to social policy can be prioritised over 

Zandra Yeaman, curator of discomfort at the Hunterian, University of Glasgow, said: “This is a provocation for the third sector and how we think about philanthropy. They are hangovers from Empire, so we need to pause and really think about what that is. 

“We have to remember there is a real, deep need for sticking plasters for people who are oppressed daily. And some of these organisations who get funding do some great, grassroots work. What is lacking is that work with those who do social policy.”

 

Comments

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Lok Yue
4 months ago

Capitalism creates wealth. Socialism/capitalism do not. We in the charity sector need the surplus created by capitalism to do the work we need to do. The 'colonial past' is just that: the past. How far back do you want to go and is it only whites who robbed, invaded or enslaved? Move on, work with what we have and get on with it.

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Charlotte Bray
4 months ago

Thanks for hosting this important discussion - it's one that will continue throughout the sector for sometime. Really interesting to see where this particular journey ends.