Throughout my career as a social worker, I have been both a grantee and a grantmaker. Through this lens, and in my role as PEAK’s chapter manager, I am dedicated to helping our members advance equitable and effective grantmaking practices by supporting their efforts to learn, share, and connect with peers. The last three months have been the most tumultuous time of my life, and I’m sure many of you feel the same. As I’ve navigated the cancellation of PEAK’s biggest conference to date, a global pandemic affecting those closest to me, and an uncertain economy, I have wholeheartedly thrown myself into work that matters.
Our chapter volunteers did too. While most have been pivoting to working remotely, they have continued to facilitate meaningful – and sometimes tough – conversations to help grants managers be the changemakers that philanthropy needs right now.
At PEAK Minnesota’s recent program, Bo Thao-Urabe, co-founder and Executive and Network Director of the Coalition of Asian American Leaders (CAAL), delivered a message and a mandate that we all need to focus on right now: Stand with community. In her talk, Bo urged several practices that funders can put into use to become better community partners and build trust-based relationships with their grantees.
Philanthropy is a partner to communities.
Bo started by asking: “What would it mean if we were hit with a worldwide pandemic, but we were prepared? What would that have looked like if we had known who was going to be most impacted, so we were already investing and making sure that nobody was unprotected or uncared for? What do we have to do, so that is true?”
I’ve reflected on Bo’s words as I’ve participated in several PEAK community conversations, where members have shared how they have been changing their practices to better serve their grantees. She’d reminded us that, “change is not really caused by philanthropy itself, but philanthropy is a partner to communities. It’s actually the community’s theory of change that philanthropy is investing in.” As Bo observed, solutions must include ideas from the communities themselves, and inequities will not change until communities “know that they have the power to participate in systems to shape solutions.”
We know that attributes like race, poverty, health, and immigration status exacerbate the effects of the pandemic, which has been evident in how it has disproportionately ravaged Black, Latinx, and Indigenous communities. Grants management professionals need to think about how philanthropy can better support power building within those communities. Providing these services may look different than what philanthropy has traditionally offered and, through PEAK’s community conversations, I have been encouraged to hear that many funders were changing decades-old practices, sometimes in a matter of weeks, to meet the moment.
The biggest and most often-made change cited have been moving operations to a remote environment with an emphasis on avoiding interruptions in grant processing. Streamlining processes has been a major outcome of the COVID-19 pandemic – and a way for grants management professionals to better serve grantees. You can learn about other changes through our extensive reporting, rounded up on PEAK’s COVID-19 resource page.
Take a stand: Fund social justice.
Just a week after Bo’s moving presentation, George Floyd, a Black Minnesotan, was brutally killed by police. You know what happened next. Communities all over have reached a tipping point and are demanding swift and permanent change to combat systemic racism.
I recalled Bo’s words: “[As] established philanthropic institutions, we don’t often clearly state whether we are funding social justice movements, or we are funding moments within the movements. [We must] continue to push ourselves to define who is at the center of our solutions as we think about progress. The protests have reminded us all that self-determination is a critical piece of working with and for communities and that firmly committing to funding what is needed is an important way for philanthropy to show up.”
Now is the time to fund, not wait.
Bo also spoke about the need to recognize that change is a long-term process, requiring a long-term commitment and investment: “Do we [funders] think our foundation is being bold and ambitious in changing the future or are we just responding to the moment? Are we going to try to protect our resources [and] give out less or hold off on grant cycles? There is a great concern that philanthropy will not understand the slow and the fast crisis. That we need to be committed to realizing that there’s a fast crisis now but there has always been a slow crisis that has caused the pains that we have in communities. How do you think about that in your own foundations?”
As philanthropy continues its work to advance equity and justice in this country, I reflect on these words from Bo: “This is the time where we need to invest more, rather than waiting, because if we wait, some communities might not make it through.”