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Trustee Reflections: Choose to Not Look Away, Stay the Course, Invest in Systems Change

Thursday, January 28, 2021
Caitlin Brune, Senior Fellow at Northern California Grantmakers in conversation with Karen Grove, Trustee, The Grove Foundation

It’s going to take some time for me to get used to hearing a president deliver, “a cry for racial justice some 400 years in the making” – a mandate to defeat white supremacy.  

In philanthropy, as elsewhere, we have an extraordinary opportunity to explore and deepen anti-racist practices. How might we disrupt the flow of resources to organized actors championing White supremacist ideals? How do we channel increased resources to Black, Brown, Indigenous, and other leaders and activists upholding democracy, confronting racism, demanding economic and political inclusion?  

These questions animate my interview with Karen Grove, Trustee of The Grove Foundation, as we discussed her efforts to enliven the foundation’s vision: that “all people have the resources, respect and sense of belonging to live and contribute fully as themselves, in safety, and with joy.” A condensed version of our exchange follows. To find out more about Karen, check out this recent profile in Magnify Community’s e-newsletter.

What recommendations do you have for trustees and board members seeking to take bolder action in support of racial equity & racial justice? 

We need to acknowledge that philanthropy itself is built on, and may perpetuate, White supremacy -- the same dynamic that gave rise to the attacks on our government and on our capitol. Our branch of the “family tree” is non-violent and polite, but we perpetuate the system all the same. 

To dismantle white supremacy in philanthropy, among other things, White people have to trust leaders, organizers, and communities of color who have been most impacted and are therefore best equipped to strategize and implement systemic solutions.  We must resource these leaders and trust their strategies to bring about liberation and a sustainable planet for all of us.   

In practice this looks like: 

  • Providing multi-year, unrestricted funding to grassroots organizing led by people impacted by the problems we hope to solve. 
  • Following the lead of organizers in funding infrastructure to build capacity. 
  • Demonstrating patience; acknowledging that outcomes such as policy and systemic changes can take years as organizations build power. 

Examples of the success of this strategy: 

  • Reproductive Justice organizations led by women of color and young leaders: When finally funded in this way, they transformed public and political culture, overturning the Hyde Amendment (which banned federal funding for abortion, thereby disproportionately impacting young people and people of color).
  • Long-term funding of civic engagement groups in Arizona led by mostly young, Latinx organizers led to registering hundreds of thousands of Latinx voters, and then signing them up on the permanent early voting list prior to 2020. This made voting easier for them while simultaneously guarding against voter intimidation at the polls.  As a result, many more voters of color could safely make their voices heard in the 2020 election.
  • In Georgia, long-term funding of a multi-racial coalition led by Stacy Abrams and a strategic team of organizational leaders – mostly women of color - is transforming Georgia politics to better represent ALL Georgians. Their strategy involves engaging disenfranchised potential voters as advocates, organizers, leaders and – through this – active voters. 
  • Long-term funding for criminal justice organizing led by formerly incarcerated people in Florida led to the re-enfranchisement of former felons.
  • Research by the Reflective Democracy Campaign in 2014 revealed that only 1% of elected prosecutors were women of color.  This astounding observation resulted in investments – philanthropic and political – that led to a significant increase in the number of reform-minded judges and district attorneys throughout the country, many of whom are Black women.  
  • During the pandemic, groups led by and working directly for their communities have used mutual aid networks, direct cash assistance, and basic needs relief to provide resources swiftly and effectively to people who need them.

Some of these success stories are electoral. White people with financial resources need to recognize that systemic change requires that we fund all the tools available to us – c3 organizing and advocacy; c4 lobbying for progressive governance; c4 and PAC electoral work.  Additionally, although it’s not a focus of my philanthropy, I believe that as a field, we must fund healing justice strategies by and for impacted people as a way to repair some of harm done to them and build their power to enact change.

Just as investors know it’s important to diversify, and even overweight winning strategies ignored by the market, grantmakers can overweight investment in organizing, advocacy, and direct service organizations led by impacted community members. This is how we will achieve durable change toward racial equity and justice. 

How have you applied your learning about anti-racist practice and unconscious Whiteness with peer trustees/board members and other White folks in leadership?  

I brought my reading and learning into our staff and board meetings, raising the issue of White supremacy and what the foundation was doing to address it. At Grove, we have two White women serving as co-EDs and two White women serving as Trustees. Although we have always worked as a board and staff team, until recently, many decisions were made by the four White women leaders. Over the past few years, we have worked to shift organizational culture to recruit a racially and ethnically mixed staff and share decision-making.

I am intentional about using my time and relationships to support others on this journey, whether one on one, participating in events or on panels, or being interviewed for blog posts!

In my local community, I engage politically in ways that support political education, voice and power for Black, Brown and other marginalized residents.  

As a Trustee, describe 4-5 specific steps you have taken to operationalize your commitment to racial equity.  

We have hired a diverse team and proactively worked to create a more inclusive work environment. In recruiting, we ensure the position description expresses our commitment to racial equity holistically, not as a footnote. We include the salary range. We send the position descriptions out through the community organizing and social movement organizations we fund, and we invite potential applicants to request a brief phone call to learn more about the position before they decide whether or not to apply. 

We recognize that diversity does not guarantee inclusivity and equity, so we also work to shift organizational practices and day-to-day operations to respect many ways of communicating, working, and being in community.  We share meeting leadership and facilitation, and are trying strategies to produce inclusive and participatory, multicultural meetings. We’ve done a bunch of things (pre-pandemic) just to enjoy one another and deepen relationships. 

We strive to build equity within our organization by delegating grant decisions to program committees consisting of board and staff, or only staff.

We aim to direct most of our funding to underrepresented leaders directly impacted by the problems we seek to solve, who hold a commitment to racial and gender justice. To hold ourselves accountable, we analyzed the race, gender, and sexual orientation of the executive leadership and board members of current grantees, as well of their front-line staff. We use this information to track our performance on our commitment to shift power.

We are flexible and always learning.  Where we are today is where we are today, and we hope to be farther along tomorrow. We are doing all of these things, but we don’t have all of this down yet – and we know that!  We are a work in progress, which is absolutely as it should be for this long game.

Find Karen’s personal recommendations for anti-racism learning resources she has benefited from here. Her top recommendations for philanthropists are:

Intermediary organizations can function as a resource bridge to racial justice movement leaders of color who are building a sustainable, just, future in which all people have the resources, respect and sense of belonging to live and contribute fully as themselves, in safety, and with joy. Here are a few with which The Grove Foundation has had direct, positive experience:

  • Four Freedoms Fund – strengthens the movement for immigrant justice
  • Groundswell Fund – fortifies U.S. movements for reproductive and social justice by resourcing intersectional grassroots organizing and centering the leadership of women of color, particularly those who are Black, Indigenous, and Transgender
  • Climate and Clean Energy Equity Fund – invests to build a powerful movement to stop climate change and create an equitable clean energy future
  • Donors of Color Network – first-ever cross-racial community of donors of color, committed to building power for people of color

Deepen your own learning and practice with these upcoming NCG programs: 

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