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Reimagining Philanthropy: Towards Relationships, Trust, Abundance, and Radical Love

This article was written as part of Women of Color in Fundraising and Philanthropy (WOC)™'s online series. Galina Angarova will be headlining WOC's First Annual Symposium on November 17, 2020 - a day-long time of engagement, learning, self-care and community with presenters from Cause Effective, Philanos, Lilly School at IU and more. This amazing day of discovery, learning, connecting and unwinding will include 16 sessions of non-profit fundraising and philanthropic giving by more than 25 experts in the field. The Symposium is a completely virtual event.

Reimagining Philanthropy: Towards Relationships, Trust, Abundance and Radical Love

By Galina Angarova

Sain Bainaa, Hundete Nuheduut/ Greetings dear friends. My name is Galina Angarova and I come from the Ekhirit Nation of the Buryat Peoples in Siberia. I was born and raised in a traditional community where storytelling, ceremonies, communicating with the land and our ancestors was part of our daily lives. Before my work in philanthropy and fundraising, I was an on-the-ground organizer who relied on philanthropy to resource the work. As an Indigenous woman, I also recognize and have the lived experience of understanding the shortfalls of philanthropy and hold solutions that can help this field be more accessible, equitable, and supportive of a regenerative, sustainable future for all. 

One of the barriers of working in philanthropy as an Indigenous woman is the dichotomy of being Indigenous and being in an exclusive and privileged field. As Indigenous Peoples living and working in and out of our cultures and the mainstream society, we have become highly adaptive while staying deeply empathetic and opening our hearts to the struggles on the ground. I want to stress that first and foremost, no matter the circumstance, you are accountable to your own people, to the Indigenous movement; your employer, foundation, or non-profit comes second. There is also the mental and spiritual struggle for Indigenous peers being the gatekeepers of the resources of a foundation they work for. Traditionally, in Indigenous cultures, our resources are available to us freely, but our teachings illustrate that we must practice responsibility in how much we take, as well as reciprocity, so that we are also giving back to the life-source that nourishes us. If one finds themselves in a position as a gatekeeper of resources in a foundation, it’s necessary to think about the strategies and remedies one can use to minimize the power imbalance. 

While it is a struggle to be an Indigenous woman in philanthropy, the struggle continues on the other side as a fundraiser. Very few Indigenous fundraisers exist in the field, and I personally know just a handful of truly effective ones—that’s not nearly enough to push the needle and secure the resources required to support our communities. The numbers speak for themselves: less than half of one percent of foundation dollars goes directly to Indigenous Peoples. The problem is nuanced and rooted in hundred years of colonialism, intergenerational trauma, our sense of self-worth, and of course philanthropy itself, which was birthed by colonial structures. The abundance of financial wealth that exists in this world has direct historical roots to extractive land grabbing and its dispossession from Indigenous Peoples and the exploited free labor of enslaved Black people. 

As I shifted to the other side of mainstream philanthropy as the Executive Director of Cultural Survival, I saw that very few foundations support the organization and this work at large with truly unrestricted general support grants, and even fewer that prioritize long-term support with multi-year grants. Foundations expect incredible, sustaining, mountain-moving impact, yet few are willing to match the resources with that demand. Change is slow and it takes several generations to implement. It is impossible to achieve any substantive change within a single project life cycle and the philanthropic community needs to support partners long-term for true change to happen. Unfortunately, the reality today is that we collectively live in the scarcity and competition mindset—and the kind of giving that exists now perpetuates that mindset. It creates tension, unnecessary stress for staff, and organizations become revolving doors for development professionals. Multi-year general support grants are essential in the process of shifting from the scarcity to the abundance mindset. 

So, how can a foundation or donor decolonize their grant-making? Philanthropy should promote inclusive and Indigenous-centric values in theory (strategic plan) and practice. Some of the tension that exists between donors and grantees stems yet again from colonial approaches to giving and accepting gifts. Giving and taking in Indigenous cultures are rooted in relationships, and value is not measured in dollar amounts. Our relationships are not transactional but deeply embedded in our values, relationship building, kinship, and ultimately radical love. Money is just one manifestation of energy; others are the expression of solidarity, support, heartfelt advice, connecting people, sharing and exchanging resources, participation in strategy building, and celebration. Reciprocity, giving, sharing, and generosity have always been part of our cultures. My single mother raising two children would not have survived if we did not rely on our relatives who shared their wild strawberries, mushrooms, meat, wild garlic, and milk that kept us strong and healthy. For me, an act of giving is actually an act of reciprocity, because when one gives, one also gets so much in return.  

