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Note: As he approaches his retirement in a few months, Forum President & CEO David Biemesderfer will be sharing some parting reflections about the Forum’s work in a series of blog posts. This is the first post in the series. 

United Philanthropy Forum started our racial equity journey in 2016, when I started at the organization, and every year since then we have deepened and expanded our work to advance racial equity in philanthropy, through partnership with and guidance from the Forum’s Racial Equity Committee. This includes both our external racial equity work with the Forum’s nearly 100 regional and national philanthropy-serving organization (PSO) members and our internal racial equity work with our staff and board. We are in a constant learning mode about how to best engage in the work to advance racial equity and racial justice in our field. The Forum firmly believes in the power of PSOs to lead and advance change in philanthropy. As the Forum’s members build their capacity to address racial equity in their work, they can be more effective in leading their members be more equitable in their philanthropy, which can lead to more equitable communities. 

I’m encouraged to report that we have tracked some positive shifts in our PSO network in their efforts to advance racial equity over the past four years. During this time the Forum has provided a broad range of programming and services to our members to help them move forward with this important work, as have many other organizations—including a number of Forum members that have been leading the sector in racial equity work for many decades. Between conducting our first racial equity capacity assessment for PSOs in 2019-2020 and our follow-up racial equity capacity assessment in 2022, regional and national PSOs have advanced their racial equity work in a number of ways: 

  • More PSOs are offering targeted racial equity support to their member organizations. PSOs that participated in the follow-up assessment are increasingly offering their members equity-focused support through targeted trainings, workshops, speaker sessions, webinars, or expert consultations to help their members understand and advance racial equity at their philanthropic institutions, increasing from 29% of PSOs offering these supports in the baseline assessment to 55% in the follow-up assessment. This finding represents a shift from baseline data that indicated larger proportions of PSOs were referring their members to external sources of information to support their members. 
  • PSOs are making notable progress in advancing their internal racial equity efforts. Slightly over half of PSOs (52%) that participated in the follow-up assessment reported that they were in the more advanced stages of development—establishing and reinforcing stages—for their internal racial equity work. This represents a substantial increase from the baseline assessment, where only 22% of PSOs reported they were in the more advanced stages of development. This shift is important because as PSOs strive to be more equitable organizations in terms of how their staffs and boards engage in their work, they can be more effective in providing racial equity support to their foundation members and constituents. 
  • PSOs’ senior leadership and board members are playing a more active role in their organizations to help advance racial equity efforts. Two-thirds (66%) of PSOs’ boards of directors have engaged in trainings and workshops over the course of the last two years to increase their awareness and understanding of racism, racial equity, and race, up from 45% in the baseline assessment. In addition, 90% of PSO senior leadership teams are making space for difficult conversations about racism, racial equity, and race, which is a notable increase from 68% in the first assessment. It’s encouraging to see this shift because we have learned that organizations cannot be successful in their racial equity work unless they have the support and participation of their leadership. PSOs’ budgets are more frequently prioritizing racial equity efforts. A larger proportion of PSOs in 2022 were committing funds or grants to support their racial equity efforts. The follow-up assessment showed that 67% of PSOs have an ongoing budget line item for their racial equity work, which is an increase from 51% in the baseline assessment. Our initial assessment showed that financial support was identified as a top barrier to PSOs going deeper to advance racial equity, so we’re pleased to see more PSOs committing financial resources to this work (although money is still a key barrier identified by many PSOs in the follow-up assessment). 

These trends and others are part of the Forum’s second Journey Toward Racial Equity report, which we released in June 2023. These shifts were consistent whether looking at all responses to either assessment or a subset of PSOs that participated in both assessments. 

Another trend we’ve been hearing about recently from many of our members is that they are starting to witness some growing pushback and resistance among some in their networks to continue the long-term work of advancing racial equity and racial justice in philanthropy. This is a disturbing trend for us. Please know that United Philanthropy Forum is steadfastly committed to continuing our racial equity and racial justice work, and to helping our members do the same. 

We are heartened by the positive shifts we’ve documented in our network, such as those I’ve noted above, but we know that much more needs to be done—this is long-term work that requires long-term commitment. I am grateful to our entire Forum team for their commitment to our collective journey, and to Traci Slater-Rigaud, the Forum’s Senior Director of Member Engagement and Partnership, who leads the Forum’s racial equity pillar of work. I am also deeply appreciative to the Forum’s Board of Directors and to the members of the Forum network for their continued leadership to ensure a more equitable philanthropic sector and more equitable communities. The work continues and the Forum will be there to continue to support and advance it. 

David Biemesderfer 
President & CEO United Philanthropy Forum

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