Isabelle Leighton is interim executive director of Donors of Color Network, whose mission is to build systemic racial equity to be more reflective and accountable to communities of color. Leighton has 20 years of experience growing social justice and movement-oriented organizations, including Political Research Associates, where Leighton focused on supporting communities targeted by racist and misogynist forces during the Trump administration. Prior to that, Leighton was the founding director of Equality Fund, a philanthropic advocacy project, and served as NYC co-chair of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in Philanthropy. Leighton currently sits on the boards of the Solidago FoundationOpen City Labs, and the Institute for Research on Male Supremacism.

PND asked Leighton about barriers to donors of color achieving equitable attention and considerationhow media and other allies can assist in better recognizing donors of colorthe role that race and racism play in the problems that philanthropists are working to solve, how the philanthropic sector could be more inclusive, philanthropy’s response to climate justice, and how best to demystify and educate the sector on the issues that mean the most to donors of color.

PND: As your report notes, many high-net-worth donors of color were motivated by their experiences of racial or ethnic bias to seek systemic change through philanthropic or political giving. Yet, according to SSIR, many foundations have been slow to realize that broad change cannot happen without understanding the role that race and racism play in the problems that philanthropists are working to solve. What are your thoughts about how to bridge this gap?

IL: Philanthropy has an incredible opportunity today—as it has for decades—to take on risks, be innovative, and leverage its resources in the most inspiring ways. Unfortunately, many philanthropic leaders take a scarcity mindset and question BIPOC-led movements' efficacy, including donors of color. Now is the time for philanthropy to be bold—to include more diverse experiences and voices while acknowledging the inequities within the space. No winning social movement has ever succeeded without the contributions and support of people of color. In order to bridge the gap, foundations need to make intentional decisions and practices that are more reflective of today's more innovative changemakers. We hope our report inspires more foundations and funders to lean into their curiosity and critically examine their own practices, bring BIPOC voices to the decision-making table, and make serious moves to meaningfully address racial and social justice. We at DOCN are energized by this effort and look forward to taking the Portrait report on a roadshow—to engage a broad cross-section of philanthropic and other sector leaders in testing new models for transforming philanthropy.

PND: Some funders have begun incorporating diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) statements into their philanthropic processes. What are some specific ways in which the philanthropic sector could be more inclusive of people of color and Indigenous people in their work and giving?

IL: In the wake of George Floyd’s murder, public statements poured in with claims that they stood for equity and justice. Yet, actions speak louder than words. There still remains too wide a disconnect between public statements and public actions. The vast majority of companies and funders are standing on the sidelines and are failing to have their actions meet their words. For example, DOCN launched the Climate Funders Justice Pledge in February 2021, a first-of-its-kind climate justice campaign to shift power and resources towards racial and economic justice by challenging the nation’s top climate funders to commit publicly to greater transparency and to give at least 30 percent of their U.S. climate funding to BIPOC-led, justice-focused groups. After a year of broad outreach, media attention, and conversations with foundation executives, 10 of the top 40 foundations signed on to the pledge. Yet, 30 remain silent. Foundations and companies alike need to start looking at public statements as more than public relations tactics. When it comes to breaking the chains of white supremacy in this country, these sector leaders have so much to learn from BIPOC movements. It’s time to act with real intention, to evaluate and change funding practices, and shift accountability to those more directly impacted by injustice.

Read the full article about racial and economic justice by Isabelle Leighton at Philanthropy News Digest.