Cyndi Suarez: We are experiencing an increase in more explicit forms of racial injustice as racial equity gaps are actually widening along with the wealth gap, which overlap, as I’m sure you know. And I’ve been hearing, recently, from funders of color that our sector appears to be pulling away from funding justice work, especially racial justice, while there’s already a lot of inequity in funding along racial lines. So, in this context, Donors of Color Network comes out into the world and tries to move this mission of really moving the sector toward racial justice and social justice. I’m wondering, What’s your strategy for doing that, in that context?

Isabelle Leighton: I love that you’re starting with a nice and easy question, not like my favorite food or anything! So, this is a great question and something we get asked a lot. One of the things that we try to position and share and put out into the world is that people of color with wealth are an untapped power source. This is an experience that a lot of people who have been participating in philanthropy for decades are unaware of— the lived experiences of people of color with wealth and the type of philanthropy that they have contributed over decades. It looks different. It’s not institutional. It doesn’t fall within the same political ideological frameworks that are presented within a lot of the traditional philanthropy. And a lot of it is just not visible. I think a lot of times when we have the stories of what people of color with wealth, or BIPOC donors, focus on or what they care about, they’re not actually acknowledged and legitimized within institutional philanthropy. I’ll just share a couple of things. (And I did get a chance to peruse some of your articles, and I have so many questions about the work that you’ve been focusing on. Just very fascinating.) One of the topics that’s come up before and continues to be, I think, misleading is that people of color are not necessarily the most politically minded.

CS: Really? People think that?

IL: Yes. So, for example, this concept that Latinx donors might not necessarily be aligned with social justice values; or that Asian Americans just can’t pick a side—are nonpartisan. But actually, if you look at the history of the ways in which these donors have shown up in times of crisis, in times of investing long-term in communities, it may not be called “social justice” philanthropy but their actions and their investments demonstrate that they are focused on that work. And there are countless examples of this, and a lot of it is not recorded in what you would consider more “mainstream” philanthropy, or within (c)(3) giving or nonprofit giving. And that’s essentially what we’re focused on in our research, in our Portrait report: that philanthropy always sounds like someone else.1 And that there’s a sort of legitimacy question and visibility question around what kinds of contributions people of color have made.

Read the full article about recentering philanthropy by Cyndi Suarez and Isabelle Leighton at Nonprofit Quarterly.