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Nine Ways to Do What Needs Doing

Thursday, August 24, 2017

By Chris Punongbayan, Director, Equity and Social Justice, Northern California Grantmakers 

Racial tensions in many parts of the country have again reached a boiling point. The recent events in Charlottesville, Virginia are only the latest in a pattern of violence that is at once alarming and increasingly commonplace. Even in so-called liberal strongholds like San Francisco and Berkeley, white supremacists are organizing public demonstrations to give more visibility to their causes.

These incidents in and of themselves are cause for greater philanthropic engagement.  And we know that persistent, embedded systemic inequities continue to require our attention.  These forces have synergistic effects, and can confound even the most skilled philanthropists seeking to level the playing the field.

Let’s take a deep breath and exhale. Our sector can and will move forward for the common good.

Leadership in these times is not necessarily instinctive. It is not without uncertainty. It is complex and challenging, to be sure.  But the risk of carrying on business as usual comes at the cost of organizational relevance and, ultimately, effectiveness. Making the connection between foundation goals and equity issues in American society today is courageous and needed now. Here are four reasons why these conversations matter, and how philanthropy can lead in this moment: 

Conscious bias is real.

Exhibit 1: Charlottesville. Exhibit 2: The 917 hate groups monitored by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Exhibit 3: the recent memo by a male former employee of a tech company stating that women are underrepresented in tech because of inherent biological inferiority. These bald expressions of bias and animus seem only to be escalating with every passing week. But philanthropy has a strong voice too, and commands tremendous influence not just in the social sector but in the corporate and government sectors as well.

What philanthropy leaders can do now:

1. Publicly call out division, bigotry, and violence when you see it.

2. Bring in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) professionals to work with your team, or empower a DEI team to form internally.

3. Support the people of color on your staff who may be struggling at this time.

Unconscious bias is real too.  

Unconscious bias is an emerging field of science and refers to the attitudes and feelings that exist just beneath the surface of conscious thought. Unconscious bias is present in everyone. But too often, unconscious bias is wielded in a harmful fashion against members of groups who have historically been denied equal justice in various aspects of American life. For philanthropy, unconscious bias can manifest not only in its primary business of grantmaking, but also in hiring decisions, promotions, and work assignments.

What philanthropy leaders can do now:

4. Examine how unconscious bias may have become part of your organization’s work culture.  Get the support you need to begin to shift this culture.

5. Assess how unconscious bias may influence your grantmaking strategies and practices. Make the changes that are necessary to remedy this.

There has been no growth in funding for people of color nationally.

Demographic experts estimate that the United States will be majority people of color within 25 years. These shifts portend tremendous need within communities of color that philanthropy can help address. Unfortunately, in recent years, “there has been no progress on expanding funding for people of color” according to research recently released by the Philanthropic Initiative for Racial Equity (PRE). PRE’s research also shows that of the $28 billion dollars released by philanthropy in 2014, only 7.4% was for people of color. Furthermore, it’s noteworthy that funding for older adults is less than 1% of giving nationally, as is funding for Native American issues, as is funding for LGBT issues. You get the picture.

What philanthropy leaders can do now:

6. Examine your foundation’s giving patterns.  Assess the degree to which your investments are reaching diverse organizations, including organizations led at the board and/or CEO-level by members of impacted communities. This process may reveal previously unseen opportunities to close the equity gap.

7. Develop new ways to identify and develop relationships with potential nonprofit partners/grantees who are led by people of color and/or serving impacted communities. 

Supporting systems-change work is a viable approach to tackling inequities.

Many in philanthropy are comfortable supporting nonprofit organizations that provide direct services to communities in need. But many are reluctant to enter funding partnerships with organizations that are aiming to change the status quo on an institutional level. Still more are wary of nonprofits utilizing policy advocacy, community organizing, law, communications, and other similar methods to upend systemic forms of exclusion. However, funding systems-change has the potential to create more lasting solutions over the issues that are your focus.  All foundations want to make the smartest investments possible to achieve their goals. Systems-change work maximizes impact.

What philanthropy leaders can do now:

8. Evaluate your giving practices to determine whether and to what degree you are investing in systems change. 

9. If you are not satisfied with what you see, consider making a shift.  For a comprehensive guide to systems grantmaking, check out this resource guide.

2017 has been a year of great instability. And more change is coming – of this we can be sure. We have the capacity – and the obligation – to show up for our shared humanity and for our communities in these times.  Can philanthropy use its influence to turn the tide?  Are you ready to double-down on your commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion?

Please share your thoughts and let us know how NCG can be a resource to you.