This mission often leads us to help faith-inspired institutions better develop their fundraising and stewardship capacities when asking for support. Yet, our mission also focuses directly on the givers. At one level, we help faith-inspired donors reflect upon why and how they give. On another level, we help philanthropists and foundations understand the significant role that religion and spirituality have and continue to play at the heart of the social sector. Only when exploring the dynamic ways that faith and philanthropy impact one another can we fully understand the essential roles they play in shaping our communities.
Faith-inspired institutions like congregations and local social service agencies have been embedded as anchors in their communities for decades. Take for example the Black Church. In bringing its history alive most recently through the PBS documentary, Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. demonstrated how this trusted institution often served to organize communities, share resources, and respond to resistance with resilience. Far from being stodgy, the Black Church was a multi-faceted model of innovation as leaders also earned the trust from local communities for being present, understanding their specific needs, and meeting the many challenges they faced. While no sector is monolithic, many religious institutions do model resiliency and a rootedness essential to impacting their communities.
At the same time, among faith-inspired institutions, there is often a lack of understanding of how the philanthropic sector works. While roughly a third of the 50 largest nonprofits in the country have a faith orientation and are well equipped with fundraisers, grant writers, and program managers, there are thousands of smaller faith-based organizations that make up the swath of social service providers. And they are often overlooked because they do not have the capacities to meet the thresholds of major grant initiatives, or they do not speak the vernacular of professionalized philanthropy. Ironically, for these reasons, the philanthropic sector often misses the voices that they most need to hear: those in the communities doing the work with the trust and understanding of the local context.
This is why efforts at bridge-building are so important in this moment. Not only are these efforts essential across religious traditions and between religious and secular organizations, but they are essential across sectors as well. How can faith and philanthropy, in dialogue, help us build a world that knows both love and justice, accountability and reconciliation? What can insights from religious actors teach philanthropy in reflecting on its own values in stewarding resources for the common good? What can philanthropy teach faith communities about new ways to partner?
As we continue to explore this dynamic relationship, Lake Institute is committed to these questions. We focused on them in our Distinguished Visitors Dialogue and we will look to many other conversations in the days ahead as these questions continue to resonate.