(Left to right) Zolina, Jackie, and Andres manages Urban Tilth’s weekly Free Farm Stand at Unity Park Plaza (Photo Credit: Urban Tilth: Marco Lemus)

My Giving Pledge Promise Isn’t Enough: Why It’s Time for the Wealthy to Do More

By Kat Taylor

November 19, 2020

My six decades have taken me many places. As a philanthropist, I have wrestled with grant making that addresses the symptoms but not the root causes of societal ills. As co-founder and former CEO of a mission-driven community bank, I worked to finance a better world by prioritizing lending for social and environmental impact and changing the banking system for good. As an impact investor, I worked with colleagues to create 10 venture funds to try to change the allocation of startup funding. As a food producer and advocate, I have fought for greater racial and gender equity, environmental restoration, and economic resiliency in our food system. On that same road, my spouse, Tom Steyer, and I took the Giving Pledge, and I serve on the boards of several nonprofits.

Through all these experiences I have learned much, but one lesson stands out most during these hardest of times: No amount of grant funding to address the symptoms of inequity will ever “fix” the extractive and exploitative economic system from which these grants come. Our economy was built on oppression, violence, and theft. It has intentionally generated the injustices that undermine our legitimacy and threaten our very existence. We must do more than grant the earnings of capitalism; we must transfer and return that wealth itself.

To create a good life for all, we must move past the debilitating Black-white economic and social dynamic in America by shifting assets on a massive scale. Rebuilding communities after decades of discriminatory lending, denial of capital access, attacks from entrenched racist systems, and devastating environmental pollution takes more than simply investing well. Even the Giving Pledge has its limitations as giving can’t keep up with rapidly escalating fortunes.

Members of the public enter into an intensive group therapy session with inmates at the California State Prison, Sacramento. (Credit: Inside Circle)

It’s time to return power — wealth, income, control, opportunity, and more — back to those from whom it has been taken. At the heart of what is needed is productive equity capital that empowers community control and ownership of assets within those communities.

Today I pledge to return and transfer a minimum of one-third of my assets over my lifetime to communities of color as a first step to help cultivate a “good life” for all.

Toward that end, I commit to transfer five equity grants of $100,000 to five community projects to help access other kinds of capital. I also pledge to each of them $1 million of my donor-advised assets to use as collateral to obtain low-cost nonprofit bond financing. This creative financing tool can solve a capital gap for community-driven investments and provide permanent capital at low cost for nonprofits. This commitment will be in addition to grant making we have traditionally done.

Where My Resources Are Going

The five catalytic projects and communities are: Urban Tilth and Cooperation Richmond (Richmond, Calif.,), the BIG We Foundation and Historic Clayborn Temple (Memphis), Inside Circle and their Aspire Transformational Communities (San Francisco), historic Allensworth’s economic renaissance (Allensworth, Calif,) and the Village at Friendship House (San Francisco).

After years of disinvestment, these communities are at the beginning stages of building environments that foster social, climate, and economic justice.

Allensworth is the only town in California that was founded, financed, built, and governed by African Americans. It’s founder, Lt. Col. Allen Allensworth, was a former slave. Extreme poverty and high levels of arsenic in the drinking water forced most families to leave. Today, community members are working to restore Allensworth by working with U.C. Berkeley on a pilot research project focused on an inexpensive water treatment system that removes arsenic from groundwater, by growing healthy food through regenerative agriculture on a local organic farm that will also serve as a hands-on education center and the economic taproot from which the community will sustain itself and continue to grow, and exploring ways to build green affordable housing that complements the rich history of Allensworth and the region. Allensworth is a symbol of honoring where we come from and having that history inform what we will become.

UC Berkeley and Gadgil Lab ECAR Team pilot an inexpensive water-treatment system at Allensworth (Photo Credit: Allensworth)

Based on traditional Indigenous values and principles, Friendship House is leading a coalition of Native organizations to build the Village in San Francisco. The majority of Native people live in cities, yet they remain invisible and share similar inequities as other communities of color. The Village will restore and build bridges between communities and provide a home and essential services by and for urban Native Americans.

Friendship House teaches youth activities like powwow dance classes to help instill cultural pride and resilience in the presence of violence and substance abuse at home (Photo Credit: Friendship House)

I encourage everyone to rethink the way charitable vehicles and assets can be used so that we can all continue to learn and deploy our wealth beneficially. Through creative philanthropic and financial strategies, I believe wealthy people and community institutions can bring into reality the long-held and fervent visions of America’s Black, brown, and Indigenous communities — and secure community ownership of what gets built.

You can read the entire op-ed at Chronicle of Philanthropy: https://www.philanthropy.com/article/my-giving-pledge-promise-isnt-enough-why-its-time-for-the-wealthy-to-do-more

Impact Investor, Co-Founder and Board Chair of Beneficial State Bank and Co-Founder of TomKat Ranch Educational Foundation

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