Part 1: Racially Equitable Grantmaking, No Longer a Choice

More and more nonprofit professionals are paying attention to the national dialogue and waking up to the fact that racial equity can no longer be a choice in their work. Some of those are in the philanthropic sector and have begun addressing it in their grantmaking. Different organizations are in different places along the continuum when it comes to the integration of a racial equity lens, but it is encouraging that strides are increasingly being made to include racial equity in daily operations. If you’re curious about why, one compelling reason among many is that a racially equitable economic growth model has been shown to be superior, as it improves societal health and economic outcomes for everyone. Working and investing in a racially equitable way may seem daunting at first glance, but there are many simple things foundations can do to get started. It’s the smart and socially responsible way to carry out our business.

Before going into the specifics of grantmaking with a racial equity lens, it is helpful to define the term. Buzzwords like diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) are commonly heard in various settings, and people’s understanding of what these words mean can vary.

Diversity encompasses a demographic mix and perspectives of a specific population of people, taking into account human difference. Diversity typically focuses on encompassing populations that have historically been marginalized in broader society.1

Inclusion refers to the degree to which diverse individuals are able to use their voice, participate in the decision-making processes within a group, and the amount of power they have within that group. While a truly “inclusive” group is necessarily diverse, a “diverse” group may or may not be inclusive.1

Racial equity is achieved when all people experience situational fairness – when race is not a determining factor in the allocation of societal assets and advantages, such that an individual’s race is not itself a liability or does not create unearned privilege. This helps to close gaps in the likelihood of success for different racial groups, as well as improves overall community health.2,3

Strategies for Grantmaking with a Racial Equity Lens

With those terms defined, let’s get into some approaches. GrantCraft’s Grantmaking with a Racial Equity Lens guide provides some strategies and tactics for racially equitable grantmaking even if your foundation hasn’t made a commitment or developed explicit policies and procedures. Some of these strategies include: understand the racial landscape, talk with grantseekers about racial equity, include and cultivate the leadership of people of color, rethink and redefine “merit”, and assess the impact on disparities.3

To build on these strategies and support implementation, ABFE recommends a set of core tools that can be used to advance racial equity work. These include conducting a deep data analysis around race as well as a racial equity impact analysis to ensure a particular intervention will close racial gaps, and effective messaging to keep people engaged while talking intentionally about race.

A racial impact analysis can be supported by questions that ask about the presence of/inclusion of the voice of affected racial groups while interventions are crafted and decisions are made, the effects these decisions will have on those groups, among others. These kinds of questions can be included in grant applications, which can then be revisited in the evaluation process to assess progress on activities and indicators. It can also be used instead as a grant review tool when assessing applications. Grantmakers could also ask applicants for demographic data to make better informed investment decisions, or simply to begin a conversation about racial equity.

As mentioned in Gateway Center for Giving’s Funder Guide for incorporating DEI, “DEI data can be used as a starting point about an organization’s potential to grow and incorporate a DEI lens into their work. Some funders may…provide them with financial support for professional development opportunities and consulting.” Effective conversations about racial equity with grantseekers and other partners include the following: a value that everyone shares, the barriers that stand in the way of it, the consequences or results of those barriers, and a solution that can be used to address the problem.2,4

Reaching Marginalized Populations with Grant Opportunities

It is also imperative to make every effort to reach minority populations with information on applying for grant opportunities. Black and minority-led organizations, and smaller local grass-roots organizations may not typically apply for grants. It is important to reach out to them so they are aware of available funding, and to provide support for applying, as a way of more equitably redistributing community resources and opportunities. This may also include prioritizing community groups, activists and movement-builders who typically do not partner with foundations but are doing important work on the frontlines to create more access to power and opportunity for marginalized groups.

Internal Operations and Strategies

Other ways to incorporate racial equity into internal operations include creating an advisory council composed of experienced community members to guide the creation policies and procedures, assuring that a percentage of the foundation’s portfolio is managed by minority investment managers, and trying to engage vendors, consultants, staff and board members from racial minorities present in your community whenever possible. A collective grantmaking model may even be used, wherein an advisory group including community members of color, those with disabilities, and other community members experiencing inequities, make decisions about how funds are invested.

More communities are waking up to their role in creating positive change. Deaconess Foundation in St. Louis is a local and regional leader in this area, and is one organization that has made a commitment to racial equity. Deaconess is operationalizing it as part of their work, including making it an overarching component of their Just for Kids Theory of Change. They are not alone, and neither are you, if you want to bring racial equity into your work. There are many resources, tools and other organizations who have experience walking this path that are available to support you. Racially equitable grantmaking is necessary for the philanthropic sector to help create a just society, and getting started is simple.

1 D5 Coalition: Advancing diversity, equity and inclusion in philanthropy, What is DEI?
2 ABFE (Association of Black Foundation Executives), Advancing a Racial Equity Agenda
3 GrantCraft: Grantmaking with a Racial Equity Lens
4 Gateway Center for Giving ,Funder’s Guide for Incorporating DEI

Alyssa Curran

Alyssa Curran is a program officer with the Missouri Foundation for Health. She was previously a program manager at Deaconess Foundation in St. Louis.

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