Marguerite H. Griffin
Senior Vice President and Director of Philanthropic Advisory Services
Chicago, Illinois, USA
Access Marguerite’s full bio here
Marguerite Griffin is a member of 21/64’s Certified Advisor Collective, Learning Community and Advisory Committee. Jumi Falusi Samen, Senior Director at 21/64, interviewed her during Black Philanthropy Month in August 2022.
As you think about the ways you are driving change, how are you making an impact in addition to your professional philanthropic advising work?
Marguerite: In recent years, I’ve been thinking about legacy a lot. I continue to explore how I can use my life energy and the joy I have in helping others achieve their social change goals. I see connections between my love for gardening and my work as an agent for social change. When I plant a seed, I give it space to grow, I nurture it, I pull weeds up— and I go through a similar process helping people show up fully in their humanity. As an advisor, friend, neighbor, family member, and colleague, I plant seeds by living a life of openness and receptiveness and by asking reflective questions that bring people into greater awareness about the motivations and assumptions that influence their actions. As a donor, I center my giving on access and self-expression for BIPOC youth. If I can help my clients prioritize racial equity and have them begin to carry the responsibility for change, then I know that whether I am here or not, this equity and social change work will continue.
How does your identity relate to your roles you embody in philanthropy?
Marguerite: As a Black woman working in organizations that have inherited and maintain a white supremacy culture, my influence and power is often discounted or underestimated. I respond to this by showing up fully engaged and “all-in” and committed to the work, which challenges people’s assumptions and gets their attention. Also, being a Black, Queer, non-Christian woman, I have a lot of understanding of what it means to be othered and that allows me to ground myself and our conversations in empathy and compassion for others much more easily. I know what it’s like to be put in a category and how isolating that can feel. I also know how important community is for people who are being seen as other. So when I work with donors, I try to find ways to bridge gaps and show the ways we are similar. For example, when I work with donors on issues like homelessness, I make a point of naming that those experiencing homelessness are a lot like them, but for different economic and social circumstances.
What is a facilitation tool or technique that has resonance for you and why?
Marguerite: In my work with donors who give to a lot of different organizations, I often begin by asking them “If you had $1,000,000 to give to just two organizations, which organizations or causes would you choose and why?” For clients who have many interests, they might initially see this as an impossibility. But by asking them to focus and share their “why,” I learn more about what motivates their giving. When I’ve asked Black families and philanthropists that question, I’ve often found that at least one of their two gifts would be to the communities that have supported them. Consistently, among the Black donors I work with, the importance placed on giving back to the communities that nurtured them is top-of-mind. All boats rising together is the theme.
As you reflect on the last year, what is the untold or overlooked story that you are celebrating about Black philanthropy?
Marguerite: The mindset around who can be a philanthropist and ways philanthropy is historically understood in our sector limits the emergence of diverse voices and is often based on long-held biases and racist assumptions. Philanthropy can show up in so many different ways. I believe the range of philanthropic actions and the term “philanthropist” have outgrown each other. To me, the young Black men in my community leading nonprofit organizations are philanthropists. Their presence and ability to uplift communities and give voice to the challenges of young Black youth makes them a philanthropist. For centuries Black people have been doing philanthropy, starting at home and in their communities. I’m energized by youthful voices who are beginning to join the discourse and be contributing members at the table, who understand philanthropy as more than wealthy people writing checks.
What themes/trends are you most energized to follow in Black philanthropy?
Marguerite: I’m most interested in how we can begin to reshape and rethink how philanthropists work with nonprofits and address the power imbalances to ensure that these organizations have what they need, when they need it, to do the most good. If we can unravel the donor-centric practices that still exist in philanthropy so that a gift is really a gift with no strings attached, we will have made great progress. That’s what our sector needs. So I’m asking the clients I work with important questions such as, “Why do we need to have grant restrictions? What do you fear will happen if you don’t put restrictions on the gift? What do you feel you need to know in order to make this a real and transformative gift?” And I think we will see more collectives of nonprofits working together to assess what is needed, and hopefully this will direct donors on how to structure their giving.