By: Lisa Schohl
Grant makers have poured unprecedented sums into racial-equity efforts since spring 2020. “The more than $6 billion committed is more than was provided in the past 11 years — and we aren’t even finished with this year yet,” said Stacy Palmer, editor of the Chronicle of Philanthropy, during an online briefing held last week.
Yet while this money flowed — and keeps flowing — new research shows why real progress on this issue has been limited: Charities led by people of color are getting shortchanged.
Two experts on philanthropy and racial justice joined Palmer to discuss how the nonprofit world should invest in and foster lasting, systemic change for communities of color.
‘Patient but Not Permanent’
Wes Moore, head of Robin Hood, noted that one factor holding foundations back from spreading their wealth is the commonly held belief that a long relationship with a nonprofit is a marker of success. “I think it’s important for philanthropy to really pressure test that and question whether or not that’s something we should have as a goal,” he said. “I believe deeply that our capital should be patient but not permanent.”
Instead of celebrating longevity in their grant making, he said, foundations should consider why they support their current grantees, which organizations they are leaving out, and how excluding groups may be limiting their results. “We have to think about what does it mean to consistently be on the hunt for the leaders we want to lift up, the organizations we want to support,” he said. “The communities are telling us who these individuals and organizations are, but oftentimes it’s us who are not listening.”
Edgar Villanueva, author of Decolonizing Wealth, said the sector also needs to have “a little more truth-telling and acceptance” about who owns the country’s philanthropic resources. “If we look at history and understand that wealth in this country has been built in great part on the backs of Black people, Indigenous folks, other people of color, then we will give in a way that is respectful and responsive to that history,” he said. The fact that these communities are not getting their fair share of this capital is an injustice, he added. “We shouldn’t be able to sleep at night as funders knowing that that’s the case.” ADVERTISEMENT
Grant makers should “lean into the idea of these resources belonging to the community,” he said, and prioritize giving money away, rather than accumulating and safeguarding it.
Steps to Take Now
Foundations can take concrete steps to foster racial equity in this moment, Moore said. For example, they should make sure their giving supports nonprofit leaders as well as organizations. This support should be “self-directed” by the beneficiaries, he said, meaning leaders should help decide how to use the money to promote their personal growth and development. “This is not just about saying how are we making organizations bigger,” he said. “It really is about how are you supporting the people that are making the problem smaller.”
In addition, grant makers must create systems to hold each other accountable for increasing giving to communities of color, Villanueva said. For example, foundations should pressure each other to collect demographic data on the people who benefit from their grants and those who lead the organizations doing the work.
If philanthropists are truly committed to seeing lasting change, he added, they need to recognize that it isn’t enough to ensure that people of color receive an equal amount of funding as other groups. “We have to prioritize and overfund them for a long time in order for those communities to catch up.”