Initially, we looked at our wealth as a gift to be shared with others, a way to give back to the ‘less fortunate.’ In the early years of the foundation’s history, our grantmaking focused on giving to organizations that provided direct service to youth; it was an accepted way of doing ‘good work’ for others. Inherent in this way of thinking was the idea that the service provider knew best about what was good for their clients. By providing funding to direct service providers, funders and philanthropists were ‘buying into’ the strategy that together they knew best what was good for the population being served.
Over time, PFF experienced a dramatic shift in its thinking, brought about in large part by its second-generation family board members:
Gradually, the conversations at the foundation began to shift and questions were posed about the process of making decisions for a population that had no voice in those decisions. Part of these discussions included facing the reality that not much was changing as a result of our philanthropic strategy. The problems seemed persistent as we and many other foundations continued to put money into program after program aimed at helping underserved youth. Many good services were provided for visible and immediate needs, but the needle was not moving for creating real change in young people’s lives. It is easy and admirable to provide goods and services to those in need, but it is not so easy to understand why these needs exist. Discussion around the root causes of these needs was limited, and real conversations with youth about their lives were almost non-existent. But listening to the voices of young people made total sense. Who better to know their experiences, aspirations and dreams than the young people themselves?
The change in mission has also profoundly impacted how PFF approaches its work and shifted its understanding of “philanthropy”:
Our work requires us to abandon the mindset of “giving back to those less fortunate,” and embrace the concept of “working with fellow community members.” We have to open our minds to new and different voices. Our foundation has come to understand the importance of investing in systemic change to create equity in our communities. We must listen, understand that we do not have all the answers, and adapt.
Moving forward we fully expect that our learning, and therefore our story, will continue to evolve…