Laura Flanders Image By Alen Abdula
(Photo: Alen Abdula/PRA)

PRA Salon Series

The Right and Liberal Philanthropy

Air America radio host Laura Flanders shared her research on the effects of right-wing electoral and policy successes on progressive philanthropy at PRA’s March Salon. The 9/11 terror attacks, U.S. invasion of Iraq, and the election of George W. Bush to a second term in 2004 convinced some liberal and progressive business people to apply their corporate savvy to social change philanthropy. Upset at the seeming incompetence of liberal campaigns, a group Flanders calls “philanthro-capitalists” encouraged progressive groups to “Narrow your agenda, cut out any extraneous work that you can’t put a financial value on, [such as leadership development], and by all means, don’t make too much of a ruckus, because we want you to demonstrate your worth through both your impact and your standing in society.”

Flanders, who dedicates a chapter of her recent book, Blue Grit, to the topic, argues that such “metrics”-focused philanthropy is also influencing foundation giving. Ironically, she adds, the business people behind this trend, which includes the Democracy Alliance, would likely follow “the exact opposite” of their own advice. In times of crisis, like the present, such businesses “reconnect with their customers, prioritize their closest customer base, and lobby and advocate together through alliances that lift up their success stories.”

Who are the winners and losers? Just as the wealth gap between the rich and everyone else is increasing, Flanders argues that there is a growing divide between the national liberal organizations she calls “shadow Party groups” and the grassroots progressive movement. On the chopping block: “People-of-color-led and poor-people-led organizations, groups that work in and are of the grassroots.”

Flanders noted that “philanthro-capitalists” have studied the Right more than they have the progressive movement, and as they search for a “silver bullet” they cast aside much of the work that builds progressive power. “The belief in the silver bullet is as American as apple pie or snake oil,” said Flanders.

A video of Flanders’ talk can be found at For information about forthcoming salons or to download audio from our previous Salons, visit


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