If you’ve been inspired by the words and actions of the countless trailblazing voices, activists and leaders shaping the racial justice, racial equity and ant-racism movement, you may wonder what action to take. How do you make forward-moving change in racial equity through your philanthropy?
Vice President of Grantmaking and Inclusion Initiatives Denise St. Omer and Senior Philanthropic Advisor Kelli Doyle engage in a conversation on how to reframe your grantmaking to include racial equity. Denise and Kelli discuss:
- How traditional philanthropy impacts communities of color
- What a racial equity philanthropy framework looks like
- Strategies to implement as you start your journey
- How we can help you include racial equity in your grantmaking
If adding a racial equity framework to your grantmaking resonates with you, our philanthropic advisors are here to help. Contact us today to get started.
More resources on grantmaking with a racial equity framework:
- Blog post on How to Support Systemic Change for Racial Equity
- Blog post on How You Can Support Asian American and Pacific Islander Communities
- The National Urban League’s State of Black America
- The Black Social Change Funders’ The Case for Funding Black-Led Social Change
- The Bridgespan Group’s Racial Equity and Philanthropy: Disparities in Funding for Leaders of Color Leave Impact on the Table
- The Bridgespan Group’s Guiding a Giving Response to Anti-Black Injustice
Hello, and thank you for joining us today. I’m Kelli Doyle, a philanthropic advisor, and I’m joined by my colleague, Denise St. Omer, Vice President of Grantmaking and Inclusion Initiatives. We’re here today to talk about grantmaking with a racial equity lens. And we’re delighted to have you here as you expand on your philanthropic journey. Thank you, Denise, for joining me. I’m really excited about this conversation. To start us off, can you give our listeners a little bit of information about how traditional philanthropy and historical behaviors of donors have impacted communities of color?
Denise St. Omer:
Sure. And thank you for having me, Kelli. In almost every area where we consider and measure quality of life indicators, the outcomes for people of color are worse for their white counterparts. And while those disparities have existed for a very long time, the COVID-19 pandemic really shined a spotlight and brought that to the forefront for a lot of people. Traditionally, philanthropy has focused on providing direct support for individuals and families to address their immediate needs. And that’s really critical and important. And those are things that we need to continue. But let’s think about the impacts of the pandemic, for instance. So, when the pandemic first started and school kids were required to move quickly to online learning, what we know is that for those students and families living in our more affluent and predominantly white suburbs, that transition was a little bit more seamless than it was for those children and families living in our historically under-resourced communities that are predominantly Black and brown. For those families, access to the technology that was needed for their kids to move into online learning was really a barrier, not just access to the physical equipment itself, the laptops, but more systemically the challenges for those families around being able to access broadband. So, when we talk about a racial equity framework, what we’re really talking about is continuing to provide those supports like buying the laptops, but then really taking the time to think about what those institutional and systemic barriers are that cause those racial disparities to persist. Also, central to a racial equity framework is really the concept that those closest to the issue are in the best position to really identify what their challenges are and really strategize and identify as well the solutions to addressing those challenges. Yet, what we know is that those organizations, those grassroots community-based organizations that are led by people of color have historically had challenges accessing traditional philanthropy. And really, there are barriers that persist within that sector as well when we think about it from a racial equity framework.
As donors think about this, and if they become interested in grantmaking in a different way than what they’ve been doing, what should they do to try to build their awareness of what they’re doing now and that might help them shift?
Denise St. Omer:
Well, Kelli, as we mentioned, what is really central to the framework is that idea that those closest to the issue really are in the best position to address those issues. And there are also tend to be, those are organizations that are really trusted in the community. And as I mentioned, there’s significant research that those organizations are underfunded. And there were a couple of factors that the researchers identified as being kind of part of the institutional and systemic barriers or that caused those disparities to persist. So, the first one is really when we think about the concept of social networks. Leaders of color tend to have inequitable access to the social networks that enable connections to the philanthropic community. Those researchers also found that so much of giving is very relational and building rapport with potential funders, oftentimes maybe interpersonal biases or mistrust, can really play a part in really keeping those organizations from developing relationships with donors and funders. And then also, it’s really important for us to understand that there are pretty significant culturally relevant ways that are embedded in those organizations. And oftentimes, those are different or funders or donors are unfamiliar with those, and that can cause people to question those organizations. And so, that can also be one of the barriers. And then really maintaining those relationships over time. Those are the things that researchers have lifted up. And so for donors, for our donors to really keep those things in mind, what I would say is the very first thing that we really can think about is our social networks. So, so many of us give because of somebody we know introduces us to an organization that they care deeply about. What we also know is our social networks tend to look and feel and be kind of consistent with ourselves, look very much like ourselves. Really thinking through and having an awareness of the limitations of our social networks to be able to help us to access those critical community-based organizations. The first thing I would say, Kelli, is to work with a philanthropic advisor. We have philanthropic advisors that really have spent a lot of time making sure that they understand the issues in communities and really making connections and developing relationships with those organizations. So our philanthropic advisors can really help to expose donors to those organizations that might be outside of their social networks. And then, what I would also say is really then to turn that into a longer standing relationship. That’s where we move into really putting the time into building those relationships. Listen and connect with those organizations. Let them identify what their needs are. It’s a really unique opportunity to understand what the needs and the barriers that our communities of color are really facing.
