A post to Exponent Philanthropy's blog

Embracing a Racial Equity Lens in Your Philanthropy

Earlier this year, along with fellow Exponent Philanthropy staff, colleagues, and board members, I participated in a learning session on equity, inclusion, and diversity. Collectively, our eyes were opened, and I certainly found myself, as a funder, thinking about things differently. The session didn’t cause an immediate seismic shift in my grantmaking, but it was a catalyst for cleaning my glasses, opening my ears, and thinking more deeply about how I do what I do.

During our recent National Conference, Anthony Simmons from ABFE (the Association of Black Foundation Executives) helped us better understand why many funders are intentionally applying a racial equity lens in their grantmaking work. Using historical context and practical advice from two Exponent Philanthropy members, the session emphasized the importance of considering these perspectives as you move forward in your own thinking, community engagement, and grantmaking.

One of the most important take-aways was recognizing that embracing a racial equity lens in your philanthropy is neither easy, fast, nor simple. But it is possible. And so, as the session concluded, I asked the member-participants to share actionable steps we can each take as we find our own initial footing on the path to incorporating new perspectives.

Actionable steps toward incorporating new perspectives

Tango B. Moore, grants manager for the Reidsville Area Foundation in North Carolina, emphasizes that you need to bring your whole, true self to the work. Being genuine and intentional in your actions does not mean being perfect; learn and grow through mistakes.

Rahsaan Harris, PhD, who serves as president & CEO of The Emma L. Bowen Foundation for Minority Interests in Media in New York echoed Tango, suggesting that, as you explore this issue, don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Let your good intentions and initial inclinations propel you to act. You don’t have to be an expert to get started.

Don’t be afraid to look in the mirror or, as Tango recommends, start taking equity selfies. As you push outward for social change, remember to regularly and often look inward at yourself, your role, your organization, and your funding to see how your reflection models and advances your goals regarding racial equity.

In this work, as in so many new endeavors, the first step can be the toughest. Rahsaan urges you to start with a question: What racial disparities exist in the issue area my foundation addresses? This effort can reveal opportunities for you to apply intentional approaches to end disparities in your work. Of course the question can be a difficult one to consider, let alone answer, so he also suggests you seek out and embrace a community of thought partners allowing you to benefit from the knowledge and experience of others. This will help ensure your efforts have the intended impact and also provide support and confidence in your work.

In the weeks and months ahead, Exponent Philanthropy will continue to create spaces for conversations on equity, inclusion, and diversity. Please take advantage of them and the incredible community of your fellow Exponent Philanthropy members who, like Tango and Rahsaan, are willing to share their experiences, ideas, and support with you.


  1. Frances Sykes

    In a world populated by while women serving people of all kinds, we must be aware of our situation and work toward being inclusive.

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