Nevertheless, getting started may seem challenging. On the foundation board or even in advisory relationships, these topics can be seen as ‘too political’ to broach. Moving beyond silence[v] is a major step forward as is committing to a culture of learning and reflection – for both individuals and organisations. This is where an honest inventory by both leadership and staff can reveal whether there is overreliance on ‘default’ networks or default analytical frameworks that entrench or exacerbate inequality. Overall, unlearning racism[vi] and unconscious bias is a process. Collaboration[vii] and peer and stakeholder connections can prove invaluable, especially when entering into new grant-making or conceptual territory.
Funders should also consider their role in the philanthropic ‘funding gap’. Black-led non-profits have been clearly shown to receive less revenue and hold less unrestricted funding than their counterparts, even when that work is directly related to racial justice[ix] issues where lived experience can and should matter. It is time for philanthropy to abandon ‘colour-blind’ funding and to invest in organisations looking to educate and build capacity such as Philanthropic Initiative for Racial Equity[x] and CHANGE Philanthropy[xi].
Diversity all along the philanthropic chain is another critical component. The sector as a whole is now widely recognised to have a diversity gap[xii] with an astonishingly high percentage of white nonprofit executives in the U.S. and UK. [See: https://www.acevo.org.uk/reports/home-truths/] Examining diversity and inclusion in funder and grantee governance is not about quotas or box ticking; it is about shifting away from a culture that undervalues lived experience and representation. Family foundations are actually generally doing better on this than one might expect: According to the latest National Center for Family Philanthropy[xiii], one third of family foundations have Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives in their future plans, and 25 per cent use DEI goals/strategies to guide giving.
The time is right for philanthropy to acknowledge the power it can wield and apply a racial justice ‘lens’ across the board – including areas that are perhaps less obviously connected to equality such as the environment[xiv] and the arts[xv]. Ultimately, funders should take care to be on the right side of history here and be clear that they are helping to build, rather than hindering, a more just society.
There has been a growing trend for a number of years towards collaborative philanthropy. Collective giving provides an opportunity to scale charitable projects and interventions and to expand impact. Collaboratives such as Co impact[xvi] and less formal affiliations of philanthropists have in recent years provided a model for those who recognise that the world’s largest, and often most intractable problems, can only really be addressed collectively. At a local scale, community foundations and local giving circles have grown in popularity and impact.
Collaboration in giving can be challenging, even off-putting. Finding like-minded partners is challenging and many funders fear that collaboration will spell an end to their control and freedom. In addition, proper collaboration requires effort and compromise. However the advantages are significant. Access to the expertise of partners, and the reach of coordinated effort top the list, but many collaboration proponents will also cite efficiencies at the macro and micro-level, the creativity of problem solving that can arise from collective work, and, of course, avoiding reinventing the proverbial wheel.
One unique and paradoxical aspect of the pandemic has been its universality. On one level, we are all affected by the same virus and its spread has highlighted how very interconnected we all are in a globalised economy. In one sense, then, we are all ‘in it together’. However, the virus has affected communities so differently, and the economic and racial lines of difference are so clear that it remains stubbornly obvious that our systems create great difference and alienation.
As Cath Dovey, co-founder of Beacon Collaborative in the UK says:
“We already know that society will change radically as a result of the impact of COVID-19. The pandemic is having an impact socially, economically, and politically that is unlikely to be reversed. This is happening locally, nationally, and internationally. Just as other sectors of the economy are being re-shaped, the charity sector will also emerge from the crisis differently. We have the opportunity, right now, to re-define how the charity sector works to make sure it is more effective, adaptive, resilient and can tackle injustice and inequality better than in the past. Organisations need funding to do this, but they also need partners who can encourage them to think about their future role the landscape, what they will do differently, and how they can best re-frame their activities – alone or with others – to ensure they meet their goals and contribute to a more positive future”.[xvii]
Collaboration amongst funders in this context is vital, and many funders are seeing its appeal.