Transparency Talk

Category: "Racial Equity" (12 posts)

Evolving Towards Equity, Getting Beyond Semantics
December 17, 2018

Mona Jhawar serves as learning and evaluation manager for The California Endowment.

Mona JhawarIn my previous post, I reflected on The California Endowment’s practice of conducting a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Audit and how it helps us to stay accountable to intentionally integrating and advancing these values across the foundation.

We started this practice with a “Diversity and Inclusion” Audit in 2008 and as part of our third audit in 2013, The California Endowment (TCE) adjusted the framing to a “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion” Audit. This allowed us to better connect the audit with how the foundation viewed the goals of our strategy and broadened the lens used through the audit process.

While this could be viewed as a semantic update based on changes in the nonprofit and philanthropic sectors, by 2016 our audit results reflected how TCE described both our core values that lead with principles of DEI and the ultimate outcome of our work that point towards health equity and justice for all. And although we didn’t make a corresponding change to reflect this shift in what the audit specifically assesses, select findings from our most recent audit highlight how not only diversity, but how equity is also being operationalized within the foundation.

Getting beyond the numbers

In some ways, the most straightforward entry point for DEI discussions is to first examine diversity by assessing quantitative representation within the foundation at the board and staff level, among our partners, contractors, vendors, and investment managers. Though it’s a necessary beginning, reporting and reflection, however, cannot stop with counting heads.  While our audit may have started as a way to gauge inclusion through the lens of diversity, it’s become clear that collecting and examining demographic data sets the stage for critical conversations to follow.

Part of the inherent value of reflecting on diversity and representation is in service of getting beyond the numbers to discover what questions the numbers inspire. Questions such as:

  • Who’s missing or overrepresented and why?
  • What implications could the gaps in lived experiences have on the foundation, the strategies used and how our work is conducted?
  • What are the underlying structures and systems that shape the demographics of the foundation and of the organizations with which we partner?

It’s these types of questions about our demographics and diversity that help move us beyond discussions about representation into deeper discussions about equity.

The audit has been a valuable point of reflection and action planning over the past several years. It’s a comprehensive process conducted in partnership with evaluation firm, SPR, that spans an extensive number of sources.

Towards Equity and Inclusion

As TCE pursues our health equity goals, we’ve been able to define and distinguish key differences between diversity, equity, and inclusion. While diversity examines representation, we define equity as promoting fair conditions, opportunities, and outcomes. We also define inclusion as valuing and raising the perspectives and voices of diverse communities to be considered where decisions are being made. For future audits, we’re looking to refine our DEI audit goals to more explicitly focus on equity and inclusion across both our grantmaking efforts and to even more deeply examine our internal policies, practices, and operations. However, here are a few examples from our latest audit that highlight how equity and inclusion currently show up across the foundation outside of our grantmaking.

Equity in hiring

  • Recognizing the impact of structural racism and mass incarceration, TCE followed the lead of partners working to “ban the box” and the Executives’ Alliance for Boys and Men of Color to change hiring practices. TCE now utilizes a Fair Chance Hiring Policy that opens the door for hiring qualified applicants with a conviction or an arrest and shares open positions with anti-recidivism organizations.

Inclusion and equity in investments

  • In the spirit of inclusion, the criteria for our Program Related Investments (PRIs) integrate whether the PRI will engage the community it is intended to benefit as well as whether the investment will address a known health inequity or social determinant of health.
  • In recognition of structural racism leading to higher rates of incarceration within communities of color, in 2015 TCE announced that we will no longer invest in companies profiting from for-profit prisons, jails, or detention centers.

Equity in vendor selection

  • Operationalizing equity also requires considering how facility operations align with organizational values. In line with our divestment from for-profit prisons, an RFP process identified a vendor-nonprofit team that encouraged hiring formerly incarcerated and homeless community members within our onsite café. We remain committed to this approach.

The Work Ahead

We’ve accomplished a great deal. At the same time, as we evolve towards becoming an equity organization there are areas where we need to put more of our attention.

To move beyond articulating values and to get to deeper staff engagement, audit feedback suggests more staff resources are needed to connect individual functions and roles to our DEI values, including through our performance review process, particularly among non-program staff.

Connected to developing a greater vision regardless of department affiliation, we will soon embark to engage staff across the entire organization to develop a more deeply shared racial equity analysis of our work.  As part of this effort, our board is participating in racial equity trainings and adopted a resolution to utilize a racial equity lens as the foundation develops our next strategic plan.  Building on what we’re learning through our audits, in 2019 we’ll launch this effort towards becoming a racially equitable health foundation that will intentionally bring racial equity to the center of our work and how we operate.

Finally, as we continue to partner with and support community to fight for equity, there are several unanswered, imminent questions we’ll need to tackle. Within the walls of the foundation:

  • How do we hold ourselves to the same equity and inclusion principles that our partners demand of system leaders?
  • How do we confront the contradictions of how we operate as an organization rooted in a corporate or hierarchical design to share power with staff regardless of position, increase decision making transparency, and include those impacted by pending decisions in the same way we ask our systems leaders to include and respond to community?
  • With an interest in greater accountability to equity and inclusion, how do we not only tend to power dynamics but consider greater power sharing through foundation structures and current decision-making bodies both internally and externally?

Herein lies our next evolutionary moment.

--Mona Jhawar

Living Our Values: Gauging a Foundation’s Commitment to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
November 29, 2018

Mona Jhawar serves as learning and evaluation manager for The California Endowment.

Mona JhawarThe California Endowment (TCE) recently wrapped up our 2016 Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Audit, our fourth since 2008. The audit was initially developed at a time when community advocates were pushing the foundation to address issues of structural racism and inequity. As TCE’s grantmaking responded, staff and our CEO were also interested in promoting DEI values across the entire foundation beyond programmatic spaces. Over time, these values became increasingly engrained in TCE’s ethos and the foundation committed to conducting a regular audit as a vehicle with which to determine if and how our DEI values were guiding organizational practice.

Sharing information about our DEI Audit often raises questions about how to launch such an effort. Some colleagues are in the early stages of considering whether they want to carry out an audit of their own. Are we ready? What do we need to have in place to even begin to broach this possibility? Others are interested to hear about how we use the findings from such an assessment. To help answer these questions, this is the first of a two-part blog series to share the lessons we’re learning by using a DEI audit to hold ourselves accountable to our values.

While the audit provides a frame to identify if our DEI values are being expressed throughout the foundation, it also fosters learning. Findings are reviewed and discussed with executive leadership, board, and staff. Reviews provide venues to involve both programmatic and non-programmatic staff in DEI discussions. An audit workgroup typically considers how to take action on findings so that the foundation can continuously improve and also considers how to revise audit goals to ensure forward movement. By sharing findings publicly, we hope our experience and lessons can help to support the field more broadly.

It is, however, no small feat. The audit is a comprehensive process that includes a demographic survey of staff and board, a staff and board survey of DEI attitudes and beliefs, interviews with key foundation leaders, examining available demographic data from grantee partners as well as a review of DEI-related documents gathered in between audits. Having dedicated resources to engage a neutral outsider to carry out the audit in partnership with the foundation is also important to this process. We’ve found it particularly helpful to engage with a consistent trusted partner, Social Policy Research Associates, over each of our audits to capture and candidly reflect where we’re making progress and where we need to work harder to create change.

As your foundation considers your own readiness to engage in such an audit process, we offer the following factors that have facilitated a productive and learning oriented DEI audit effort at TCE:

1. Clarity about the fundamental importance of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion to the Foundation

The expression of our DEI values has evolved over time. When the audit started, several program staff members who focused on DEI and cultural competency developed a guiding statement on Diversity and Inclusiveness. Located within our audit report, it focused heavily on diversity although tweaks were made to the statement over time. A significant shift occurred several years ago when our executive team articulated a comprehensive set of core values that undergirds all our work and leads with a commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion.

