Dialogue Across Difference

Add Your Voice: Philanthropy’s Role in Bridging Divides

Tuesday, September 26, 2023 - 11:08 am
Kathleen Enright

This blog is the first in the Council's new series, Dialogue Across Difference. In this space, we will share your viewpoints: In a time of polarization and mistrust, how can philanthropy bridge across difference? 

In a staff training, the facilitators from Resetting the Table asked us to think of a time we would have liked a do-over. I thought back to a few moments – personal and professional – when I could have shown up more productively. With those examples in mind, we talked about why we get stuck in destructive conflict and how we can transform conflict into stronger relationships, collective insight and creative problem-solving.   

We all recognize that we’re living in a polarized time, from the halls of government to the nonstop social media conversation. We see it in philanthropy, too, where increasing calls for inclusivity come alongside expressions of disdain for folks who prioritize different issues and approaches or voice divergent points of view. It’s holding us back from effectively addressing the challenges of our time. 

At the Council on Foundations, we believe we have an opportunity to show up differently: By seeing our differences as assets, not obstacles, we can find solutions, together. Not by silencing anyone or always aiming for consensus, but by really listening to each other and constructively engaging with conflict so that we learn together and find new ways forward.  

In this space, we will share your viewpoints: In a time of polarization and mistrust, how can philanthropy bridge across difference? We’ll be featuring writing from across the sector over the next several months, so keep an eye on the blog. 

In the meantime, I want to share a bit about how the Council’s team is approaching this question. As you may have guessed from the example I shared, we are starting with ourselves. The Council is partnering with Resetting the Table to train our staff and board in the art and science of constructive dialogue across difference.  

At the same time, we are learning from our members, partners and others who are leading in generating the knowledge and practice necessary to productively work across differences. Collaboratively with partners, we’re working to build capacity in philanthropy. Like any skill, bridging across differences takes both knowledge and practice. So starting with our eight-month Bridging Differences Leadership Cohort, in partnership with the Greater Good Science Center, we’re supporting 60 philanthropic leaders to incorporate the science and practice of bridging in their work. We’re also creating a publication and a leadership intensive to help our members learn, connect and collaborate across differences, in both how they operate and what they fund. (Please email us at if you have examples to share.)  

Just like our partners and many of you, we’re on a learning journey about how to navigate spaces outside our comfort zone. An important lesson I’m trying to integrate is this: If I’m not actively working to open up my thinking and expand my circle of concern, I’m not truly being inclusive.  

We are attempting to move beyond just tolerating our differences to productively engage across them.  

Philanthropy has a powerful role to play in this work. We can create the context for hard conversations that explore both deep disagreements and areas of alignment in a way that respects everyone’s dignity and humanity. In doing so, we support cohesive communities that are important to a diverse, inclusive democracy where everyone belongs. 

We are looking for those who want to contribute to this exploration. Will you join us?


Read responses in our Dialogue Across Difference series. In this space, we will share your viewpoints: In a time of polarization and mistrust, how can philanthropy bridge across difference?

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