Racial Justice Demands Accountability #DisruptPhilanthropyNow

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Part 2:

This is the second part of our blog series that goes through what we are learning about accountability processes with funders when there are breakdowns in grant-making expectations and inequitable practices.

In Part One of the #DisruptPhilanthropyNOW blog series, Within Our Lifetime and Old Money New System Community of Practice issued an invitation for courageous and collective action, joined by the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy to movement building groups and racial justice and healing organizations. We urge groups to challenge philanthropy to develop racially just grant-making practices and transform structures, so we can collectively tackle structural racism and white supremacy.

An important part of the accountability process and calling a foundation in to share the impact of their inequitable practices and to discuss changes that need to be made requires us to inform them prior to the release of the story.   We have communicated with our contact at the foundation about this call to action and have informed them in advance of this blog series. We provided them with action steps to take (which did not include giving us a grant) and invited them to contact us if they would like further advice and counsel.  They have responded, and we are supposed to have dialogue about our ideas for next steps on aligning their racial equity values with their grant-making practices.

In this blog post, we offer a model for funder accountability so that groups heeding our invitation have a process to follow. This is based on Within Our Lifetime’s own experience working toward accountability with a major racial justice funder.

First, we want to acknowledge that there are amazing funders as well as funder groups that are working towards racial justice, investing in racial justice work defined by the community, aligning their racial equity values with their policies, practices, culture and relationships, and speaking out against injustices. We also appreciate the program officers and administrative staff – many of whom are people of color – who work hard to move racial justice work forward within their institutions, despite the threat of marginalization and backlash. Philanthropy has lost some incredible leaders for racial justice from these ranks, who left for their own survival and some have stayed to do their absolute best in some challenging circumstances.  

The #DisruptPhilanthropyNOW campaign is meant to disrupt the status quo of how philanthropy operates through truth telling.  The impact of inequitable practices, even among funders of racial justice, comes in all forms – sometimes there is extreme burdens placed on the organization, or it can cause unrecoverable impacts on our work, or can lead to destroying organizations and/or can lead to traumatic situations for the staff or communities. There are limited responses since being forthright can possibly result in financial challenges for organizations. Our passion and commitment to advance our organization’s work leads many of us to not speak our truth about the impact of inequitable practices and especially for us not to organize in the philanthropic sector.   The consequences of our limited actions ends up reinforcing the power imbalances and for the funder to assume that these inequitable practices are acceptable. Developing accountability relationships with funders is one step in shifting toward racially just grantmaking.

Foundations needs to step up to actively address power dynamics, to work fearlessly to operationalize their racial equity values, and to assess how resources are being distributed specifically to communities of color.

In the meantime, we as grantees have a role to play in demanding that accountability by modeling the behavior that we seek in return.

A Grantee Model for Accountability

1. Build a Relationship Centered in Values

The following are WOL’s values (Read about how we implement our Values):

  • Ensure Inclusive and Equitable Practices
  • Build Trust and Respect for our Collective work to Dismantle Structural Racism

  • Be Intentional and Vigorous in Ensuring Diversity

  • Be Transparent and Accountable

  • Be Tenacious and Responsive

Each interaction with a funder can be challenging when power dynamics exist.  As a potential grantee, you go into the interaction knowing that the result of it can mean the difference between having to let a staff member go or working on a critical campaign or building a narrative to change minds and policies.  

At WOL, we see it as our responsibility to create a relationship with our funders based on our values, not on a funding transaction. Time after time many organizations have bent to the requests of funders, even when it goes against organizational values in the hope of receiving good favor or funds.  In each interaction with our program officer we found it important to hold to these values while taking the time to get to know each other through opening check-ins, asking questions, and seeking understanding of our program officer’s intent and the foundation’s decisions.

2. Understand and Make use of the Foundation’s Existing Accountability Practices and/or Past History

As much as possible, it is important to understand the foundation’s internal protocol for grantee interactions and communications, as well as other grantees’ experience to think through the relationship building.  This information is also helpful if there is a breakdown in the relationship in the form of some overt or even more subtle forms of disrespect or inequitable practice. In one funder case for WOL, we had three program officers in one year, which was frustrating, but understanding other grantees’ experience was helpful for establishing a new relationship baseline with each officer. If access to this information is difficult to access directly, there also exists an informal “yelp” intercommunication among groups about which foundations meet their promises, which program officers you have to call five times before they will respond, which foundations are working on aligning their policies and practices with their racial justice values and goals.

3. If Inequitable Grant-making Practices Occur, seek Relationship Restitution

If inequitable practices occur, it is important to meet to hear the foundation’s perspective, to provide information on how their actions impacted your organization and community, and to share data of other organizations (only naming names with permission) that have had similar experiences. Typically, the behavior you are experiencing is not one-off event for the funder. There is a pattern of behavior since the inequitable practices are usually the manifestation of something structural rather than the work of a particular program officer. It is important to be explicit about how grantmaking practices are replicating racial inequities and reinforcing power dynamics.  This discussion is not just about ensuring your funding, it is about challenging philanthropy to operate differently. Funding may not happen for your organization, but discussing the changes are necessary and explaining how the funder’s actions do not reflect racially equitable values is paramount. This is about building a collective pie of racial justice funding, not just about ensuring your organization gets your piece.

4. Tell the Truth Publicly

We can no longer whisper to each other, or yell behind closed doors, or call up our favorite program officer and vent. Just as we use data and stories publicly to challenge immigration, criminal justice, health, educational inequities, so must we use data and stories to challenge philanthropy to do right by our communities. We need to publicly lift up foundations and affinity groups who have worked steadfastly for justice internally and externally. Yet we also must name the foundations that have served as poor gatekeepers, whose lack of action impedes the progress necessary to achieve racial justice, and who claim they are all about racial equity but don’t walk the talk.

#DisruptPhilanthropyNOW is an important start for us to get our stories out, take the risk together, especially for those organizations with more access to funders.

In next week’s blog, Within Our Lifetime will share details of our story with one of our funders and provide some ways to address these inequitable practices.  

What can you do NOW…

  • TELL YOUR STORY:  If you are an organization that has experienced racially inequitable practices with a foundation, and you are interested in sharing it - please use this google form and someone will contact you. And we also now have encrypted email address, DisruptPhilanthropy@protonmail.com  Your information will be confidential until you are ready to share your story.
  • SIGN ON for Courageous and Collective Action: #DisruptPhilanthropyNOW HERE.
  • GET INVOLVED #DisruptPhilanthropyNOW and work on this campaign - sign up HERE.

  • Share this #DisruptPhilanthropyNOW Blog Series with your networks.

  • Here are some information on changing funding practices and resources.

In future blog posts and on this site, we will share with you some of the work already happening to transform philanthropy.  Please share your examples and ideas with us, along with stories of effective racial equitable grant-making: info@withinourlifetime.net