2. Interest in reflection and adaptation

The audit is a tool for organizational learning that facilitates continuous improvement. The process relies on having both a growth mindset and clear goals for what we hope to accomplish. Our 13 goals range from board engagement to utilizing accessibility best practices. In addition to examining our own goals, the audit shares how we’re doing with respect to a framework of institutional supports required to build a culture of equity. By comparing the foundation to itself over time we can determine if and where change is occurring. It also allows us to revise goals so that we can continue to push ourselves forward as we improve, or to course correct if we’re not on track. We anticipate updating our goals before our next audit to reflect where we are currently in our DEI journey.

3. Engagement of key leaders, including staff

Our CEO is vocal and clear about the importance of DEI internally and externally, as well as about the significance of conducting the audit itself. Our executive team, board, and CEO all contribute to the audit process and are actively interested in reviewing and discussing its findings.

Staff engagement is critical throughout audit implementation, reflection on findings, and action planning as well. It’s notable that the vast majority of staff at all levels feel comfortable pushing the foundation to stay accountable to DEI internally. However, there is a small, but growing percentage (23%) of staff who report feeling uncomfortable raising DEI concerns in the workplace suggesting an area for greater attention.

4. Capacity to respond to any findings

Findings are not always going to be comfortable. Identifying areas for improvement may put the organization and our leaders in tough places. TCE has historically convened a cross departmental workgroup to consider audit findings and tackle action planning. We considered co-locating the audit workgroup within our executive leadership team to increase the group’s capacity to address audit findings. However, now we are considering whether it would be best situated and aligned within an emerging body that will be specifically focused on bringing racial equity to the center of all our work.

5. Courage and will to repeat

In a sector with limited accountability, choosing to voluntarily and publicly examine foundation practices takes real commitment and courage. It’s always great to hear where we’re doing well but committing to a process that also raises multiple areas where we need to put more attention, requires deep will to repeat on a regular basis. And we do so in recognition that this is long term, ongoing work that, in lieu of having a real finish line, requires us to continuously adapt as our communities evolve.

Conducting our DEI audit regularly has strengthened our sense of where our practice excels—for example in our grantmaking, possessing a strong vision and authorizing environment, and diversity among staff and board. It’s also strengthened our sense of the ways we want to improve such as developing a more widely shared DEI analysis and trainings for all staff as well as continuing to strengthen data collection among our partners. The value of our DEI audit lies equally in considering findings as well as being a springboard for prioritizing action. TCE has been on this road a long time and we’ll keep at it for the foreseeable future. As our understanding of what it takes to pursue diversity, equity, and inclusion internally and externally sharpens, so will the demands on our practice. Our DEI audit will continue to ensure that we hold ourselves to these demands. In my next post, we’ll take a closer look at what we’re learning about operationalizing equity within the foundation.

--Mona Jhawar

An Interview with Jennifer Humke, Senior Program Officer, MacArthur Foundation…On How Bottom-Up, Citizen-Made Media Strengthens Democracy
September 19, 2018

Jennifer Humke is senior program officer for Journalism and Media at the John D. and Catherine T.  MacArthur Foundation. Jennifer focuses primarily on grantmaking in participatory civic media as part of the journalism and media team. In this role, she makes grants to enable more individuals and groups to use participatory media for social change.

Recently, Janet Camarena, director of transparency initiatives for Foundation Center, interviewed Humke about how supporting citizen-made media can improve our democracy. This post is part of the GlassPockets’ Democracy Funding series, designed to spotlight knowledge about ways in which philanthropy is working to strengthen American democracy.

Jennifer Humke 2GlassPockets: The MacArthur Foundation has long supported media. How has the way that the MacArthur Foundation thinks about the connection between journalism, media, and a healthy democracy changed over the years?

Jennifer Humke: MacArthur has invested in media for more than three decades. The first grants made in the 1980s focused on supporting independent and diverse perspectives on broadcast television and documentary film to ensure a multiplicity of voices and viewpoints were contributing to and represented in the media.

Of course, the world and the media have changed and evolved enormously since then, introducing new opportunities and new challenges. Our grantmaking also has evolved as a result, but we still hold strong to the fundamental belief that a high-functioning democracy is dependent upon a well-informed and engaged American public.

”Investments are designed to strengthen our democracy by supporting just and inclusive narratives that inform, engage, and activate Americans to build a more equitable future.“

Today, our Journalism and Media program makes grants totaling approximately $25 million each year to support nonfiction storytelling (primarily documentary film), investigative and accountability reporting (primarily through the support of national nonprofit newsrooms), and participatory citizen-made media (and I use the term citizen in the broadest sense to include everyone living in this country). Investments are designed to strengthen our democracy by supporting just and inclusive narratives that inform, engage, and activate Americans to build a more equitable future.

A priority of this grantmaking is to ensure all Americans, and especially those from historically marginalized groups, are able to have their voices heard and help us move toward a more inclusive and pluralistic American society.

GP: While on the topic of inclusion and pluralism, more foundations are developing initiatives around diversity, equity, and inclusion. How is the lens of racial equity informing your grantmaking strategies and practices?

JH: When Julia Stasch became President of the MacArthur Foundation, she charged all of us -- her staff -- to lead with a commitment to justice in all that we do. This included everything from elevating the voices of those who are not always heard in policy discussions to ensuring that our grantmaking considers and supports a broad diversity of organizations and helps to address historic and structural inequities. You can read an update by Julia Stasch about MacArthur’s “Justice Imperative” here.

The Journalism and Media program has an explicit focus on inclusion. Our grantmaking focuses on amplifying the voice and influence of often excluded and under-represented individuals, organizations, and communities, and on facilitating leadership opportunities for people of color.

Macarthur foundationGP: “Elevating the voices of those who are not always heard in policy discussions” makes me think of young people today. Since the students who survived the Parkland High School shooting have so effectively organized around gun control, there seems to be growing interest in youth movements and youth organizing. Yet, when I look at Foundation Center’s historic data about the populations served by most foundation democracy grants, youth-focused democracy grants have received less than 1% of funding. Is this changing at MacArthur? Do you think this is changing field-wide?

JH: MacArthur does not have a strategy to support youth movements and youth organizing. But our grantmaking in participatory civic media was deeply influenced by findings from a research initiative MacArthur supported to explore new strategies and approaches for preparing young people to be good citizens in a digital world. Called the Youth and Participatory Politics Research Network, it was a nearly decade-long effort, carried out by an interdisciplinary group of academics and practitioners, who worked together on a range of intersecting projects. One of the Network’s main insights was that young people are as engaged today -- if not more so than in any era in the past – in civic and political activity, but that it looks different today. Young people are not engaging through traditional civic and political institutions, but rather their engagement and participation is reflected through their media making online.

”Young people are not engaging through traditional civic and political institutions, but rather their engagement and participation is reflected through their media making online.“

The fact is that most young people, especially youth of color and from other marginalized groups, do not believe that many of our country’s institutions care about or are interested in meeting their needs. As a result, their organizing and engagement is taking place in spaces where they are better able to influence policy, culture and institutions, and that is oftentimes online and fueled and scaled using social media and other digital technologies.

The March for Our Lives is a prime example. The scale, reach and pace of that effort to organize youth in support of gun control happened largely outside the realm of adults, and it was made possible by new media tools, practices and platforms. It was the result of a highly distributed network of young people who together were able to shift public debate and, in some cases, sway multinational corporations to change their policies in support of the young people’s demands, through their media making and organizing online.

It is clear that Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms have become the new public sphere, and our grantmaking is designed to enable inclusive and equitable participation in our democracy through these platforms and practices. We are supporting a number of youth-focused organizations -- such as Youth Speaks, Youth Radio and Voto Latino -- in part, because young people have been historically marginalized from public debate, but maybe more importantly, because they tend to be the leaders in using participatory media for social change. 

