I’m a crip in grant-making philanthropy! Whoopee! As of November 1, I became a Trustee of Awesome Foundation’s Disability Chapter.It only took 25 years of being on the grant-seeking side of #DisabledInDevelopment. I’d like to thank every teacher and boss who helped me with inaccessible toilets along the way. You had my back when I was angry about something even I didn’t fully understand: I was up against a real thing – ableism – that created structural barriers to doing my job well.
And that brings me to: How to Do Inclusive Philanthropy.
Actually raising money, day in, day out, at DREDF doesn’t leave a whole lot of time for big-vision work. But I have one for inclusive philanthropy:
Philanthropy that has evolved from being the hothouse for benevolent ableism to a force for fighting all forms of ableism. Wash that charity right out of its hair.
I could spend months fine-tuning an inclusive philanthropy action plan but I’ve got a year-end campaign to run. So. Here are what 25 years of being disabled in development tell me are the ways to start scrubbing the charity model out of philanthropy:
1. Go inside out, bottom up.
Start by respecting the knowledge your current staff likely has, especially your front-line, support, and administrative staffs.
The key: Lose your bias for titles and fancy degrees, and find out who in your organization has an interest in flexible schedules, paid family leave, and other such benefits. Why? Because disability, chronic illness, and aging may be driving that interest. Because they may feel they’ve been “special tracked” and blocked from moving up. That makes them more likely to have a vested interest in disability inclusion.
Why: Real change takes dogged persistence and these employees could well be your long-haul champions for transformative change.
2. Demonstrate that disability inclusion is not “the Other” in your philanthropic organization.
One of the most common misperceptions about disability is that it’s just not something your organization “does.” Fill out this simple “disability inventory” and you may well see disability is all around you, but called something else.
Why: There absolutely will be folks in your philanthropic organization who believe disability = other people. They’ll be more receptive to the dogged persistence of your disability champions if it doesn’t mean “new stuff.”
3. Organize. Organize. Organize.
Help tell the real-life, true experiences of being disabled in development so that our invisible knowledge can help make glorious, ableism-ending change in philanthropy. Contact me if you’d like to be profiled (by name or anonymously) and featured in my new #DisabledInDevelopment series. I’ve got brief interviews with 3 amazing people — all women of color — in the works.
Compensation available because I don’t expect unpaid consulting from disabled people.
Why: So, so many people in philanthropy do not have the option of being out, safely, as disabled. #DisabledInDevelopment is intended both to help normalize disability in the sector and to provide an accessible platform for describing the structural discrimination they encounter and that all-too often halts career advancement or forces them out when they “hit the porcelain ceiling.”
Want in on the conversation about ableism? Check out what disabled advocates, civil and human rights activists, and philanthropic leaders had to say at the Twitter chat on 10/12/18 about philanthropy and inclusion. Then make your voice heard at #FundDisAdvocacy.
Foundation funding for disability advocacy dropped 23% between 2011-2015. Disabled people were the only group to see a decrease. Most funders are “aware” of disability but do they see ableism and structural discrimination? How do we make funders see disability civil and human rights as areas of actionable, urgent advocacy? A first step is recognizing disability as a constant but hidden set of variables in nearly all formulas for civil and human rights.
I’m writing to you in my capacity as a community organizer – which is another name for a social justice fundraiser.
I believe you and I share common ground on the importance of advocacy:
We know that the great civil and human rights gains of the last century, envisioned and organized by the grassroots, were built to last through the courts and legislation, and they will continue to be the battlefields for preserving them.
I’m writing because disability civil and human rights advocacy is missing from your funding portfolios.
The first step in changing that is frank communication.
When you do not explicitly say “disability” in funding advocacy, you send a message to us: Deny, disown, and downplay your disability identity. That denies all marginalized communities access to our hard-won legal tools and, worse yet, our expertise in using them.
You may understand this letter, at first, as pertaining to a discrete group: disabled people. But it is a fundamental mistake to think that civil and human rights for any community can be fully achieved if we neglect, forget, or disregard such a basic human condition as disability and allow it to be the “natural” cause of poverty and abuse. If we are not safe or free to be vulnerable, then we cannot call ourselves safe or free. Our society is not safe or free.