The Sillerman Center for the Advancement of Philanthropy

The Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University

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Letter from the Director

Susan Eaton

Welcome to the Sillerman Center for the Advancement of Philanthropy’s website. I became the center’s director in September 2015. With a great team of colleagues, I’m looking forward to reinvigorating this innovative center, to expanding its reach and realizing its mission to advance social justice philanthropy.

Since its founding in 2008, Sillerman has engaged established and emerging philanthropists and their advisors, undergraduates and graduate students to move social justice work forward. We accomplish this through the dissemination of useable knowledge about social justice challenges and their relevance to philanthropy and through educational programming and convenings where grantmakers gain knowledge, build community, grow their networks and find ways to work together and increase their impact. We also plan to offer free webinars soon. We award cash prizes to aspiring young grantmakers and sponsor internship opportunities with philanthropic organizations. Our publications, convenings and educational programs draw upon the vast knowledge and experience of the Heller School faculty and its internationally renowned research centers that explore our most important contemporary social challenges.

When I began telling people about my new role at Sillerman, they often asked: “What is social justice philanthropy?” There is no definition set in stone. But to me, a social justice philanthropist purposefully directs dollars in order to make social institutions fairer and more inclusive and to prevent the replication of deep rooted structural problems, the symptoms of which traditional charity addresses. For example, a food bank is undoubtedly a worthy and needed institution. However, a social justice funder would likely fund food bank that also educates youth about the relationship between stagnant wages, economic inequality, disinvestment in neighborhoods of color, and worsening rates of hunger and then empowers young people with political advocacy skills so they can create policies and practices that alleviate hunger at its source. A social justice philanthropist understands that we must not only feed the hungry, but understand why people are hungry. We must not only reduce hunger by feeding individuals but by empowering them to help eliminate social ills for the benefit of all.

This is a dynamic and challenging time in our society. Our nation is steadily growing more racially, culturally and linguistically diverse, bringing new vibrancy, transformative cultural changes and the possibility that people of color will have more political and cultural influence. There are signs that the public conversation about social justice is getting realer. Even the popular media has begun to acknowledge our past and current discrimination and structural inequalities that underlie recent unrest in Baltimore and Ferguson.  But even as discussions grow more frank, inequality is widening in many sectors of our society. And even as racial attitudes improve, institutional discrimination remains entrenched, thwarting development of a fairer and more inclusive society. Poverty is on the rise again. And our knowledge-based economy requires ever- higher levels of education – in the face of college costs escalating beyond the reach of many families.

Informed philanthropy then, has a fresh potential to seize this moment of transformation and growing public awareness, to respond constructively to demographic change, to transcend ideology and advance social justice on many fronts. We aspire to build the Sillerman Center into a helpful, trusted partner in this necessary work.

A lot of change and growth are ahead. I hope you will return to this site to learn about our upcoming events, to read our latest publications, to sign up for a webinar and to explore our educational and internship opportunities.

Susan Eaton

Knowledge Advancing Social Justice

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