GP: It’s interesting to hear about some of the organizations in your portfolio. To help bring your work to life a bit more, can you describe some of the new grants you are making as part of your Participatory Civic Media grantmaking? And how does this complement the other longer-standing parts of the program?

JH: The participatory civic media strategy is the newest part of our Journalism and Media Program. It encompasses the media produced, remixed, and circulated by individuals and small groups to express their lived experiences, viewpoints, and concerns with the goal of influencing policy and culture. A significant hallmark of this type of media making is its low barrier to participation. Advancements in technology and communications have dramatically expanded the ability of non-experts to use media and storytelling for social change. Today, anyone with a smartphone can help to shine a light on long-ignored issues, such as police brutality or violence against immigrants. These are issues that have been marginalized from public debate for decades, if not longer, because they disproportionately affect communities that hold little political power, and as a result do not have access to traditional gatekeepers of news and information. New media platforms, tools, and practices are enabling bottom-up citizen participation in our democracy by knitting together the individual voices of those from marginalized communities that, together, have significant influence over public debate and agenda setting.

We are supporting organizations and activities that are doing work in various ways at the national level to create more opportunities for individuals and groups, especially those that have been historically marginalized from inclusion or representation in mainstream media, to contribute to public dialogue.  This ranges from improving the media making and media literacy skills and knowledge of youth in news deserts across the country (with grants to organizations such as Appalshop’s Appalachian Media Institute and Utah’s SpyHop,) to supporting storytelling initiatives that amplify the voices of under- and misrepresented communities (examples include, Pillars Fund, Define American and The Opportunity Agenda.) The goal of this grantmaking is to increase civic participation in our democracy, largely through the making, sharing, circulating, and critiquing of media online.

”Social media platforms have disrupted traditional news business models, diverting most ad revenue away from publishers and into the coffers of large technology platforms.“

Of course, we recognize the negative impacts these new platforms and practices are having on our democracy. Social media platforms have disrupted traditional news business models, diverting most ad revenue away from publishers and into the coffers of large technology platforms. At the same time, the participatory nature of these platforms has empowered extremists and hate groups to spread and, in some cases, mainstream misinformation and lies. These, of course, are messy problems with no simple answer. We have entered into this space with great humility, making a small number of exploratory grants – to organizations such as The Tow Center for Digital Journalism and Data & Society – to examine the dynamics of these problems with the goal of identifying interventions and seeding and building alliances and processes to address them.

GP: What you’re referencing reminds me that #FakeNews is a hashtag that has grown in prominence since the presidential election. Since working toward a more informed citizenry is at the heart of much of your Journalism and Media portfolio, how has the aftermath of the election and what we’ve learned about how misinformation played a role, affected your grantmaking moving forward?

JH: As a foundation, we spent a lot of time post-election reflecting on whether our grantmaking strategies were addressing the most pressing issues in our fields of operation. The spread of false and misleading information and the role it played in the election was of great concern to us in the Journalism and Media Program. As I mentioned earlier, we have made some new grants since the election to more deeply explore the role large technology platforms have played in spreading lies and amplifying hate, but we also believe that our continued investments in the range of efforts we have supported over the years to ensure all Americans are well-informed and highly engaged is the most important contribution we can make to strengthening our democracy in the current media environment. We will continue to support nonprofit newsrooms and independent documentary filmmakers to create and distribute rigorously researched and nuanced news and narratives and support individuals and citizen groups to use participatory media to engage civically. Together, we believe, these strategies work to hold power to account, uncover injustices, and result in more just and inclusive narratives that reflect the needs and aspirations of all Americans. 

--Janet Camarena

“Because It’s Hard” Is Not an Excuse – Challenges in Collecting and Using Demographic Data for Grantmaking
August 30, 2018

Melissa Sines is the Effective Practices Program Manager at PEAK Grantmaking. In this role, she works with internal teams, external consultants, volunteer advisory groups, and partner organizations to articulate and highlight the best ways to make grants – Effective Practices. A version of this post also appears in the PEAK Grantmaking blog.

MelissaFor philanthropy to advance equity in all communities, especially low-income communities and communities of color, it needs to be able to understand the demographics of the organizations being funded (and declined), the people being served, and the communities impacted. That data should be used to assess practices and drive decision making.

PEAK Grantmaking is working to better understand and build the capacity of grantmakers for collecting and utilizing demographic data as part of their grantmaking. Our work is focused on answering four key questions:

  • What demographic data are grantmakers collecting and why?
  • How are they collecting these demographic data?
  • How is demographic data being used and interpreted?
  • How can funders use demographic data to inform their work?

In the process of undertaking this research, we surfaced a lot of myths and challenges around this topic that prevent our field from reaching the goal of being accountable to our communities and collecting this data for responsible and effective use.

Generally, about half of all grantmakers are collecting demographic data either about the communities they are serving or about the leaders of the nonprofits they have supported. For those who reported that they found the collection and use of this data to be challenging, our researcher dug a little deeper and asked about the challenges they were seeing.

Some of the challenges that were brought to the forefront by our research were:

PEAK Grantmaking reportChallenge 1: Fidelity and Accuracy in Self-Reported Data
Data, and self-reported data in particular, will always be limited in its ability to tell the entire story and to achieve the nuance necessary for understanding. Many nonprofits, especially small grassroots organizations, lack the capability or capacity to collect and track data about their communities. In addition, white-led nonprofits may fear that lack of diversity at the board or senior staff level may be judged harshly by grantmakers.

Challenge 2: Broad Variations in Taxonomy
Detailed and flexible identity data can give a more complete picture of the community, but this flexibility works against data standardization. Varying taxonomies, across sectors or organizations, can make it difficult to compare and contrast data. It can also be a real burden if the nonprofit applying for a grant does not collect demographic data in the categories that a grantmaker is using. This can lead to confusion about how to report this data to a funder.

Challenge 3: Varying Data Needs Across Programs
Even inside a single organization, different programs may be collecting and tracking different data, as program officers respond to needs in their community and directives from senior leadership. Different strategies or approaches to a problem demand different data. For instance, an arts advocacy program may be more concerned with constituent demographics and impact, while an artist’s program will want to know about demographics of individual artists.

Challenge 4: Aggregating Data for Coalitions and Collaborations
This becomes even more complex as coalitions and collaborative efforts that bring together numerous organizations, or programs inside of different organizations, to accomplish a single task. The aforementioned challenges are compounded as more organizations, different databases, and various taxonomies try to aggregate consistent demographic data to track impact on specific populations.

These are all very real challenges, but they are not insurmountable. Philanthropy, if it puts itself to the task, can tackle these challenges.

Some suggestions to get the field started from our report include

  • Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Pilot systems for data collection, then revisit them to ensure that they are working correctly, meeting the need for good data, and serving the ultimate goal of tracking impact.
  • Fund the capacity of nonprofits to collect good data and to engage in their own diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts.
  • Engage in a conversation – internally and externally – about how this data will be collected and how it will be used. If foundation staff and the nonprofits they work with understand the need for this data, they will more willingly seek and provide this information.
  • For coalitions and collaborative efforts, it may make sense to fund a backbone organization that takes on this task (among other administrative or evaluation efforts) in support of the collective effort.
  • Work with your funding peers – in an issue area or in a community – to approach this challenge in a way that will decrease the burden on nonprofits and utilize experts that may exist at larger grantmaking operations.
  • Support field-wide data aggregators, like GuideStar or the Foundation Center, and work alongside them as they try to collect and disseminate demographic data about the staff and boards at nonprofits and the demographics of communities that are being supported by grantmaking funds.

Grantmakers have the resources and the expertise to begin solving this issue and to share their learning with the entire field. To read more about how grantmakers are collecting and using demographic data, download the full report.

