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Four Questions for Funders Getting Started with Racial Justice

Friday, July 17, 2020

In June, SCG convened over 150 family foundation members for our first-ever 2020 Family Philanthropy Virtual Town Hall, a day dedicated to exploring family philanthropy's role in shaping the future for generations to come. SCG is excited to elevate the critical conversations from our Town Hall to help families revisit their values and build power across generations. 

"Every day, we have a choice. We can take the easier road, the more cynical road, which is a role sometimes based on a dream of a past that never was. Fear of each other distancing and blame, or we can take the much more difficult path, the road of transformation, transcendence, compassion, and love, but also accountability and justice." - Jacqueline Novogratz,

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to exacerbate our nation's worst inequities and the demands for racial justice grow louder globally, the philanthropic sector must adapt to meet the needs of a changing world. In particular, as communities of color continue to be disproportionately devastated by the collision of these two crises, there is an urgent, moral imperative for philanthropy to adopt and lead from a place of racial equity. 

At SCG's 2020 Family Philanthropy Virtual Town Hall, Nick Tedesco, President & CEO of the National Center for Family Philanthropy, Dr. Michael Moody, Frey Foundation Chair for Family Philanthropy at the Dorothy A. Johnson Center for Philanthropy at Grand Valley State University, and Dr. Cheryl Dorsey, President at Echoing Green, discussed philanthropy's current moment of reckoning as the sector evaluates its long practices and accepts its role in building a radically new future. Inspired by our panelist's conversation, we have elevated four guiding questions for funders interested in adopting a racial justice framework and implementing its principles into their work. 


Take a moment to sincerely ask yourself: Am I satisfied with the impact of my giving? Has my foundation achieved the impact we initially sought to have? 

Philanthropy must acknowledge that while the sector has helped many communities, social problems continue to exist and are worsening. The COVID-19 pandemic and the movement against state violence have exposed our precarious institutions and our collective inability to provide adequate support to our most vulnerable communities, in particular communities of color who have been devastated by these crises. It is clear that these crises have not created new inequities, but rather that they have exacerbated our pre-existing conditions. If philanthropy wants to achieve an impact, it needs to start prioritizing solutions that address the root causes of inequality. Funders must begin to advance dialogue that identifies the biased and broken systems that repeatedly undercut their programs and prevent enduring change. Now is the time to revisit your foundation's mission and values and consider how you can achieve the impact you set out to accomplish. 


Once you've identified the forces limiting your efforts, you can then ask, how do I get to a place of more significant impact? Most often, the answer can be found by listening directly to the people most impacted by an issue. 

Philanthropy must be present and attentive to the communities it seeks to serve. Funders need to find the people and leaders who are already working to dismantle the structural barriers affecting their communities. Not only do these leaders have a personal stake and familiarity with the issues, but they also know how to organize their communities. By adopting humility and a listen-first approach, funders can learn what a community needs, in the short and long term, directly from people's real-life experiences. More importantly, this approach will foster a new, stronger relationship with grantees. The COVID-19 pandemic has required many foundations to adopt trust-based practices that eliminate bureaucratic processes and trust grantees to direct the dollars as needed. As philanthropy moves forward, it must continue to uplift and center the experiences of those most affected and hold itself accountable to the success of their grantees. 


Often, taking the first step toward racial justice is frightening. Paralysis sets in not because a donor doesn't want to do good or doesn't believe in equity, but because they are afraid of doing it badly. Families and foundations often don't have the tools or the time to ask the right questions and build the confidence necessary to adjust their grantmaking toward achieving more equitable outcomes. 

However, inaction is the same as complacency and reaffirms the inequities we seek to solve. Now is the moment to move from paralysis to action. An easy first step is to leverage your trusted intermediaries. There are countless people engaged in equity work who are willing to help you on your journey. Funders need only to talk to their peers and reach out to their networks to tap into the well of expertise that can better inform their work. Additionally, there is now, more than ever, a plethora of resources to support your racial equity journey at all stages. Helpful examples include the Philanthropic Initiative for Racial Equity's Grantmaking with a Racial Justice Lens Guide, NCRP's Power Moves: Your essential philanthropy assessment guide for equity and justice, SCG's Evaluating Your Internal Practices to Become an Anti-Racist Organization, and many other immediate resources


What are the roles and responsibilities philanthropy can assume in building an equitable world? How are foundations using their authority to respond to urgent needs and embrace new opportunities? 

Family foundations have considerable power, the ability to adapt quickly to new challenges, and to be agile with their grantmaking. For this reason— in this moment of crisis— family foundations should lean into new, innovative approaches to address long-standing inequities. Grantmakers have the opportunity to participate in emerging systems change efforts, start their advocacy efforts, support our democratic institutions, and shift power to the next generation of donors. In particular, as the sector continues to address its historic anti-blackness, funders can support black leadership and black-led organizations by just writing a check and walking alongside the grantee. By funding black-led initiatives, donors will not only create the conditions for these efforts to succeed, but they will also embark on a learning journey that will get them closer to realizing their foundation's mission. Our sector has a chance to be bold, to rewrite the rules that led us here, and to address the systemic injustices that have long plagued our communities.  



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