A post to Exponent Philanthropy's blog

Orange County Grantmakers: Our Equity Journey

Photo by Michael Pfister on Unsplash

Equity is a buzzword heard seemingly everywhere these days. For some, equity is about opportunity. For others, it’s the full inclusion of an entire region’s residents in the economic, social and political life of the area.

In the nonprofit and philanthropic space, equity is undeniably central to our mission, despite its varying definitions.

Commissioning an equity profile

In 2019, Orange County Grantmakers commissioned the OC Equity Profile. This first report of its kind in Orange County assessed traditional economic indicators through an equity lens. The report highlights strengths and areas of vulnerability in relation to the goal of building a strong, resilient economy. At its core, the report found that that despite Orange County leading the nation in demographic change, rising inequality within the county threatens the region’s long-term economic prosperity.

This year has challenged our community. COVID-19 has laid bare inequities we knew existed; community health and safety risks continue to affect people of color at higher rates than white communities. Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) have been hit especially hard, while confronting the long-term effects of systematic racism, injustice and inequality. The national movement in support of racial justice sweeping the nation demonstrates that our society is at a critical juncture. Community, business and government leaders must not only acknowledge the long-term impact of systematic inequity and racism, but also take action.

Evolving our annual summit

In October, Orange County Grantmakers hosted our annual summit for nonprofit leaders. This year, like so many others, we converted to a virtual event. We evolved not only our structure, but also our theme, matching the needs and emotions of the day.

The theme, “Equity in Action: Stories of Innovation and Collaboration,” invited our community to come together for a conversation around what equity looks like in practice. Over four days, our speakers, including high-profile leaders such as Wes Moore, Ruha Benjamin, Dean Song Richardson and Vu Le, led attendees through difficult and sometimes uncomfortable conversations around issues of racism, inequality and systematic oppression.

What emerged was a community on the precipice. One with nonprofit leaders ready to lead courageously and demonstrate the needs of constituents to local officials, so they can devise policies that respond to equity needs.

Through our sub-themes: innovation, public policy, racial and ethnic diversity, and resiliency and recovery, we dove into conversation around our collective belief systems, implicit biases, and what that means for our equity journey.

The first part that journey is to engage with one another, to be willing to hear and participate in difficult conversations, to embrace the uncomfortable, and to accept that differing perspectives are what make us stronger.

Moving the needle on equity

The philanthropic sector is working closely to design actionable strategies that move the needle on equity. Through alignment with the recommendations of the OC Equity Profile, Orange County Grantmakers and its members are devising specific initiatives and programs focused on combating the deeply ingrained biases manifesting in our actions, policies, laws and selves.

Equity is no longer a choice. Together, we must embrace diversity and work toward a just and equitable community to ensure a strong and thriving Orange County for all.


Taryn Palumbo serves as the Executive Director of Orange County Grantmakers, a community of philanthropists committed to improving outcomes for Orange County and beyond. Our mission is to advance social impact by supporting, strengthening and building adaptive leadership across our nonprofit and philanthropic community.

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