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Leaders We Follow: Phillinnova

Updated: Sep 30, 2020

“George Floyd’s death was a catalyst for me to absolutely not be silent anymore. I feel like I have been complicit in my silence and in my lack of action, and rather than feel bad about that, I’m just moving forward and taking action.”

Recent acts of racial injustice have sparked change in many of us. For Julianna Nelson, Founder of Phillinnova, she’s shifting things in the nonprofit sector.

Since nonprofits emerged in the US in the 1970’s, organizations have been in a constant fight for more funding, more resources, more staff, more donors. This ongoing lack has (understandably) led to a culture of operating in a scarcity mindset, always in reactionary mode. Phillinnova is out to change that.

Phillinnova Founder Julianna Nelson offers nonprofit consulting that goes far beyond traditional fundraising and development strategies. She approaches nonprofits via their mindset, asking them to dig deep in order to shift from a focus on scarcity to a focus on collaboration and possibility. When she does her job right (which she does about 105% of the time), an organization will walk away from their partnership with Phillinnova healthier, more impactful, and set up for sustainable success.

And not just that—they’ll walk away feeling like real change is possible. The entire environment surrounding their work is lifted.

To get to that reward, Julianna’s clients have to be willing to get uncomfortable.

Internalized Oppression in Nonprofits

Julianna is personally engaged in anti-racist and DEI edication, learning to abandon her right to comfort and confront her white fragility. Even before her formal training, she’s noticed oppressive forces operating in the nonprofit world. Her education gave her the language and tools to confront them.

Because of systemic racism, many of the recipients of nonprofit resources are people of color. And also because of systemic racism, many of the donors are white. This opens the door for a great deal of white saviorism.

To get to the heart of this issue, Julianna doesn’t mince words. She’s been asking herself and her clients, “How is your organization supporting or dismantling internalized oppression?”

When something has been internalized, it is so ingrained in our culture that it can be difficult to see clearly or even notice. An example of internalized oppression Julianna comes across frequently is utilizing a “power over” model rather than a “power sharing” model.

In the nonprofit world, operating in a power over model means limiting the agency of a community, often by restricting how money is spent. For example, say there’s a nonprofit supporting after school programs in a low-income neighborhood. In a power over model, a board and staff disconnected from the recipients might dictate how resources are spent.

In a power sharing model, on the other hand, the board and staff might work closely with the community to figure out the best way to spend resources. Better yet, they might hire people in the community itself to make these decisions, people who understand the intricacies of the situation firsthand.

Though it may seem benign at first glance, the power over model is an indicator of internalized oppression: it keeps critical decision-making squarely in one group while preventing another group from rising up.

When we remember that the recipients of nonprofit services are primarily black and brown people, the oppression becomes clearer. This thinking perpetuates a model in which BIPOC people are kept from making decisions while white people are rewarded for choosing for them.

Julianna talks about the ideal end goal of a nonprofit: to put themselves out of business. When a nonprofit is built in such a way that it shares power, connects with its recipients, and evaluates itself clearly, it can empower the community. Eventually, the community can reach a point in which they no longer need the organization. When put to use in this way, philanthropy can become a tool for equity.

Revolutionary Philanthropy & Collaboration

Julianna calls the philosophies for her business revolutionary philanthropy.

Revolutionary philanthropy means looking at nonprofits with an entrepreneurial mindset that creates opportunities, creativity, and collaboration. Rather than seeing donors as separate from and contributing to recipients, Julianna encourages shifting to seeing everyone as collaborators. She asks nonprofits to invite people to be part of a movement, to participate rather than write a check and move on.

“I believe that collectively, we can create a movement,” Julianna says. “As crazy as this time is right now, I am optimistic that this is a turning point.”

Julianna talks about the power of coming together around a shared passion and vision in order to incorporate a strategy and create significant and lasting change. She advocates for focusing on collaboration, abundance, and possibility instead of competition in order to change philanthropy.

“I encourage everyone to think like a philanthropist,” she says. “Practice everyday philanthropy. You do not have to be a millionaire; you can give an organization $10 a month and be a philanthropist. Philanthropy means investing in the solution that you care about.”

Julianna recommends doing some research around a cause that moves you. Find an organization creating the change that aligns with your values and what you really want to see. “If it’s policy change, look for an advocacy org. If it’s direct service, look for an org that deals one-on-one with folx.”

You’ll feel something far more rewarding than white saviorism: you’ll feel like part of a movement. “I think it’s exciting to be a part of something bigger. You don’t need to have tremendous wealth to be able to do that.”

You can learn more about Phillinnova and Julianna on their website,


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