Invitation for Courageous and Collective Action: #DisruptPhilanthropyNow


Part I

Stay Tuned for Part II where will share a template for a funder accountability process in our next blog post and the story of our relationship with one of our funders in Part III. This blog series will continue after our third post with organizations sharing their truth through stories along with ways for us to organize for transformational change in the philanthropic sector.

Accountability between funders and grantees is critical, yet typically that accountability is one-way, with funders rarely asking for honest feedback on their own performance. Instead, harmful impact and inequitable grantmaking practices are shared in whispers in nonprofit circles or possibly with a trusted program officer. There is legitimate fear of directly or publicly sharing stories about foundations’ actions due to the potential ramifications. Most grant-dependent organizations believe the risk is too high to call foundations in for racially inequitable practices.  

Even funders that espouse racial equity values engage in these harmful practices. In 2015, Within Our Lifetime (WOL), a national network of racial justice and healing organizations with the audacious vision to end racism within our lifetimes, launched a Racial Justice Funding survey to collect anonymous data from these organizations. Stories emerged of some effective grantmaking practices, but more pointed to the lack of philanthropy’s commitment to or understanding of racial equity in processes, vision and grantmaking strategies. Specific concerns included: small grants with demanding reporting schedules, unwillingness to marshal political will to fund systems change work, privileging white organizations and white culture* practices, forcing solutions and ignoring stakeholder voices, being silent in racialized crises, lack of internal racial equity work while expecting grantees to report on theirs, and requests to educate staff on racial equity with no compensation or support.

These harmful practices cannot continue.  Communities of Color most impacted by structural racism must have access and control over resources.  And poor grantmaking practices, of any sort, can have a deep long-term impact on people of color-led organizations.

While racial justice organizations work to dismantle inequitable systems in every sector using organizing strategies, sharing data about inequities, and telling stories, we don’t typically do this with the philanthropic sector. We cannot significantly move the needle for racial justice if we are unwilling to challenge how resources are distributed.

We need to speak the truth on the impact of the current grantmaking system and practices.  We can no longer protect our own resources by being silent when we know one of our funder’s unjust practices have devastating effects on other organizations or in the communities where we work. We need to stand in solidarity. We can’t just complete anonymous surveys from foundations in the hopes of change, without any philanthropic accountability.

And to Funders:  we cannot address life and death issues and racial injustices while also being told how we should do our work, or prove our work is effective based on the foundation’s standards, or meet deliverables decided on by you and not by the community, or consistently witness the disparate funding between white led organizations and people of color-led organizations. These critiques are not unknown by your sector, yet because the power differential leads to our silence, the many, many stories of racially inequitable funding and practices are not told publicly, which ends up lessening the urgency. So, the disturbing impact of the racially inequitable system of resource distribution continues to be maintained.

We say no more.  Within Our Lifetime and Old Money New System Community of Practice are issuing 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 grantmaking practices and transform structures, so we can collectively tackle structural racism and white supremacy to end racism within our lifetimes. #DisruptPhilanthropyNOW

We must do this. We must move beyond transactional funding relationships to demand accountability with philanthropy as we demand it in other sectors.  We need to come together as racial justice organizations to radically transform philanthropy. We can no longer let fear of consequences deter us from speaking our truth about the impact of unjust practices by our funders. There are philanthropic leaders who have been advocates for justice and we need to work with them intentionally and strategically.

Racial justice organizations need to organize for transformational changes and racially equitable resource distribution by philanthropy.

YES! Magazine’s spring cover for 2018, is “End to White Supremacy,” which can provide a pause for anyone strolling down the magazine aisle.  In the article “The Disruption of White Supremacy,” Michael Trahant, an independent journalist and member of the Shoshone-Bannock tribes, discusses disruption, “’Disruption’” is an important word to add to a discussion of ending colonialism. It explains the sudden—and not-so-sudden shifts in history—in a way that “decolonization” alone does not. Disruption is what we need to free ourselves from the economic, racial, and cultural oppression that is colonialism’s legacy. … We need democratic institutions that share power among diverse people and reflect the range of life on Earth. We need disruption and innovation.”

If we are working for racial justice and ending white supremacy, then we must organize together with our philanthropic co-conspirators to disrupt the status quo of how philanthropy reinforces and maintains systems of oppression and white supremacy.  We hope you will join us.


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 form and someone will contact you. And we also now have encrypted email address, Your information will be confidential until you are ready to share your story.

  • Accept the Invitation for Courageous and Collective Action: #DisruptPhilanthropyNOW here.

  • Get Involved #DisruptPhilanthropyNOW and work with colleagues on this campaign: sign up here.

  • Share this #DisruptPhilanthropyNOW Blog Series with your networks.

  • Here are some information 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 grantmaking:


*Here are a few resources about white culture: White Supremacy Culture, Tema Okun and Kenneth Jones, DR Works, and Paying Attention to White Culture and Privilege: A Missing Link to Advancing Racial Equity, Gita Gulati-Partee and Maggie Potapchuk, The Foundation Review, and Challenging White Dominant Culture: Time To Look In The Mirror, Lupe Poblano, CompassPoint