Aging Philanthropy: Serving Is a Privilege

Strangely, my career transitions have often coincided with major disasters, beginning with 9/11, which happened one month after I moved to New York City and entered the workforce. I arrived in the philanthropy sector in 2008, just in time for the financial crisis, and left for a research and policy position in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. Right on cue, I started my new job as CEO of Grantmakers In Aging (or GIA) this past January.

I’ve often been asked, and ask myself, “How can you start a new job during a pandemic?” The answer: I am privileged. I can work right now because I am paying someone to watch my children. Without that help, I likely would have had to leave the workforce altogether, as so many other women have had to do recently.

This collateral damage from the pandemic is an aging issue—a serious threat to long-term economic security for women. So that clichéd speech opener, “It is an honor and a privilege to be in this role,” applies to me very literally as a white woman in this moment.

Philanthropic funding, provided by GIA members and others, often fills the gaps resulting from structural and systemic inequities, many of which were exposed and exacerbated by COVID-19. Whether it’s because of a storm, a recession, a virus or a history of being discriminated against or underserved, older people of color and those working and living in long-term care settings are often among those disproportionately and most severely affected.

As I dive into work with GIA, I am inspired by the many ways in which our members work to improve older people’s lives. For example, COVID-19 revealed shortfalls in safety protocols in long-term care, prompting The John A. Hartford Foundation to call for fundamental change in nursing homes and to support just-in-time technical assistance through the National Nursing Home Huddle.

Foundations have helped delineate challenges like health equity and the social determinants of health (Robert Wood Johnson Foundation), social isolation (AARP Foundation) and economic security in later life (RRF Foundation for Aging).

‘Though often unrecognized, the aging network is always on the front lines.’

Age-friendly communities work to make communities better for people of all ages (Tufts Health Plan Foundation). An eight-member collaborative of funders (Archstone Foundation, Gary and Mary West Foundation, Irvine Health Foundation, Metta Fund, Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Foundation, The SCAN Foundation, The San Diego Foundation and the May and Stanley Smith Charitable Trust) have supported California’s bold Master Plan for Aging.

The ReFraming Aging movement, supported by a coalition of GIA members, as well as ASA, empowers people from all sectors and disciplines to use language differently to combat ageism.

Though often unrecognized, the aging network is always on the front lines. Aging funders are behind them, springing into action to meet people’s immediate and short-term needs and to drive long-range and systemic change. To achieve our vision of a more inclusive society that values older people, those of us working in aging philanthropy cannot work to eliminate ageism without also fighting against racism, sexism, ableism and income inequality.

As the only philanthropy-serving organization focused on aging, GIA is committed to working with our members and the larger philanthropic community to identify these intersections to make our field and our grantmaking more equitable. We will use our power to advance policies and practices that address the root causes of inequities in aging and in every stage of life. I am privileged and I feel privileged to be a part of this movement.  

Lindsay A. Goldman, LMSW, is CEO of Grantmakers in Aging.