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A Year Of Crisis Forced Foundations To Change Bad Practices: They Should Never Revert To The Old Ways

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Long before the pandemic hit, it was clear philanthropy needed an overhaul. But the health and economic crisis, combined with a national racial reckoning, forced grant makers’ hands. Foundations largely rose to the challenge by speeding up their grant making, increasing flexibility, and reducing funding restrictions.

But now it appears those changes may be short lived. In the most recent of its Foundations Respond to Crisis reports, the Center for Effective Philanthropy found that “most foundations do not plan to undertake these new practices in the future to the degree they are doing so now.”

How can that be during a time when people in and outside of philanthropy are speaking up every day about the need for such changes? Why wouldn’t foundations lean into this progress?

Because they are delusional — although not in the crazy sense. They are stuck in a mind-set I call “delusional altruism,” an almost-always unconscious state of being that leads them to hold on to deceptive and illogical behavior that undermines progress. These include a fixation on saving money, a belief that moving too quickly could send them down the wrong path, and a fear of losing control. To change, grant makers need to recognize the forms delusional altruism takes and then equip themselves to learn and chart new paths forward.


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