A post to Exponent Philanthropy's blog

How Lean Funders Incorporate Racial Equity Into Their Work

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Exponent Philanthropy recently launched, Mind the Gap: Exploring the Role of Diversity and Racial Equity in Leanly Staffed Foundations. To develop this publication, we talked with members about how their foundations incorporate racial equity into their work. We learned a lot from these one-on-one conversations. And hearing members talk to each other about racial equity work was even more enlightening!

Marsha Davis is executive director of the Tzedek Social Justice Fund in North Carolina. It distributes money, resources and power to support systems change and community healing around racial justice, LGBTQ justice, and combating antisemitism. David Greco is executive director of All-Stars Helping Kids in California. It funds emerging nonprofits that focus on access to education, career readiness and health and wellness.

We feature All-Stars Helping Kids and the Tzedek Social Justice Fund in Mind the Gap. Here are highlights from their conversation.

Make your racial equity work intentional

Both Marsha and David said their organizations have supported underrepresented communities for some time. But only recently have they moved to take an intentional approach to racial equity. An intentional approach can shift your perspective from what your grantees are doing to what your organization is doing internally.

Marsha said the Tzedek Social Justice Fund expanded its board to be more diverse and inclusive. David said All-Stars Helping Kids is focused on racial equity at three levels: (1) the foundation, (2) the organizations they fund, (3) and the youth they support. At the foundation and grantee level, David said they strive to mirror the demographics and shared experiences of their youth.

Share your power

Both Marsha and David emphasized that promoting racial equity isn’t simply adding more diverse people to your board and staff – it is also about sharing more of your organization’s power.

Shared decision-making is a key element of racial equity work. The Tzedek Social Justice Fund employs participatory grantmaking practices so that grantees decide how some of the foundation’s funds are allocated.

All-Stars Helping Kids gives grantees three years of general operating support, along with training, capacity building, coaching, and connections to peer nonprofits and funding networks. This helps grantees grow beyond the foundation’s initial support.

Relationships are key

Building strong relationships is key to engaging in racial equity work.

Funders are sometimes scared to start their racial equity journeys. By focusing on building strong relationships with your grantees and community, you are more likely to get grace when you make a mistake, as well as help and advice on how to improve and grow.

Both Marsha and David said their strong relationships with grantees helped them fine-tune initiatives before they moved forward. Similarly, strong relationships with their communities made them confident that when they misstep, they’ll receive constructive feedback to get back on track.

Tune into the conference session, “Mind the Gap: Exploring the Role of Diversity and Racial Equity in Leanly Staffed Foundations,” on Tuesday, October 19th at 1 PM ET for more insights from Marsha and David.

Hear blog authors Afia Amobeaa-Sakyi and Brendan McCormick speak at this year’s annual conference!

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Afia Amobeaa-Sakyi, director, equity and inclusion, plays a critical role in shaping and sustaining an inclusive and equitable culture at Exponent Philanthropy, and among our community of lean funders and external stakeholders.

Brendan McCormick, manager, research and education, works with Exponent Philanthropy’s staff, members, and partners to develop resources grounded in research that relate to impact and evaluation and foundation investments. He also leads Exponent Philanthropy’s efforts to learn more about its community of lean funders.

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