25 Years in Philanthropy
At the core of our philanthropic endeavors, we must remain grounded in our purpose and commitment to making a real and lasting impact.
In this very personal blog piece, Liberty Hill’s Senior Vice President of Programs Julio Marcial reflects on his 25 year career in philanthropy, his childhood dream to play for the LA Dodgers, and the immense responsibility we all share to address systemic injustices.
I didn’t grow up hoping to someday work in philanthropy.
My childhood dream was to play for the Los Angeles Dodgers. I was the youngest of six children and I was the only child born in the U.S. My family came to this country to find a second home; however, we, like many immigrant families, lived in poverty and in a community with significant street violence. I pinned my hopes, and my family’s hopes, on my making it in the big leagues.
In the 1990s, I became the first in my family to attend college. As my world widened and opportunities arose, I knew this same pathway was unjustly out of reach for countless young people who shared my background. I committed myself to overturning systemic inequities faced by marginalized youth. At that time, our state was arresting, prosecuting, and incarcerating more Black and Brown youth than any other in the nation. I immersed myself in research on the troubling overrepresentation of youth of color in California's youth justice system.
In 1998, I entered the field of philanthropy as a staff member at The California Wellness Foundation — one of the first foundations to recognize violence as a public health issue. My knowledge of philanthropy and its purpose was limited, but I knew I was in the right place. As a child and young adult, I had been forced to move across the boundaries of culture, race and class, and this burden became my strength.
I understood that my role was not to be on at the forefront of activism, but to listen and move resources to community leaders who demonstrated far more courage and boldness than I ever could. I embraced the responsibility of absorbing harm and easing the burden to access resources for those working every day to eradicate injustice in their neighborhoods. I also remained vigilant, watching for the contradictions and paternalism that can come with the power of purse strings.
In 2017, I joined the Liberty Hill Foundation, where the core of our work depends on listening and responding to the voices of those directly affected by social injustices. This career move was a natural progression for me because, at Liberty Hill, we use our power to amplify the efforts of those fighting on, and defending, the frontlines.
As I commemorate 25 years in philanthropy — managing a combined grants portfolio of more than $200 million — I think about mentors who walked alongside me, community leaders who keep me grounded, and my childhood dreams of baseball fame that transformed into something much bigger than I could have imagined. I also think about my colleagues who are at various stages in their careers who may benefit from learning about the lessons I have learned along the way. Below are six guideposts I have compiled that inform my work every day. I hope it will spark continued conversation about the immense responsibility we all share.
Learn from communities:
Throughout my journey, the most profound lessons have come from the communities themselves. The resilience, wisdom, and lived experiences of community leaders have shaped my understanding and priorities in meaningful ways. In practice, this requires those of us in philanthropy to move in the right spaces—such as gatherings of Native American- and Black-led community groups, listening sessions with incarcerated youth or farmworkers, neighborhood meetings about pollution and violence, and so much more.
Stay true to purpose and impact:
At the core of our philanthropic endeavors, we must remain grounded in our purpose and commitment to making a real and lasting impact. With each decision, we should be asking the big question: Is it aligned with our values? Are communities at the heart of the approach? Will this create lasting change that addresses the root causes of injustice and inequality?
Amplify marginalized voices:
Power dynamics and privilege favor those least affected by injustice, so it is up to us in philanthropy to center the voices of historically marginalized communities. As grantmakers, we can invite them into decision-making roles, let them speak for themselves at conferences and convenings, and center their voices in our communication channels. We can set them up to advocate for themselves, challenge systemic barriers, co-create interventions that address the root causes of inequity.
Collaboration has been the bedrock of my philanthropic journey. I have witnessed firsthand the power of partnerships, where funders, nonprofits, and community members come together to leverage their unique strengths and resources. Successful collaboration comes from seeking out those with common values but diverse capabilities and perspectives and placing a premium on listening and understanding. By breaking down silos and fostering collaboration, we can achieve far greater impact than any one organization or individual alone.
Learn and adapt:
The world is constantly evolving, and our approach to philanthropy must evolve with it. Many long-time philanthropic institutions still use approaches and strategies that were created for a bygone era. We must embrace a learning mindset, and stay curious and open to new ideas, research, and best practices. Being adaptable allows us to respond to emerging needs and seize opportunities for innovation, ensuring our strategies remain relevant and effective.
Remain humble and reflect:
As philanthropic leaders, it is essential to approach our work with humility and a willingness to reflect on our impact and practices. Progress is only possible when we ask for feedback and acknowledge and learn from our mistakes. And most importantly, change our behaviors to match what we’ve learned and share those lessons with our colleagues.
Lastly, even though I didn't achieve my goal of playing major league baseball, the kid in me is just as excited to be partnering with the Los Angeles Dodgers Foundation, who has contributed more than $1 million over the last three years to help Brown and Black youth thrive, succeed and learn. In my role at Liberty Hill, I am stewarding this partnership, as well as so many others, to advance social justice. I can’t help but feel grateful for the opportunities I have had to widen my perspective beyond the baseball field and contribute to healthy and thriving communities across LA.
Julio Marcial is the Senior Vice President of Programs at the Liberty Hill Foundation, which supports community organizing for racial, gender, housing, environmental, and youth justice.