Funders’ identities inevitably shape how they show up within organizations and communities. Many people of color have spent their philanthropic careers trying to navigate the white centers of power that predominate the social sector. They also possess hard-won knowledge of the structural inequities in their communities, which deny residents an equal opportunity to advance their lives. As one of the participants in the multi-racial peer-learning group of place-based funders from 12 cities who gathered in 2020 put it, “I am a Black woman—it did not take protests for me to be conscious of race in our strategies.”

At the same time, this period of racial protest and rising white nationalism has accelerated the learning curves of many philanthropic leaders who identify as white, as they work to engage more directly as allies in advancing racial justice. The peer funders also noted that the crisis created an opening for those who lead racial equity work to be more explicit, such as by not skirting around the degree to which white supremacy[1] permeates American culture and by making the case that leaning into anti-racism work—to name it and to own it—is an imperative. For example, a Black funder shared that when a donor asked her to replace “racial equity” with a “different word,” the funder replied, “I hear that this [term] makes you uncomfortable, but we have to use it.”

Many white-led organizations are leaning on BIPOC leaders for context and access to communities—using them and not compensating them.
Rebecca Lipsey, President and CEO, The Miami Foundation

Across the peer-learning group, white funders as well as funders of color agreed there was real value in interrogating their own mindsets and practices, in terms of what it means to be a leader in this work.

Looking inward—an imperative for white funders, an opportunity for funders of color

Some of the white peer funders were explicit about taking a hard, sometimes critical look at how to best use their position and privilege as allies.

“Many white-led organizations are leaning on BIPOC leaders for context and access to communities—using them and not compensating them,” said Rebecca Lipsey, president and CEO of The Miami Foundation, referring to Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC). “This is a time to center BIPOC leaders and to make sure your team has diverse representation.

Are you leading a music program in a Black community but you lack Black leaders in your organization? Pause and think about that. Does your program center the perspectives of the children and families you serve? This isn’t just a moment to get cash for your organization. It’s an opportunity to re-ground your organization in equity and inclusion.”

Read the full article about looking inward by Debby Bielak, Darren Isom, Marion Michieka, and Bill Breen at The Bridgespan Group.