--Melissa Sines

Opening Up from the Inside to Engage Philanthropy in Race & Equity
June 28, 2018

6a00e54efc2f80883301b7c924e526970b-150wi 2Hanh Cao Yu is chief learning officer for The California Endowment. She started her career in philanthropy through The San Francisco Foundation’s Multicultural Fellowship program. In this post, she explores the significance of fellowships and other intentional foundation approaches, to creating a more equitable, diverse, and inclusive philanthropic sector.

At the age of 7, I remember the sheer terror of my family of five fleeing Vietnam to find political asylum. Branded “alien” and “outsider,” I found it hard to speak about the trauma of my experience as a refugee. Coming to America did not end the pain, violence, or oppression we endured.  In the “Land of Opportunity,” we experienced the vicissitudes of discrimination, poverty, unsafe neighborhoods, and sub-standard inner-city schools.  I remember the cramped living quarters of our one-bedroom apartment in South LA where gun shots and sirens erupted with regularity.  To survive and succeed, I worked hard to assimilate, to perfect my English, and to rarely speak of my early experience or native culture.  But all the while, I felt incomplete and a sense of disconnection from my community.

In graduate school, the carefully constructed walls separating my private and public selves began to crack open.  As I was considering a topic for my doctoral thesis, I finally chose to focus on the experiences of second wave Vietnamese immigrant students.  This not only informed educators on the lived experiences of the children of the “Boat People,” it also helped me to reflect on my own experience of navigating the distinct worlds of family, peers, and schools and the need to constantly “code switch” to fit in and succeed.

Looking for post-graduation opportunities, I never imagined a career in philanthropy.  However, I was intrigued by the goal of the Multicultural Fellowship at The San Francisco Foundation (TSFF) to introduce young professionals of color to institutional philanthropy and to increase the pipeline of leaders of color interested in making a difference in their communities through positions in philanthropy, the nonprofit, public, and private sectors.  

“Transparency is often thought of in institutional contexts, but here I am also reflecting on how philanthropy can be improved if more of us “outsiders” who find a seat at the philanthropy table can share the power of our personal stories to influence, inform, and ultimately, to humanize the work.”

As a fellow, I was introduced to what it meant to have access to power and wealth.  I sat in board of trustee meetings and supported the development and implementation of multi-funder initiatives.  This program gave me keen insights into the inner workings of foundations and the role of philanthropy.  It taught me humility as a steward of charitable resources.  More than anything, the fellowship gave me poise and fearlessness to open up for the first time to share my intensely personal history because I realized my new colleagues could learn about the historically excluded communities they were serving through my experiences.  Transparency is often thought of in institutional contexts, but here I am also reflecting on how philanthropy can be improved if more of us “outsiders” who find a seat at the philanthropy table can share the power of our personal stories to influence, inform, and ultimately, to humanize the work.

I was encouraged to explore why community-led solutions mattered to me.  Countering the dominant behavioral expectations around race, class, and culture, this fellowship provided a nurturing, supportive environment.  I thrived under the tutelage of a powerful, Black-Filipino female mentor and the support of a peer cohort of accomplished women of color. 

I re-entered philanthropy two decades later to fulfill the promise and a great debt of gratitude for the TSFF Fellowship.  Joining The California Endowment (TCE) allowed me the opportunity to serve as a member of the executive team and to contribute to one of the most racially diverse foundations in the U.S.  Through strategic recruiting efforts, TCE has intentionally established a deep and strong pipeline of diverse staff and leaders—supporting and drawing from high-quality fellowship programs such as TSFF Multicultural Fellowship, Greenlining Equity Fellowship, and National Urban Institute Fellowship.

At TCE, we push ourselves, as grantmakers and change leaders, to learn and adapt to the shifting socio-political environment to create an equity-focused organization and improve our work as a result of having a number of staff who are representative of the diverse communities we serve.  This entails:

  • Creating the space and time for healing and difficult internal conversations on race: Although TCE is renowned for its work to advance health equity and social justice, our staff continues to ensure we take the time to openly discuss the effects of current events on our well-being, and build an “authorizing environment” to support a shared understanding and analysis of racial equity to inform our work with communities. 
  • Using the foundation’s platform to influence and collaborate: TCE staff is engaged from the inside to transform philanthropic practice and to have difficult internal conversations about our role as a health foundation in taking a stance against state sanctioned violence and exclusionary practices.  Most recently, our President & CEO used his voice and TCE joined forces with numerous foundations and advocates and grantee partners in a joint statement to express outrage at the policy of separating children from families at the border and how this affects TCE’s mission and our work as a foundation. And earlier this year, following the mass shooting in Parkland, Florida, given the implications to public health, our Board committed to scrubbing our stock holdings of any investments in gun manufacturing.
  • Ensuring that power is built and sustained in marginalized communities. In the long-run, TCE has identified our North Star as “Building voice and power for a health and inclusive California.”  Our work is not done until historically excluded adults and youth residents have voice, agency and power in public and private decision making to create an inclusive democracy and close health equity gaps, so we prioritize supporting youth movements and governing for racial equity. 

By all measures, the work of TCE is better and more attuned to communities because the foundation opened up its work to those who have traditionally been on the outside of philanthropy.  As the first Vietnamese Chief Learning Officer, I am proud of my branded outsider, refugee status. This gives me the strength, inspiration, and empathy to do my best work in philanthropy and to re-envision the land of opportunity for my community and all Californians.

--Hanh Cao Yu

An Interview with Lateefah Simon, President, Akonadi Foundation…On the Power of Openness, Listening, and Connecting to Improve Equity, Diversity, & Inclusion
June 21, 2018

Leteefah SimonLateefah Simon is a nationally recognized advocate for civil rights and racial justice, and brings more than 20 years of executive experience in advancing opportunities for communities of color and low-income communities in the Bay Area. Prior to joining Akonadi, which seeks to eliminate structural racism that leads to inequity in the United States, Simon served as program director for the San Francisco-based Rosenberg Foundation, a statewide grantmaker focusing on systemic barriers to full access to equity and opportunity for Californians. She managed the Foundation’s portfolio of grants supporting groundbreaking advocacy in criminal justice reform, immigrant rights, low-wage workers’ rights, and civic engagement.

Before joining Rosenberg, Simon was executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area, where she revamped the 40-year-old organization’s structure and launched successful community-based initiatives, including the Second Chance Legal Services Clinic. Her passion for supporting low-income young women and girls, and her advocacy for juvenile and criminal justice reform began at San Francisco’s Center for Young Women’s Development (CYWD), now called the Young Women’s Freedom Center. Simon became executive director of that grassroots organization, run for and by young women who come through and are affected by these systems, at age 19; she remained in that role for 11 years.

In January, our PhilanTopic colleagues interviewed Simons to discuss her work on racial equity in this 5Qs post. Recently, Glasspockets caught up with Simons for a follow-up interview about her career arc from grassroots activist to foundation leader, her observations about how openness can help to mitigate the grantee/grantmaker power imbalance, and how her current grantmaking practices are informed by important lessons she learned about philanthropy, equity, diversity, and inclusion from the other side of the grantmaking table. 

GlassPockets: As the field of philanthropy is turning its attention to racial equity, I think there is a lot we might be able to learn from your story of how you started out in philanthropy when you led a small, grassroots organization, knowing no one in the field, and now have navigated your career to becoming a philanthropy insider. Can you start by describing your career path, the challenges you faced as a young woman of color, and how you broke into philanthropy? What were some of the key breakthroughs for you that made it possible?

Lateefah Simon: I started my career in the in the 1990’s - in the midst of the AIDS crisis, the war on drugs and the out migration and displacement of black people. Sill in high school, I began working as an organizer at the Young Women’s Freedom Center in San Francisco. The girl-led organization was founded to build advocacy and power with systems involving young women through political education, organizing, and building economic stability.

