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PEAK Grantmaking

Getting Comfortable with Talking About Bias

Systemic biases are undermining the positive potential of grantmaking. In a 2019 assessment of the grants management field, PEAK Grantmaking worked with consulting firm Frontline Solutions and found that while 64 percent of grantmakers have equity policies or statements that identify diversity, equity, or inclusion as one of their values, only 34 percent of those organizations reported that they support those values through their grantmaking practices. 

This disconnect perhaps is no small surprise considering the dearth of diversity in grantmaking leadership. According to the D5 Coalition, 9 out of 10 foundation chief executives identify as white, and in not having a robust mix of perspectives at the highest levels of leadership, many chronically under-resourced communities and leaders are ending up in the “no” pile. According to the same report, just 7 percent of philanthropic funding supports people of color or ethnic groups. There is a reason why: according to research by The Bridgespan Group and Echoing Green, race remains the key determinant of which organizations get funding.  

Biases – both conscious and not – are ingrained in the structures of grantmaking organizations and society as a whole. Consequently, donors with even the best of intentions ultimately fall short of the social benefit they hoped to realize through their grants. To overcome these disparities, PEAK in 2020 released Uncovering Unconscious Bias in Philanthropy, a primer on identifying different types of biases, how they undermine philanthropic practices, and what you can do to maximize your organization’s ability to benefit underserved communities. 

Unconscious behaviors to watch out for include:

  • affinity bias, where a person prefers that which is familiar to them;
  • attribution bias, the judgements people make to explain the behaviors of others, even if they do not accurately reflect the reality of a situation, such as attributing someone’s professional success to luck or unfair advantage instead of seeing their qualifying skills and competencies;
  • conformity bias, the unconscious tendency toward being swayed by the majority;
  • confirmation bias, where a person uses information to confirm views they currently hold, at the expense of information that might challenge those views; and 
  • contrast effect, whereby a person or thing is evaluated relative to its surroundings and instead of on its own merits.

This how-to guide – now available to the entire grants management community as a free download – is part of PEAK’s growing library of resources that expound on the five Principles for PEAK Grantmaking that serve as a guide for transforming philanthropy into principled grantmaking. In this publication, we focus on our third Principle: Drive Equity

This is only the beginning. PEAK has also produced four additional guides that take deeper dives into the issue of bias in grantmaking. Exclusive to members, they explore how to reduce bias in grantmaking strategy and community outreach, decision-making and grant awards, and grant committee recruitment and engagement.

Every organization is at a different place in its diversity, equity, and inclusion journey. Here, PEAK provides a common language to talk about bias to help all organizations get comfortable with talking about a potentially uncomfortable subject and make meaningful advances in their equity practice. 

Download your complimentary copy of Uncovering Unconscious Bias in Philanthropy now.