Over the years, funders would tell those of us at the Hill-Snowdon Foundation, “You’re such an example.” They were so proud of our organizing work, especially in the US South. They pointed to how we centered our relationships with our partners and how we focused on racial justice as underlying and informing every issue. These acknowledgments could have served as a signal that we were doing enough, causing us to stop interrogating our own behaviors.

But we did not stop. Instead, we uncovered gaps in our approach and outdated practices that did not align with our values. Like so many in philanthropy, we relied on old habits, having inherited certain practices without taking time to critique them. A new philosophy that aligned with trust-based philanthropy helped us realize that our commitment to centering racial justice and power building required us to change.

Together, we offer our combined reflections on that process as executive director and board president of the Hill-Snowdon Foundation. We share the following road map for other funders who are committed to advancing justice but may feel stuck using conventional practices that cause more harm than good.

Our need for change came into sharp focus in 2020. Funders that had long accepted status quo philanthropy began to shift when faced with the unprecedented needs of communities amid the pandemic, racial justice uprisings, and political upheaval.

In the spring of that year, the Hill-Snowdon staff had many calls with our partners to hear what the foundation could do to better support them. At the end of one call, one of our longtime partners, the Black Organizing Project, inquired if the foundation could begin multiyear grantmaking.

Hill-Snowdon’s racial justice orientation made it possible to explore the changes we incorporated into our organization. Trust-based philanthropy gave us the language to understand that while we were clear on our values, our commitment to relationships was not being reflected in our grantmaking practices. With changes like embracing multiyear grants and doing away with lengthy dockets, we saw our organization’s actions more closely reflect our words. As we moved into our strategic reorientation, we learned four lessons, which we hope will inspire other foundation board and staff members seeking to strengthen their own racial justice and trust-based orientations:

  • Consider the changes your board needs.
  • Deepen internal racial justice work.
  • Invest in building trust internally.
  • Start with power.

Read the full article about racial justice and trust-based philanthropy by Nat Chioke Williams and Liz Bonner at Stanford Social Innovation Review.