“I remember thinking, 'If I’m ever a funder, I am going to listen.'”

Three years after joining the organization, I became its executive director. I was a single mother, living in low-income housing – but, despite these struggles, I was an excellent organizer. As a young executive director of color, I faced daily challenges in engaging with folks in philanthropy because I was not part of their usual networks.  One encounter during these early days still haunts me. It was 1998, and we’d just launched a political education program in juvenile hall and in SRO hotels. We were building a membership base to mount a campaign to oust the homophobic ombudsman at the detention center. A program officer from a well-known advocacy funder came to visit and learn more about our work.  We’d assembled about 15 staff and organization members - all homeless and system-involved girls. Rather than trying to understand our programmatic approach, she immediately dismissed the work as not aligned with the foundation’s definition of organizing, in effect telling us “we were not organizing.” It was at that moment that I realized that the power dynamics of race and class manifested in the funder and organizer relationship, even among well intentioned funders, were dangerous. She came into a space run by, and for, women of color and told us what she thought was best for our community. She set up the dynamic: We couldn’t engage in honest conversations, we couldn’t push back, and if we wanted resources from her group, we’d have to fall in line. I felt so clear at that moment about the purpose of our work with these young women, and I remember thinking, “If I’m ever a funder, I am going to listen.”

Another challenging instance I remember is that I had to fill out a diversity report about our organization for a foundation that had no people of color on its leadership team and might have benefited more from the exercise than we did. We had to report statistics such as how many people of color and how many women we had on staff and were serving through our programs. We had to comply with the data points to get the funding that we needed. I remember thinking about the contradiction inherent to a process like this one in which the funders themselves didn’t have to disclose their own diversity data. That’s why the fact that GlassPockets encourages foundations to publicly share their own diversity data as part of their commitment to transparency is so important. I think foundations have more to learn than community-based groups from such an exercise.

In contrast, one of the first funders to believe in me was Quinn Delaney, founder of the Akonadi Foundation. She and an advisor came to a site visit and took the time to listen to me for two hours, using it as an opportunity to learn rather than demonstrate what she already knew. She listened, asked questions, believed in us, and supported us. Another transformational experience was when I was newly hired at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area. I was pitching funders about our work, and I was lucky enough to land a meeting with Dr. Ross, CEO of The California Endowment. He was one of the most gracious people I’ve ever met. I told him what we were doing and he declined our programmatic grant request. But he also said, “I believe in you, so I’m going to give you some money. It’s important that we invest in young people of color.” He invested in me as a leader, and in so doing, demonstrated to me the importance of foundations having flexibility even when programs don’t align.

Maya Harris, when she was at the Ford Foundation, is another positive example of a funder who worked to make philanthropy more inclusive by making time to provide one-on-one assistance. Instead of saying “no” to my grant application, she actually personally called to walk me through the grant application step-by-step, and told me what I needed to correct about the proposal to make it stronger.

Those individuals continue to be mentors in my life to this day, and they’ve worked like that with scores of young people. Building strong relationships between grantees and grantseekers is invaluable. These types of investments of time and resources and mentorship are vital to building mutual trust for real social change to occur.

GP: How do those breaks you received inform how you now structure your own grantmaking policies and procedures to ensure those not connected and well-resourced have a chance?

LS: In philanthropy, we should look at prospective grantees as our educators. I’ve been in philanthropy for seven years, and I’m very clear about what I don’t know. It is a privilege to be in this sector, and important to approach the work as a student, not an expert, and ask the questions without having the answers. We are students of the movements that we seek to support. Now, being in the sector, I’d like to be the kind of professional funder who continues to “do the least harm and do the most good.”

“We are students of the movements that we seek to support.”

I always tell my staff that you should be working the hardest that you’ve ever worked. And they are. Our Akonadi team continues to work hard at creating intentionality in our grantmaking by taking the time to answer the phone and respond to grantees, to walk people through the application process, and to answer questions. We do public information sessions in communities that may not have heard of Akonadi and wouldn’t know how to apply for a grant. We attend grantee community events and plan learning convenings to engage our community of grantees to find out how we can sharpen our process. It’s a privilege to support groups that are doing the most difficult work on the front lines, fighting racism and oppression, particularly in the current political environment in which so many of the communities we serve are under attack. The bottom line is that we try to hold a high standard of excellence while also making the process accessible and making ourselves as available as possible.

GP: As more industry conferences and foundation portfolios are focusing on racial equity, what advice would you give them on practices that can help the field improve its record and better serve and reflect its communities?

LS: Through our Beloved Community Fund, we supported an annual event at Oakland’s Lake Merritt called 510Day, which is organized by youth in the community to bring to light issues like gentrification, over-policing and mass incarceration. 510 Day happened on the heels of #BBQBecky, the story that went viral about the white woman who called the cops on black folks having a barbecue at Lake Merritt in Oakland. The event gained national attention because of the community response to the incident, and put a spotlight on the economic pressures that communities of color are facing in the city. I spoke to a young man at the event, and he said, “If you’re a police officer or a firefighter, you get a four-gun salute when you die. We, the community, are out here organizing and doing the work on the streets. We are the first responders in our neighborhoods to crime and violence.”

“We have to find ways to connect with those groups who are not on 'the radar,' but are doing the heavy work of healing and organizing communities that are hit hardest by racism and oppression.”

I sat with that as a funder. There is a heavy weight on us in philanthropy. We have to stay aware of what’s happening in our communities, and what’s happening at the margins of those communities that we serve. We have to find ways to connect with those groups who are not on “the radar,” but are doing the heavy work of healing and organizing communities that are hit hardest by racism and oppression. That means getting out of our offices and into the streets. Not just carrying protest signs and bullhorns, but to set up and clean up after rallies, and to show up for the movement and get involved, to meet and learn from the people who are most affected. Additionally, when thinking about equity, it’s important that foundations realize that we shouldn’t talk about equity without being explicit about advancing racial equity. That means addressing and fighting racism on every level from the ground up.  At the same time, we have to continually think about how to do the most good and the least harm.

In a perfect world, philanthropy would be focused on working ourselves out of business. What would it be like if real money was re-invested in struggling communities so folks would not get pushed out and our communities lived up to the promise of possibility? Philanthropy is filling gaps around the world that are extremely important. We can’t wait for government to catch up, or fill gaps left by cuts in government support. But we have to think very carefully about power and who gets to distribute resources, or we are part of the problem.

GP: Since you have worked on both sides of the philanthropic table, what advice would you give to grantseekers and grantmakers about strengthening their relationship, particularly in ways that can mitigate the power dynamic and pave the way for racial equity, diversity, and inclusion?

LS: It’s hard being a funder and being asked this question. Every foundation is different, and every leader is different. My advice to grantseekers would be: Don’t compromise your vision and values for resources. Stay true to your vision, and follow that. I know this is a struggle because I’ve been there and know that often you don’t have that luxury because you have to make payroll and launch a campaign. But as much as possible, stay true to the work and the people.

And, in a perfect world, grantseekers could speak to their funding partners with complete honesty and integrity and wouldn’t have to fold or bend their ideas. I wish I could go to a site visit and have an honest conversation about what’s not working. We know how amazing people are, and the incredible work they are doing, wouldn’t it be powerful to engage in a conversation about what would make things better? That should go for funders too. Find ways to hold funders more accountable. This is so tricky because of the power dynamics, but there are tools, like GrantAdvisor, where grantseekers can review foundations and provide information about the process and what the experience applying for funding is truly like.