Furthermore, deep listening and authentic trust-building need to be integrated in principles of philanthropic and fundraising work. In many Indigenous cultures, listening is an act of kindness and compassion. Elders believe that listening, acknowledging, and validating someone provides a person comfort and healing. Some important questions to ask yourself before stepping into a space where resources are being discussed and allocated include:

  • How do you “show up” to your meetings with colleagues, partner organizations, potential applicants and grantees? 
  • What non-verbal cues are you communicating? 
  • What do you do to minimize the power imbalance between you and your grantees? 
  • Are you communicating abundance or scarcity?
  • In what ways is your organization upholding colonial, extractive, and exploitative practices?

Having trust in the communities and organizations you fund is essential to bridging the divide between funders and non-profits. Trust is not just one concept; rather it is a cluster of concepts that allow one to feel safe and to be vulnerable with someone, keeping your word, being loyal, maintaining integrity and discretion. Getting to know our philanthropic and grant partners on a personal level has always been the strongest and most reliable way to build trust and is an investment to fulfilling your shared vision. 

As Indigenous Peoples, we always draw to our values and practices. We come to work not only as professionals in fundraising and/or philanthropy but as our whole selves bringing our histories, cultures, cosmovisions, and prayers with us everywhere we go. One of the gifts I would like to share is the understanding that gratitude is a doorway to abundance. When you sit in gratitude for 10 minutes, you elevate your serotonin, dopamine, and oxytocin levels, thus changing the entire hormonal profile of your brain. You ascend to the level of abundance and wellbeing and become a giver and sharer. Sitting in gratitude has been practiced by our ancestors for millennia and only recently has science validated our traditional knowledge and that our values, in practice, work. I recommend allocating time to sit in gratitude and have it become part of your daily practice, as this will benefit not only your professional life but your life as a whole. Bayarlaa/thank you!


Author Biography
Galina Angarova, Executive Director of Cultural Survival

Before joining Cultural Survival, Galina worked in local and global advocacy organizing direct actions and campaigns against large natural resource extraction projects including oil and gas development, mining, and hydro-dam development in Siberia and the Russian Far East. Thereafter, she served as a representative of the Indigenous Peoples’ Major Group at the United Nations on issues of Sustainable Development Goals and the Post-2015 Development Agenda. Furthermore, Galina led a team of Indigenous experts to represent the Indigenous Peoples constituency to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change’s Green Climate Fund. Galina served as a policy and communications advisor for Tebtebba Foundation, and thereafter transitioned to working as a program officer for Swift Foundation. There, she managed a portfolio of up to 75 grantee partners in British Columbia, Canada, regions of the Amazon and the Andes in South America, and parts of the United States and Africa. Her focus centered on funding Indigenous-led organizations and reversing the Western-centric paradigm of philanthropy through building relationships and trust with our partners and centering Indigenous values and local knowledge. Galina holds a Master’s degree in Public Administration from the University of New Mexico and served on the board of International Funders of Indigenous Peoples (IFIP), the only global donor affinity group dedicated to Indigenous Peoples’ issues worldwide. In 2019, Galina brought her wealth of experience and joined Cultural Survival as Executive Director. 

About Cultural Survival: 
Cultural Survival is an Indigenous-led NGO and U.S. registered non-profit that, since its founding in 1972, has advocated for Indigenous Peoples' rights and supported Indigenous communities’ self-determination, cultures, and political resilience. Cultural Survival envisions a future that respects and honors Indigenous Peoples' inherent rights and dynamic cultures, deeply and richly interwoven in lands, languages, spiritual traditions, and artistic expression, rooted in self-determination and self-governance. The core of Cultural Survival’s efforts rest on the principles of supporting, amplifying efforts and raising awareness of self-determination for Indigenous communities. Cultural Survival is a global intermediary organization, and Indigenous-led fund (regrantor) and provides an array of programming and services to Indigenous Peoples globally in the areas of local and international advocacy, community media, Indigenous radio, Indigenous philanthropy and more. Led by Indigenous staff and board, Cultural Survival centers its work around Indigenous values and principles.


Photo by russellstreet