From some of the things that you’ve mentioned, building that relationship, and it sounds like this is not something that donors can do necessarily quickly. Can you give us kind of a sense of what donors can expect if they start to do this work and launch into grant making with a racial equity framework?
Denise St. Omer:
Sure. I think what’s really important for us to understand and really ground ourselves and our approach in is that these disparities that exist in our communities of color didn’t happen overnight. And so, we’re not going to be able to move them to get rid of those disparities overnight. What we’re really talking about is we’re asking people to really lean in and make the long-term commitments that are necessary for generational change.
Denise, what are some of the ways that our donors can rethink their grantmaking?
Denise St. Omer:
There are a couple of strategies that I would lift up for our donors. The first is really kind of going back to that idea that these are long-term commitments in partnerships. Really thinking about making a multi-year grant. So, rather than just making one grant and then the next, you’re making another grant, when organizations know they have a consistent year-over-year amount of funding, particularly when that funding is unrestricted, it really gives them the ability to not only serve their clients, but to also strengthen their own organization. Really also, particularly for many of these organizations that are led by people of color that have historically been underfunded, there’s some organizational strengthening that needs to happen. Oftentimes, donors want to say, “We want every dime of our money going to serve clients.” But if the organization doesn’t have the infrastructure and the staff, then they’re not going to be able to serve those clients. So that’s one way that our donors can think about doing their giving differently. I think another is for organizations to really think from that systemic level in how they are addressing particular issues. For instance, a lot of people are really concerned or concerned before the pandemic, but are probably even more concerned about the increasing numbers of people that self-report that they are living at or below the poverty line. Our traditional way of really approaching that has been to, again, really look at those direct services like financial literacy programs, which are amazing, and we should continue to support. But one of the things I always say is, you can teach an individual or family to be really good at managing their money. But if they don’t have any money to manage, then, we’re not going to get to the outcome we want in moving those families out of poverty. So, continue to support those programs, but then to really think through that racial equity framework about what are some of the other barriers that are impacting that family’s ability to change their circumstances. That can be things that we wouldn’t traditionally think of, the lack of affordable housing. Think about where our jobs are located. Jobs that tend to pay a higher wage are not located near those communities. Transportation can be an issue. And then again, particularly as we start to move out of the pandemic and think about access to workforce, training, development and those good jobs. If that’s something that a donor cares deeply about, really start to think about how you layer on ways to support multiple organizations that are really working to alleviate all of the barriers to get to the outcomes that we want. I think another thing, because we’re talking about this as being kind of the long-term work, I think that that’s one of the things that I always share with people is there’s a fierce urgency of now that we feel, but it also, because this is long-term work, donors can feel the ability to give themselves the time to really learn and understand.
You make a great point about asking, because there’s the data, there’s the numbers. But a lot of times, when we think about numbers, we don’t always get the feeling and the emotion and the experience behind those. And so, having those critical conversations with the people in your community who are living that experience, who are serving the people who are living that experience is so important to this work.
Denise St. Omer:
Historically, we have not disaggregated data in the ways that we should to really inform not just our thinking and our giving, but our strategies, our policies, and our advocacy.
And without data, it is really hard for organizations to communicate who they’re serving and what they’re doing and the impact that they can make on the community. And as a result of that, donors are less likely historically to give to those organizations. And so it is that cycle, that pattern driven by inequity and access to something as simple as data.
Denise St. Omer:
And I think that that raises a great point because I think one of the things that we see so often is that solutions are identified for communities, not with communities. And so, I think that that’s part of where this is really a fundamental. It sounds small, but it’s really a fundamental shift away from traditional philanthropy. And it goes back to that barrier we talk about, the importance of understanding culturally relevant solutions. Oftentimes we, donors and individuals, we associate and calculate for ourselves what feels like a risky grant. And so oftentimes, if we live in that space of awareness, what feels or we associate with risk is really just a space where we don’t understand the why. So really taking the time to understand the why, the what, the where. Ask yourself the Ws.
The Ws. And that really brings us full circle to what we first started talking about before in the beginning of this session, where donors without a relationship, with an executive director or with a community are much less likely to understand the Ws of what’s happening within that organization, what’s happening within that neighborhood, that community, and therefore are less likely to give. So putting an exclamation point onto that long-term investment of really learning, becoming open-minded, understanding what’s happening within community, and starting to build those relationships so you can better support the work that’s already being done. Thank you so much for joining us today on the topic of grant making with a racial equity framework. If you would like to take a deeper dive or receive more information on this topic, please, reach out to anyone on our team.