Also, neither side should consider a decline letter as the end of the story. Instead, grantseekers should use declines as an opportunity to engage funders and learn about ways to strengthen your application. These kinds of conversations allow the program officer to explain why they chose to decline the request, whether it is worth your time to re-apply at a later date, and how you can write a stronger proposal. And funders should be willing to engage in such conversations and use them as a tool for learning as well, because these post-proposal dialogues can also be a time to get feedback from grantees on your process as well, so both of you can learn from the experience.

Akonadi FoundationGP: Since Akonadi has been doing racial equity work for nearly 20 years, and you are now two years into your administration there, what new directions are ahead for it under your leadership? Are there changes you have already made because of your experience being a grantee, nonprofit executive director, or philanthropy outsider?

LS: I came into a foundation where the principles of racial equity were built into the brick and mortar of this institution. I don’t know if everyone comes into a foundation like that. We deeply value building relationships with our grantees, and think of ourselves as partners in the work. As funders, we try to be thoughtful about the demands that we place on our grantees, and are available for them to provide feedback, answer questions, or just be here as thought partners. Our staff actively engages with our grant partners, out in the field at events, or through convenings. I was lucky I landed in a foundation that mirrors my values and pushes me to think about the sector and our work even more.

Since I have come to Akonadi, I am actively thinking through what power building looks like in the context of the work that is happening here in Oakland. We’ve seen in philanthropy that a lot of funders are cautious and stay away from electoral work. This year, we are leaning in around integrated voter engagement, and are confident in the leadership of our grant partners to find ways to build power and make sure Oakland is engaging fully in the work to bring voters to the table to build political power. Additionally, we are thinking about the best ways that Akonadi can support cohorts of organizations to work and learn together. We are learning important lessons around how to engage our grant partners in collective learning, and we are actively trying to understand the best use of our positioning as a funder and what our role is in bringing folks together in a way that is not burdensome, and leads to shared momentum.

From Dark Ages to Enlightenment: A Magical Tale of Mapping Human Rights Grantmaking
April 4, 2018

Mona Chun is Executive Director of Human Rights Funders Network, a global network of grantmakers committed to effective human rights philanthropy.

Mona HeadshotOnce upon a time, back in the old days of 2010, human rights funders were sitting alone in their castles, with no knowledge of what their peers in other towers and castles were doing – just the certainty that their issue area, above all others, was underfunded. Each castle also spoke its own language, making it difficult for castle communities to learn from one another. This lack of transparency and shared language about common work and goals meant everyone was working in the dark.

Then a gender-neutral knight, clad in human rights armor (ethically produced of course), arrived in the form of our Advancing Human Rights research. With this research in hand, funders can now:

  • Peer out from their towers across the beautiful funding landscape;
  • Use a telescope to look at what their peers are doing, from overall funding trends to grants-level detail;
  • Use a common language to compare notes on funding priorities and approaches;
  • Find peers with whom to collaborate and new grantee partners to support; and
  • Refine and strengthen their funding strategies.

Armed with this knowledge, human rights funders can leave their towers and visit others, even government towers, to advocate and leverage additional resources in their area of interest.

Advancing Human Rights MapMapping Unchartered Territory

The Advancing Human Rights initiative, a partnership between Human Rights Funders Network (HRFN) and Foundation Center, has mapped more than $12 billion in human rights funding from foundations since 2010. Because of the great potential such data has to inform and improve our collective work, many years of work went into this. Ten years ago, HRFN recognized that in order to help human rights funders become more effective in their work, we needed to get a better understanding of where the money was going, what was being funded and how much was being spent. After our initial planning, we partnered with Foundation Center, brought in Ariadne and Prospera as funder network collaborators, formed a global Advisory Committee and hashed out the taxonomy to develop a shared language. Then, we began the process of wrangling funders to share their detailed grantmaking data.

It was no easy feat, but we published the first benchmark report on human rights grantmaking for 2010, and since then, we have worked to improve the research scope and process and trained funders to use the tools we’ve developed. In January, we released our first ever trends analysis. Over the five years of data collection featured on the Advancing Human Rights research hub, we’ve compiled almost 100,000 human rights grants from funders in 114 countries.

Adopting A Can-Do Attitude

In 2010, major funders in our network didn’t believe this could be done.

First, could we get the grantmaking data from members? For the first few years, we campaigned hard to get members to share their detailed grants information. We created a musical “Map It” parody (set to the tune of Devo’s “Whip It”) and launched a Rosie the Riveter campaign (“You Can Do It: Submit Your Data!”). We deployed pocket-size fold-outs and enormous posters thanking foundations for their participation. Several years later, we have seen our gimmicks bear fruit: 780 funders contributed data in our most recent year. When we began, no human rights data was being gathered from funders outside North America. In our first year, we incorporated data from 49 foundations outside North America and in the most recent year, that number more than doubled to 109. The value of participation is now clear. Repeated nudging is still necessary, but not gimmicks.

Rosie Collage
The Human Rights Funder Network celebrates its Rosie the Riveter “You Can Do It: Submit Your Data!” campaign. Photo Credit: Human Rights Funders Network

Data Makes A Difference

Once we had the research, could we get busy funders to use the data? With all the hard work being done in the field and so much to learn from it, we were committed to creating research that would be used. Focusing as much energy on sharing the research as we had compiling it, we aimed to minimize unused reports sitting on shelves. Global tours, presentations, workshops and tutorials have resulted in funders sharing story after story of how they are putting the findings to use:

  • Funders sift through the data to inform their strategic plans and understand where they sit vis-à-vis their peers;
  • Use the tools to break out of their silos and build collaborative initiatives;
  • Use the research to advocate to their boards, their governments, their constituencies; and
  • Enter into new areas of work or geographies knowing the existing landscape of organizations on the ground, search for donors doing complementary work, and discover the issues most and least funded.

Overall, their decisions can be informed by funding data that did not exist before, beyond the wishful daydreams of funders in their towers.

I wish I could say that we’ll live happily ever after with this data. But the pursuit of human rights is a long-term struggle. Those committed to social change know that progress is often accompanied by backlash. As we face the current challenging times together, sometimes we just need to recognize how far we’ve come and how much more we know, holding on to the magic of possibility (and the occasional fairy tale) to inspire us for the still long and winding, but newly illuminated, road ahead.

--Mona Chun

Hiding Your Diversity Data Helps Keep #PhilanthropySoWhite
March 28, 2018

Orson Aguilar is president of The Greenlining Institute.

Orson photoAt this point, it’s no secret: Philanthropy needs to diversify. Diversity, or the lack thereof, has become something of a hot-button issue in recent years. We’ve seen dozens of articles urging foundations to make changes, including a 2016 op-ed co-written by Dr. Robert Ross, Luz Vega-Marquis, and Stephen Heintz entitled, Philanthropic Leadership Shouldn’t Look Like the Country Club Set.

And a handful of foundations have demonstrated what is possible when they make diversity, equity, and inclusion organizational priorities. The California Endowment (TCE), one of the pioneers in these efforts, adopted a 15-part Diversity Plan in 2008, and since that year, TCE has published four “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Audits” to track its own progress. The audit is simple and profound, stating: “By openly reflecting on our progress and challenges related to diversity, equity and inclusion, we hope that the audit fosters a broader culture of continuous improvement where we challenge ourselves to always do better and to advance -- for the field, for our staff, and for the communities we ultimately serve.”

And yet, despite this heightened awareness and the concerted efforts of a handful of organizations, diversity and equity in philanthropy as a whole haven’t changed much. The data published by the D5 Coalition suggest that we have seen virtually no increase in the number of people of color who hold staff and leadership positions at foundations, and little increase in the representation of women.

“Making philanthropy more diverse and inclusive should be a top priority for everyone.”

More frustrating is the fact that very few foundations have decided to voluntarily disclose their demographic data since the attempted passage of California’s A.B. 624, proposed legislation that would have required large foundations in the state to collect and disclose demographic data for themselves and for their grantees. 

