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The challenges in our society have never been more urgent, particularly those related to the lack of racial equity and economic mobility. Access, opportunity and fair outcomes are not equally available to all in the United States. As donors, we see these issues and want to make a difference but often don’t know how to start. This guide offers four steps to help you incorporate racial equity goals into your giving strategy.
As will all philanthropy, giving through a racial equity lens is nuanced and can be challenging. The journey is iterative and nonlinear, but when done well, giving can positively affect both the community and you as a donor.
Effective philanthropy requires an active and ongoing dialogue among donors, nonprofits and community stakeholders. When looking to create racial justice outcomes, philanthropists must seek out and prioritize the voices of those who are most directly affected by inequity.
Leverage information from a broad range of sources, including grassroots publications. When reaching out directly to community members, leaders, organizers and practitioners, be respectful of their time. Don’t rely on them to educate you about race-related issues. Be aware that many will not be comfortable sharing personal stories. Consider compensating these individuals and groups when seeking their specialized and valuable expertise to inform your giving strategy.
Charitable giving benefits from the inclusion of diverse viewpoints and experiences. You should consider:
As you assess your giving through a racial equity lens, analyze and evaluate your grantee due diligence process considering these priorities.
Leadership and mission
Studies show that less funding is directed to nonprofits who are led by and serve Black, Latinx, Asian American and Pacific Islander, and Native American individuals. And those grant dollars generally come with more restrictions.1 Black-led nonprofits consistently are funded at lower levels than White-led organizations, even when focusing on the same issues.
Analyze your giving in recent years – as well as your proposed donations this year – to determine which nonprofits you support are led by and benefit those who you intend to serve.
Grantee budget size
If you’re only funding larger organizations, it may be a sign that your application outreach or evaluation criteria are screening out community- based or startup organizations.
First, consider how you’re sourcing new nonprofits to support. If you’re not receiving applications from smaller organizations, repeat Step 1. If you’re actively reaching out to the communities you intend to support but are still funding only larger organizations, it may be that your process is too burdensome. Remove any unnecessary logistical, technical or technological barriers to requesting funding. Consider phone calls or site visits instead of applications for organizations that may not have the resources to apply.
Another option is to accept applications previously submitted to other funders. Challenge yourself to consider whether an application is necessary. You may be able to access all of the information you need to make an informed decision from IRS filings or other readily available public information.
Many donors assess an organization’s capacity to receive and effectively deploy additional funding on the basis of prior grants. Again, organizations led by and serving people subject to racial inequity often are undercapitalized, which makes them more vulnerable to closure in hard times. Think about whether your giving decisions perpetuate this cycle of inequity in giving. If you focus on capital or project-based funding, keep in mind that general operating support can be especially helpful to these organizations as they strive to be agile in response to evolving community needs.
Tolerance for uncertainty
The journey toward bold social change may be circuitous or contain dead ends. Organizations that focus on racial justice are often required to adapt to rapidly changing conditions. That may lead to a range of outcomes that are unanticipated or may differ from those initially envisioned. Your willingness to deploy philanthropy as risk capital will pay dividends, possibly in ways you may not expect and on a timeline you can’t predict.
Consider your indicators of progress and success. Are you hoping to diversify your list of grantees? Are you seeking to create a committee comprised of community voices? Are you looking for a change in composition of your board or staff?
These and other incremental changes can be planned for and adopted over a period of time. Racial equity issues call for urgent and timely responses but also require an understanding that there are short, medium and long-term milestones. Opportunities to fund projects that will have clear outcomes in the short term are important. But if you’re seeking systems-level transformation, it’s important to remember that meaningful change may require sustained commitment over decades rather than months or years. It takes patience and dedication to develop long lasting solutions.
The implicit associations we harbor in our subconscious cause us to have feelings and attitudes about other people based on characteristics such as race, ethnicity, age, and appearance. These associations develop over the course of a lifetime beginning at a very early age through exposure to direct and indirect messages6
An essential step, perhaps the most important, is understanding and managing your own biases. This is critical whether you plan to give on your own, with your family, or are making collaborative decisions with fellow board or staff members. The many facets that comprise who you are — your identity and perspective — can have a profound impact on how you approach racial equity issue.
Implicit bias is the unconscious use of racial and other stereotypes. These biases often are so entrenched that they influence our opinions and actions even when we aspire to be unbiased.
To identify your own implicit biases and begin to counteract them, take Harvard’s Implicit Association Test.
We know that overcoming deeply ingrained views can be uncomfortable and requires honesty, vigilance, and ongoing education. When we understand ourselves better by engaging in truthful self-reflection, we are better equipped to achieve racial equity goals with our giving.
Contact your advisor to discuss your giving priorities
To learn more, use these resources: