Accountability: A Critical Anti-Racism Practice

 Photo by EtiAmmos/iStock / Getty Images

Photo by EtiAmmos/iStock / Getty Images

Within Our Lifetime National Network’s Accountability Next Step with W. K. Kellogg Foundation

In May 2018, Within Our Lifetime National Network (WOL)—a national network of 100+ racial equity and racial healing organizations—released our third blog in the #DisruptPhilanthropyNOW series describing our inequitable grantmaking experience with our core funder, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. After numerous meetings and two grant proposals over nine months, we were told we would not be funded because our work no longer contributed to the foundation’s new “funding regime.” We later learned we were one of many—they had cut 98% of its funding to racial equity and healing organizations and consultants in the WOL network. The level of grantmaking provided to members organizations over previous years were substantial so we were astounded by this significant drop in grantmaking without a warning which left organizations, including WOL, without time to prepare for the loss of core funding. 

WOL’s Leadership Council decided not to name Kellogg when we wrote the blog in May because we were concerned about consequences to individual organizations and we had just met with foundation representatives to discuss our second accountability letter and believed they would follow through with some of our recommended next steps—they didn’t.

By July, there was still no follow-up from Kellogg nor did we see any public action that reflected our requests towards more equitable relationship and grantmaking practices.  Though at this point we were no longer a grantee and lacked formal relationship, there may have been a decision that no follow-up was necessary.  Even though many of us in the network have had relationships with Kellogg Foundation over the years as grantees, consultants, and responded to many requests for content knowledge and skills  without compensation, we still received no response. 

In the philanthropic sector, Kellogg is held up for its explicit work on racial equity. “We believe that racial healing and racial equity are essential if we are going to accomplish our mission to support children, families and communities in creating and strengthening the conditions in which vulnerable children succeed.  We actively support efforts to dismantle racial and structural inequities that limit opportunities and hold some children back,” states Kellogg Foundation which made racial equity and healing grants of over $41 million in 2017.   Yes, we all value their sizeable investment and explicit commitment. Though as a foundation who promotes itself as anti-racist, it is important to work toward aligning their policies, practices and culture to embodying the principles of racial equity.  One of those core principles of racial equity work is accountability.

Where we are at Now:

Since WOL did not hear from the foundation by July, we sent our third accountability letter, and  gave Kellogg a deadline to respond by September 4. Not only did Kellogg not respectfully respond to WOL, they did not take any responsibility for their actions in their  response to the Center for Diversity and Innovation’s story of accountability in this #DisruptPhilanthropyNOW blog series.  

Within Our Lifetime Leadership Council decided to share our story and requests (listed below) publicly. We do so not to humiliate, or wag our finger, or to even assume that now they will respond to us. We do so because we are saying loud and clear – enough!

Please know we are “calling in” the Kellogg Foundation to hear this critique and better understand the impact of their actions on WOL.  As we were told repeatedly by Kellogg staff, “we are family.” This is the time, then, for a family intervention. We know that Kellogg, as one of the largest foundations, can handle public feedback due to its power in the philanthropic sector and a communication department who can be responsive to any bad press. 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 foundation and grantee relationships as well as  radically redistribute wealth

Now What

The practices W. K. Kellogg exhibited with WOL were repeated in their interactions for the Center of Diversity and Innovation and there are many more stories we hope will be shared. Due to their funding decisions with both organizations, six people were forced to leave their positions. They provided no warning about their decision with either organization. Here are the basics practices on how Kellogg, and other foundations, need to step up:

  • Shift off-ramp practices to ensure groups aren't placed in precarious positions and they know on the front end expectations around the funding 

  • Provide grantee access to knowledge of the foundation's internal decision-making structure and make it transparent as part of the grantee-grantmaker relationship.

  • Commit to these practices and ensure to communicate accountability practices and there is a process in place for grantees to submit grievances which will be handled with integrity.

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This story is not just about W.K. Kellogg’s practices. It is about the philanthropic sector – their accountability with each other, accountability to grantees, and accountability to communities of color. Poor grantmaking practices, of any sort, can have a deep long-term impact on people of color-led organizations and make it a challenge for organizations to recover. The impact of these practices then extends to communities and groups of color who end up bearing the harmful, and in some cases, devastating effects of these practices.

And to funders: we cannot address life and death issues and racial injustices while also told how we should do our work or prove our work is evidence based or “works.” We also can’t make 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, yet, because of the power differential, it leads to our silence and the disturbing impact of the racially inequitable system of resource distribution continues to be maintained. 

This is also a wide-loving invitation to our colleagues, friends, and comrades in the racial justice movement to say “enough!” 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. For us as movement building organizations working to dismantle the system of white supremacy and structural racism, disrupting the philanthropic sector must be part of work. We need to stand in solidarity. We must disrupt inequitable practices and transform the philanthropic sector by redistributing wealth so we collectively end racism within our lifetime

Next Steps for Racial Justice Organizations:
  • 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. We also 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 and without identifying the foundation.
  • 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.
  • Please share your examples and ideas of effective racial equitable grantmaking:info@withinourlifetime.net

Our requests listed in WOL’s Third Accountability Letter
to the W. K. Kellogg Foundation:

The following is what we discussed with the Kellogg Foundation and it includes ideas for next steps, including those suggested by Kellogg:

Support the #DisruptPhilanthropyNOW blog – we discussed with you about encouraging your grantees to share their stories regarding their interactions with Kellogg and other funders. As we shared in our first blog why these stories are so important, “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.” The more we shine a light on these stories, the more the philanthropic sector can understand the impact of inequitable practices.

Own your role and the impact of your actions.  On the phone you shared there would be a response from Kellogg to our story. As of yet, we have not seen a response.  We did not name Kellogg directly in our blog, though many readers were already familiar or related with the story through their own experience.  The decision by the Leadership Council whether to name was a challenging one. Organizations who received funding from Kellogg were unsure of the consequences from Kellogg or other funders who may be concerned about future public stories.  There were also some who wanted to operate in good faith and believed Kellogg would step up since the organization has been called in by us a few times. Whether you were named or not, we already had shared our experience with you. Your leadership at this time is critical.  Step into it, own your mistakes, and invite hearing more feedback, so you can increase your effectiveness and your integrity to foundation’s statements about racial equity.

Conduct a fearless inventory of your grantmaking practices - On our call you shared you have an internal committee working to address some of the feedback from the CEP survey.  We encouraged you to publicize the feedback as well as your response. We complimented you on having this internal group but encouraged you to be transparent.  Each organization is a work in progress yet sharing your internal work to align your values with policies, practices, and culture will help build trust potentially with your grantees.

Develop mutual accountability practices with your grantees.  As typical with foundation practices, you request reporting from your grantees.  As an organization who claims to be anti-racist, there must be awareness of the importance of accountability.  How are you reporting to your grantees? Your communication of activities and number of grants are provided but are you also naming your mistakes and your response/changes?  How are you sharing your process used to determine if you are giving a grant?  Are you tracking the percentage of funds given to people of color-led orgs like WOL, communities of color, and grassroots organizations?


Explain Kellogg’s decision to radically decrease grant monies to member organizations in WOL’s network from $15 million to projected $300,000 in one year. Please share how you are communicating with grantees who experienced a major loss of grant monies between 2017-2018 and how you are supporting them as they do quick development work to address these losses.*

WKKF Investments in the
Within Our Lifetime Network*

Total Investments
$119,407,151
Since 2010
$84,973,008
2014
$36,916,351
2017
$15,037,736
2018 Commitments
$300,000

*This information was sent to us by a senior member of Kellogg’s staff in response to our second  accountability letter. It included the following statement:

“To help frame our commitment, and guide a future meeting/conversation, I wanted to share our review of support we have given your organization, its member organizations and affiliated consultants and contractors. As you can observe, that support has been quite substantial and is ongoing.”

We are unsure how these numbers were calculated, and which member and consultant list was used. The Within Our Lifetime Network received our last grant in 2015 (and had an extension). The level of grantmaking provided to member organizations is substantial and we are appreciative.  Yet grantmaking, especially for an anti-racist foundation, cannot be done without equitable grantmaking practices, accountability practices, humility, being relationship-centered and thoughtful of how power dynamics are operating.

Develop a process when Kellogg changes funding with a grantee.  In our #DisruptPhilanthropyNOW third blog, we shared several suggestions relating to the end of a funding relationship. We recommend discussing and developing an internal process to ensure you have an accountability off-ramp. The foundation’s commitment to provide funding is a commitment to the organization and the constituents it serves. Kellogg should communicate with grantees early so they have sufficient lead time to pivot and ensure they have necessary resources to achieve their mission.  Ideally, Kellogg needs to engage grantees in its grantmaking process and those most affected should be at the table when decisions are made about funding in communities.