According to a search on Glasspockets.org, only 10 of the more than 90 foundations publicly committing to working more openly have disclosed both their diversity data and their diversity values policies. The list of 10 foundations includes foundations such as The David and Lucile Packard Foundation, The Rockefeller Foundation, Annenberg Foundation, and Silicon Valley Community Foundation. They should be applauded. Interestingly, more than 40 foundations have stated that they have diversity/values policies, yet most of them fail to disclose their own diversity data.

Making philanthropy more diverse and inclusive should be a top priority for everyone, regardless of whether or not your foundation focuses on supporting communities of color. This isn’t just a numbers game. As Ruth McCambridge reminds us in her recent article for Nonprofit Quarterly, “Lack of racial, ethnic, and gender diversity in philanthropy enlarges the understanding gap between philanthropy and the communities meant to be final beneficiaries.” By not including more people who understand the experiences of communities of color in leadership positions, foundations put extra distance between themselves and these communities and can’t know how best to serve them.

Diana Campoamor and Vikki N. Spruill, veterans in the struggle to diversify philanthropy, jointly wrote in 2016, “Few would argue that there has been too little discussion about making the sector look more like the people it serves. The real challenge has been to set in motion the measures that assure greater diversity throughout the sector.”

“The only way philanthropy will remain relevant is if it evolves along with the communities around it.”

Just as it took #OscarsSoWhite to jolt the Motion Picture Academy into action, will it take #PhilanthropySoWhite taking off on social media to transform this sector? A group of people has championed this issue from within the world of philanthropy for years, and yet progress remains slow. It’s no longer a question of awareness; it’s a question of priorities. Of course, every foundation has its own vision and purpose, but the only way philanthropy will remain relevant is if it evolves along with the communities around it. That means being intentional about hiring more people from diverse backgrounds who can bring much-needed perspectives to the table; tracking the demographics of people who benefit from grant dollars; tracking the demographics of foundation board and staff, and being transparent about all of those numbers.

Why is transparency so important? Because we’ve seen it drive massive change in other fields. Since the California Public Utilities Commission began requiring the companies it regulates to report how much contracting they do with businesses owned by women, people of color and service disabled veterans, these companies’ contracts with diverse businesses went from $2.6 million in 1986 to $8.8 billion in 2016. In philanthropy, transparency can drive the field to build more coalitions of foundations that can hold each other accountable to high standards of transparency and inclusiveness. It can help them learn from the inclusive practices already adopted by some foundations.

Ultimately, it’s going to take a bigger push than anything we’ve seen before to transform the sector. Otherwise, philanthropy will become more and more out of touch with the people it seeks to serve, and it will become increasingly unable to address the needs of a rapidly changing America.

What is perplexing is that large foundations value data and frequently fund social justice efforts to obtain more gender, racial, LGBTQ and ethnic data as positive outcomes of their grants. The fiscal impact on foundations to collect this data about their own operations and grantees would be negligible. Foundations like TCE have demonstrated “the sky didn’t fall” when the data was published, as critics suggested would happen 10 years ago.  Just the opposite: The foundation learned from its data to make better decisions on how to operate.

In an era of greater transparency, and increasing recognition that we are a diverse and multicultural nation, we urge more foundations to take the leap and conduct and share their own diversity and inclusion audits.

--Orson Aguilar 

It’s Not You, It’s Me: Breaking Up With Your Organization’s Inequitable Funding Practices
March 21, 2018

Erika Grace “E.G.” Nelson is a Community Health and Health Equity Program Manager at the Center for Prevention at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota. E.G. recently led the Center through an equity scan of its Request for Proposal (RFP) policies and procedures.

Erika Nelson photo“It’s not you; it’s me” is possibly the most cliché break-up excuse, but for many funders, it really is their own policies and procedures that undermine their ability to find community soulmates. Perhaps you have had conversations with community members who have said that they found out about your funding opportunity too late, were too busy to apply, or, worse yet, were rejected even though their project sounds like a great fit based on the conversation you are currently having with them. The reality is that funders typically enact policies that are convenient for themselves, as opposed to what makes sense for grantseekers, and diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) fall by the wayside of expediency. As a result, organizations with the most social and fiscal capital have the best shot at receiving awards.

Have you ever taken the time to think about how your funding portfolio might look differently if your RFP process was designed to be more equitable and inclusive? We recently completed an equity scan, and here is a bit about how this reflection has led to changes in our RFP process.

“Funders typically enact policies that are convenient for themselves, as opposed to what makes sense for grantseekers.”

At the Center for Prevention, our goal is to improve the health of all Minnesotans by tackling the leading causes of preventable disease and death – commercial tobacco use, physical inactivity, and unhealthy eating. While Minnesota has one of the best overall health rankings in the nation, we see huge gaps in health outcomes when considering factors such as race, income, and area of residence.

We also know that communities are aware of what they need to be healthy, but organizations established by and for marginalized communities tend to face greater barriers than well-resourced, mainstream organizations in getting what they need. We wanted to remove as many barriers from our application process as possible so that we could find and support more community-based and culturally-tailored approaches to addressing health needs. To begin identifying these barriers, our team reflected on challenges identified by communities we work with and walked through our application process from beginning to end using an equity lens. As a result, we have implemented several systemic changes to move towards our vision of a truly equitable process.

Bringing the Funding Opportunities to the Community

BCBS_Center_Prevention_vert_blueWe began our journey by thinking about funding opportunities. Before an organization can even apply for funding, it needs to know that an opportunity exists. Through community conversations, we learned that many organizations were unfamiliar with our resources and work. We recommended that project teams develop a tailored outreach plan for each funding opportunity, with specific outreach to organizations or sectors we considered to be key stakeholders or who had been markedly absent in previous rounds. Moving forward, we also have a goal of literally meeting folks where they are at – town halls, cultural events, on social media – to share our work and funding opportunities.

As a result, here are some ways we shifted how we engage with community organizations through our RFP process:

  • Time. Once applicants find out about an opportunity, they need to apply, which takes some time. We learned that some potential applicants prioritized other opportunities because they didn’t have the staff capacity to apply for multiple opportunities concurrently. The easiest solution to this problem was to give applicants more time, so we extended our open application period. In our case, we went from no set minimum to at least six weeks.
  • Assistance. We also wanted to make sure that applicants could make informed decisions about how to prioritize staff time, so we opened up new channels for discussing funding opportunities. We made sure that every application had a designated point person for answering questions from the public, and even piloted some creative ways to interact with the community in advance of the submitted application, such as an “office hours” hotline where anyone could call in and ask questions. The number of inquiries was manageable and allowed applicants to receive guidance on whether their projects were a good match before they invested time in applying. Follow-up survey data showed that this strategy paid off because applicants reported that they understood our funding objectives and that the time they invested in applying was appropriate for the potential award.
  • Accessibility. We are also working towards using more accessible language to articulate the merits of a viable proposal. We now run a readability test on all RFP language before publication, with the goal of using language that is no higher than an eighth grade reading level. Such tests have helped us remove jargon, and improve comprehension by professionals outside of public health as well as by non-native English speakers.

Leveling the Playing Field of Community Relationships

Our team also considered the role relationships play in evaluating proposals. We approached equity from two angles. We set limits on which and when “outside information”— knowledge we have about a project that didn’t come from the application—can be shared during proposal review. We also started reaching out to new applicants to discuss their work more deeply. Our familiarity with mainstream organizations and those we have previously funded can influence how we evaluate an application, and in some cases lead to an unfair advantage for groups that already have many advantages.  So these limits on “outside information” were put in place to level the playing field, as well as to begin to strengthen relationships with organizations that were new to us. These conversations helped us to fill in gaps in our understanding that we may unconsciously fill in for organizations we are already familiar with.

“We now run a readability test on all RFP language before publication…to remove jargon, and improve comprehension.”

