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New Report Shares Insights on Advancing Racial Equity in Philanthropy

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

United Philanthropy Forum’s key strategic priorities include a focus on advancing racial equity, diversity and inclusion in philanthropy. The Forum envisions a courageous philanthropic sector that catalyzes a just and equitable society where all can participate and prosper. It is not possible for us to achieve this vision without addressing racial equity.

The Forum supports efforts to address equity in all areas of society. But if you look at just about any issue that philanthropy cares about, from education to health care to the environment, some of the greatest disparities are along racial and ethnic lines. These racial disparities have persisted for decades, and in many cases the gaps are widening. It is impossible to make significant progress on any of these issues without focusing on how to narrow these gaps.

The Forum views our racial equity work in a specific way: we strive to be a leading connector, convener and collaborative partner for all regional and national philanthropy-serving organizations (PSOs) on racial equity, diversity and inclusion. Our network includes nearly 75 PSO members—including regional philanthropy associations and national affinity groups, networks and associations of funders. We are working to help PSOs bring a racial equity lens to all aspects of their work, including their internal operations, external programming, and leadership work in the field, and to catalyze and guide greater PSO collaboration in this work. We believe this has the potential to shift the thinking and practice of many of the more than 7,000 foundations that are members of these PSOs, leading to deeper change in the field.

For this topic, the work has to be locally flavored and tailored. There are national conversations about racial equity, but they need a customized approached.”

To help inform and guide our racial equity work, the Forum conducted a scan of regional and national PSOs in February through May 2018, to get a more comprehensive understanding of PSOs’ current work and future needs to advance racial equity in philanthropy. The scan involved both a survey that asked about PSOs’ current work, future needs and greatest challenges in advancing racial equity, plus in-depth interviews to discuss what it takes to do this work effectively and to identify their key challenges, barriers and opportunities for addressing systemic inequities.

We have summarized the results of the scan in a new report that offers fresh insights on how to tackle a crucial and complex issue like racial equity—insights from a diverse group of 43 PSOs—more than half of the Forum’s membership—who are on the front lines of this work in philanthropy. Here are a few key findings from the report:

We are trying to build capacity; but I am doing this at my own expense. Unless we can get resources to build awareness and move programs, I don’t see us doing a whole lot."

  • Where PSOs are on their racial equity journey: 43% of the scan’s survey respondents define their racial equity work as “just beginning,” while another 51% have been engaged in this work for a longer period of time but don’t consider their efforts as “advanced.” This speaks to the long-term nature of this work—reducing systemic inequities does not happen overnight.

  • Why PSOs are engaged in racial equity work: PSOs identified a wide range of reasons for why they are engaged in racial equity work Some cited the 2016 election or the aftermath of shootings of unarmed Black men and boys as important drivers. Others indicated that expanded discussions on racial equity in the Forum network incentivized growth in their own work on these issues. In some instances, a PSO’s foundation members have been the key drivers of encouraging a PSO’s development or expansion of its work on racial equity, but in most cases it is being initiated by PSO staff.

  • How PSOs are engaged in racial equity work: Nearly all scan participants are involved in providing programming on racial equity to their members and constituents—this seems to be a key point of entry for many PSOs. In addition, nearly one-third (32%) of PSOs identified specific strategies or strategic frameworks that they are using to guide their work on racial equity; 38% have developed a board committee, task force, working group or advisory group to guide the PSO’s racial equity or broader DEI work; and 30% operate racial equity learning and networking groups that offer ongoing opportunities for funders to connect, share and learn with their colleagues and peers.

  • What are PSOs’ biggest needs and obstacles to advance racial equity: PSOs cited several gaps and obstacles that stand in the way of scaling up racial equity initiatives, including: access to tools, training and other resources that fit an individual PSO’s size, region, focus, etc.; more financial resources to support the work; help in engaging their boards and in helping their foundation members engage their boards; and assistance in figuring out how to engage a broader group of members beyond a “committed cluster.”

(Foundation) members are asking, ‘What do I do?’ But many need introductory learning. This is an iterative process for most foundations—small and incremental steps.”

The report includes many other insights about PSOs’ racial equity journey, including practical factors that they have found to be most critical to facilitate progress in advancing racial equity with funders. For example, many scan participants stressed that you can’t “rush” people to a place where they are not; but rather, you have to meet them where there are; and that building a shared language and point of view is critical in getting a PSO’s staff, board and members on the same page relative to racial equity.

One of the most important findings: every PSO that participated in the scan expressed a desire to increase its capacity to address systemic racism and is proactive in laying out specific goals to achieve this. To help the Forum’s members in these efforts, we have already used the results of the scan to inform our future plans for leading, informing and supporting our members in advancing racial equity in philanthropy. In the report we outline the Forum’s specific plans for acting on the scan’s findings. Our work is being guided by a Racial Equity Working Group comprised of representatives of regional and national PSOs that are further along in addressing racial equity.

We hope the report will be helpful to other organizations, including PSOs and funders who are committed to dismantling structural racism and reducing racial disparities. We have much work to do, and we must work together.

Read the Report: Advancing Racial Equity in Philanthropy: A Scan of Philanthropy-Serving Organizations

David Biemesderfer
President & CEO
United Philanthropy Forum
Follow me @dbiemesderfer

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