Walk the Talk: Invest in Consultants of Color
This is an accountability intervention and its purpose is to disrupt how we typically relate to each other and speak truth. We hope to collectively transform these relationships as well as the resource distribution system. This is also a wide-loving invitation to our colleagues, friends, and comrades in the racial justice movement saying: enough, let’s share our stories, let’s organize together in the philanthropic sector to demand a just distribution of resources, and let's commit to racial justice that is reflective in all funder practices.
I often wonder how foundations, particularly those that purport to carryout their work through a racial equity lens, spend their operating budgets, specifically when it comes to hiring external contractors. What I know is that most requests for proposals are shared informally and, if there is any public release at all, it is typically buried in the media section of the website. Most of the large consulting firms, which often receive the high level strategy work, such as McKinsey & Company, Abt Associates, Mathematica, and the like, struggle with racial and ethnic diversity. This is incredibly problematic given they are often called on to advise on grantmaking in communities of color.
While there are a few mid-size firms led by people of color that get a bite of the apple, they are typically restricted to racial equity work and brought in once the strategy is already baked. It’s my experience that most consultants of color are hired to support capacity-building work, which generates much smaller contracts. As a woman of color and small business owner, I see little opportunity for growth within the foundation community. While there’s all sorts of conversation about racial equity “in the work,” I’ve seen little evidence that philanthropy has updated its own internal practices to reflect these sentiments. Case in point.
Just last year I was in negotiations with a large domestic foundation related to my firm supporting a place-based evaluation effort. After reviewing my rate, which based on my experience is comparable to similar-sized firms, I was asked to reduce my rate by nearly 25% to meet their maximum rate for consultants. I was confused by the communication as I had worked with the foundation numerous times in the past and never received this request. I shared as much with the staff person, but she was resolute. I felt low-balled and couldn’t help but wonder if they treated the large white-led firms with the same heavy hand. I doubt it.
Ultimately, I didn’t mind not getting the contract because it would not have been profitable for my business but the experience caused me to question the extent to which this foundation in particular and foundations in general realize the ways their internal practices perpetuate the same inequalities they seek to remedy through their grantmaking. This same foundation has a growing investment in minority entrepreneurship yet they have no internal strategy that I’m aware of for building the minority-owned small businesses that currently support their grantmaking.
In an article I wrote for HuffPost, entitled “Want To Promote Economic Empowerment? Invest In Minority Entrepreneurs”, I address the need to support founders of color who already have established businesses and who are looking to grow and scale. The ripple effects could catalyze the sort of renewal that would make communities of color less reliant on charity and more resilient and sustainable over time.
I’m excited about the Disrupt Philanthropy Now campaign because it creates a platform for having the sort of hard conversations that have largely been stifled due to an oppressive power dynamic that silences nonprofits thereby inhibiting learning, innovation and continuous improvement. Despite philanthropy’s resistance, disruption is coming. It is up to each individual foundation to decide whether it is going to lead the curve or bring up the rear.
Kelly Burton Ph.D. is an accomplished entrepreneur with over a decade’s experience launching and scaling start-up companies. She is the brains behind Founders of Color, a digital platform designed to help minority firms grow and is the CEO of its parent company Nexus Research Group, a social research firm that helps foundations and nonprofits do good in the world.
We encourage you to send an accountability letter to any foundation that is using inequitable practices or misusing its power and share the impact. We encourage you to meet with them and discuss changes in practices and develop accountability structures. And we invite you tell your story. We must work collectively to share our stories to lessen the consequences on every organization. Keeping our voice unheard leads to the conclusion there is no urgency for the philanthropic sector to be transformed. We must disrupt philanthropy, intervene against inequitable practices, and transform the sector by redistributing wealth so we collectively end racism within our lifetime
This blog series will be continuing next week, with a youth-led social justice organization in Baltimore sharing their story.
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 an encrypted email address: DisruptPhilanthropy@protonmail.com. Your information will be confidential until you are ready to share your story. You may choose to share your story anonymously.
SIGN ON for Courageous and Collective Action: #DisruptPhilanthropyNOW HERE.
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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 at firstname.lastname@example.org