Transparent Evaluation Processes

We felt transparency in our decision-making process could only improve the quality of proposals. One way we have done this is by making scoring rubrics available to applicants. We also began providing tailored feedback to each declined applicant on how the proposal could have been stronger in hopes that it will improve future submissions. Though we have yet to determine what impact this will have in the future, we can say that applicants have been appreciative and found this feedback to be useful.

Hope and More Work to Be Done

While we don’t yet have much data to analyze post-implementation, we have noticed a few positive outcomes. We have seen a great increase in applications from greater Minnesota in particular, demonstrating that our targeted outreach is increasingly effective. Our funding awards to projects by and for people of color have also doubled in one of two opportunities we have analyzed since implementation. Despite this progress, we continue to wrestle with how to develop scoring tools that better reflect our values. 

The above are just some examples of how we have begun to identify and address equity barriers in our process that may be helpful for others. If your foundation is considering something similar, here are some things we learned from our experience that may be helpful for you.

  • Leadership & Promising Practices. As with any new process implementation, support from leadership is critical. If you are met with resistance, keep in mind that funders typically want to emulate best and promising practices in philanthropy, and sharing what other funders are doing around diversity, equity, and inclusion can be highly motivating.
  • Checks & Balances. It is also important to keep in mind that old habits die hard. It is not necessarily because team members are resistant to change, but simply need to get into the routine of doing things differently. For that reason, be sure that you build in checks and balances along the way to ensure that all who touch your RFP process have the opportunity to identify pain points along the way while also upholding equity commitments.
  • No One Size Fits All. Keep in mind that there is not one model that will work for everyone, and much in the same way, not all the communities you serve will be pleased with the changes you make. So, keep asking for and responding to feedback from community and know that correcting mistakes is part of improvement and part of ensuring our processes continue to be ones that facilitate, rather than undermine, diversity, equity, and inclusion.

--Erika Grace “E.G.” Nelson

Robert K. Ross, MD, President and CEO, The California Endowment: Parkland Students Inspire Foundation to Screen Out Investments in Firearms Manufacturing
March 14, 2018

Dr. Robert Ross photoOne month after the school shooting in Parkland, Florida that killed 17 people, students across the country are continuing to press for stricter gun control legislation with protests and school walk-outs. According to the Gun Violence Archive, more than 2,837 gun related deaths have occurred so far this year, and both the American Medical Association and the American Public Health Association have recommended addressing gun violence as a public health issue.

The week following the shooting, The California Endowment (TCE), California’s largest healthcare foundation, announced it would begin screening out firearms manufacturing from its investment holdings. TCE’s mission is to expand access to affordable, quality health care for underserved individuals and communities and to promote fundamental improvements in the health status of all Californians. TCE’s mission statement also outlines that the foundation doesn’t focus on prescriptions, but rather “we focus on fixing broken systems and outdated policies, ensuring the balance of power is with the people. We don’t focus on the individual, we focus on the larger community as an ecosystem of health. We work with citizens and elected leaders to find lasting solutions to impact the most people we possibly can.”

Recently, Glasspockets spoke with TCE president and chief executive officer Dr. Robert Ross, about the foundation’s decision to ban firearms investments, and how this aligns with both TCE’s stated health mission, and its core values around diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Glasspockets: The California Endowment recently announced that it will be scrubbing its investments of any holdings in firearms manufacturing, and this is actually not a new practice, but the third “negative screen” you are adding, since you already had screening in place for tobacco and for-profit prisons. Data shows that this practice is actually fairly uncommon in foundation philanthropy, so it’s clear it’s a challenge for the field. When did you begin the practice, and what led to you going down this path initially when you first implemented negative screening?

Dr. Ross: Since we are a health foundation, the founding board actually started with the tobacco screen in the late 90’s.  We added for-profit prisons more recently, after hearing from community leaders that they considered hyper-incarceration as an unhealthy practice affecting communities of color. This is consistent with our core values statement, which also helps guide our board. The very first item in our values states: “We believe that diversity, equity and inclusion are essential to our effectiveness and the long-term health of all Californians and commit to the integration of diversity, equity and inclusion in all our policies, practices, processes, relationships, internal working culture and systems.” By filtering out tobacco, for-profit prisons, and now gun manufacturing we are being consistent with these values.

“We really have to ask ourselves the question of whether the management of our investments portfolio reflects the values we hold dear.”

Glasspockets: There have sadly been many shootings prior to Parkland. What was it about this one that motivated your foundation to act?  

Dr. Ross: We were motivated by the youth and high school student activism – I think we were “shamed” to act by their leadership. The California Endowment “values the energy, agility and fearlessness of youth leadership and youth organizing in its many forms including local, statewide and online community-building.”

Glasspockets: And are you aware of other foundations being similarly motivated to act, either now or that already had such prohibitions in place? 

Dr. Ross: We have followed the leadership efforts of The California Wellness Foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies and Joyce Foundation, all of which, to the best of my knowledge, already have a screen on firearms in place. I’m not certain how many other funders currently have a firearms manufacturing screen.

Glasspockets: The California Endowment was an early adopter of our Glasspockets approach to a more transparent philanthropy. So clearly transparency, openness, and accountability are priorities. Is your commitment to these values part of what motivated the decision and the public stand you are now taking? 

Dr. Ross: Yes, and it was the reason I published the OpEd in the Chronicle of Philanthropy.  Even though these boardroom conversations can get a little “messy,” it strengthens philanthropic practice if we can demonstrate vulnerability and transparency on tough issues. Without actions, our values just become words on a page.

Glasspockets: Glasspockets is currently advising foundations to become more familiar with what holdings they do have, since these are publicly listed on the 990-PF that foundations annually file with the IRS. And that data is now being released as machine-readable, open data—making it more open and accessible than ever before. Is this something TCE is tracking or do you have any internal practices about monitoring what’s in your 990-PF that may be helpful for others? 

“Without actions, our values just become words on a page.”

Dr. Ross: We have begun utilizing ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) practice approaches, as have many others, as a “values and principles” overlay to our investments portfolio. [ESG screening is an array of ethical exclusion metrics designed to govern certain investment decisions. Excluded companies can include those in the tobacco, firearms, and for-profit prison industries. The alerts look for mentions of portfolio companies (those not currently excluded) and rate them as positive, negative or neutral in terms of these screens.]

Glasspockets: The things you are screening out make a lot of sense for a healthcare foundation. Why do you think so few do it? And what advice would you have for them as far as overcoming those challenges?

Dr. Ross: The answer to this is values-values-values.  Most foundations have both a statement of mission and a statement of values, and we really have to ask ourselves the question of whether the management of our investments portfolio reflects the values we hold dear.  You can’t make a blanket values exception for the investments portfolio.  

Glasspockets: In terms of the screening that had already been in place, what has been the impact on endowment growth?

Dr. Ross: I’m not sure, but I do know that a concern some raise when discussing this is the belief that growth may be negatively impacted by the lack of tobacco and private prisons holdings.  But if you’re acting on your values, then I’m not sure the question is material.  Slavery is profitable, but we’d never invest in that….

Glasspockets: And how about the qualitative impact—things that bottom lines don’t measure? 

Dr. Ross: It’s good for boardroom cohesion, and messaging to staff and community that we intend to live up to our values, even if it is discomforting.  It’s hard to put a price tag on reputation and accountability.

--Janet Camarena

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About Transparency Talk

  • Transparency Talk, the Glasspockets blog, is a platform for candid and constructive conversation about foundation transparency and accountability. In this space, Foundation Center highlights strategies, findings, and best practices on the web and in foundations–illuminating the importance of having "glass pockets."

    The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect the views of the Foundation Center.

    Questions and comments may be
    directed to:

    Janet Camarena
    Director, Transparency Initiatives
    Foundation Center

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