Exponent Philanthropy is on a journey to understand, embrace, and champion racial equity. So, we’re embedding it in our programs and research. For instance, our 2020 Foundation Operations and Management Report explored the relationship between the relevance of racial equity to a foundation’s mission and some grantmaking best practices.
Relevance of Racial Equity to Foundation Mission
Our survey defined racial equity as
the systematic fair treatment of people of all races that results in equitable opportunities and outcomes for everyone.
We asked foundations to rate the relevance of racial equity to their mission. More than a third (34%) said it was “very relevant.”
Interestingly, foundations with at least two people of color on their boards and those with all female or nonbinary board members considered racial equity significantly more relevant to their mission than did boards without that board member composition. Foundations with all White or all male boards can still engage in racial equity work. But they must bring more diverse perspectives on board to advance conversations around racial equity and make the work more central to their mission.
Good Grantmaking Practices Aligned With Racial Equity
We surveyed foundations on an array of grantmaking best practices—from monitoring grantee accomplishments to engaging constituents in the grantmaking process—and analyzed the relevancy of racial equity as it related to the grantmaking practices.
The foundations that said racial equity was “very relevant” to their mission engaged in each of the aforementioned grantmaking practices more than foundations that said it was “not relevant” or “somewhat relevant” to their mission.
Members also said the following strategies play an outsized role in advancing racial equity:
- Streamlining and simplifying grant requirements helps deemphasize traditional long-form applications. This strategy offers alternative ways to collect and share information, reducing some barriers to entry and affording more organizations a shot at philanthropic dollars.
- Collaborating with other funders to learn, support a cause, or pool grants, has advantages. This strategy involves more large-scale work, shared risks, and new perspectives.
- Engaging constituents in the grantmaking process helps funders make more informed decisions without preconceived ideas about what they think grantees need.
General operating support and multiyear grants were fairly common regardless of the relevance of racial equity to a foundation’s mission. Funders and grantees who work in racial equity said these two types of grants are essential, and they are increasingly common among lean funders—not just for those focused on racial equity.
No matter your funding focus, multiyear and general operating support grants afford recipients the security to think long term to better create change and solve problems.
There’s Still Work to Do
Despite the positive findings identified in the report, we still have work to do to increase the number of diverse voices in philanthropy.
Compared to the overall population and number of foundations (65%) that said racial equity was “somewhat” or “very relevant” to their mission, the racial and ethnic diversity of foundation boards and staff was low:
- Of participating foundations, 74% had no board members of color (i.e., their boards were comprised entirely of people who identified as White).
- More than three-fourths (78%) of participating staffed foundations had no paid staff members of color (their staffs fully comprised people who identified as White). And this trend continued for CEOs: Of participating foundations with full-time CEOs, 90% had someone in that role who identified as White.
White people still dominate philanthropy. But foundations that bring more diverse perspectives into the field will likely engage in other philanthropic best practices. This includes rethinking barriers to entry and data collection and understanding the stresses grantees face.
As the philanthropic sector tries to build trust, strengthen relationships, and address the systemic power imbalances in our society, trusting both nonprofits and the communities they serve is crucial. No matter what its funding priorities are, a foundation can make the world a more equitable place for all of us.
About the 2020 Foundation Operations & Management Report
466 foundation members of Exponent Philanthropy completed the 2019 survey for a response rate of 26 percent. Most respondents identified as family foundations (53%) or independent foundations (39%). Respondents were relatively evenly spread across the United States. For more information, access the full report.
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About the Authors
Afia Amobeaa-Sakyi is director of equity and inclusion at Exponent Philanthropy. She plays a critical role in shaping and sustaining an inclusive and equitable culture among our staff, community of lean funders, and external stakeholders.
Brendan McCormick is associate director of research and publications at Exponent Philanthropy. He works with staff, members, and partners to develop research and resources. He also leads the organization’s efforts to learn more about its community of lean funders.