About Jeff and Tricia
Issue area: Education, Youth and Young Adult Homelessness, Impact-driven Philanthropy
Geographic focus: National and Washington State
Giving vehicle: Raikes Foundation
Years in philanthropy: 18
Time spent on philanthropy (weekly): Jeff 15-20 hours, Tricia 30 hours
Wealth story: Both Jeff and Tricia were early executives at Microsoft; Jeff retired from Microsoft as the President of the Business division after 27 years
Recommended Resources: National Equity Project, Communities for Just Schools Fund, JustFund
Recommended by: Stephanie Gillis, Director, Impact-Driven Philanthropy Initiative, Raikes Foundation
What conditions are required to build a multi-racial democracy in our country? Much like other systems that we work in, our democracy was not built to include everyone. For equity to be a sustainable feature of American life, we need to build an inclusive democracy. We will have to expand who gets counted, whose voices get heard, who can vote easily, how policies are designed, and who is in power. Collectively we have significant work to do on all fronts. We are reflecting on where we can make a meaningful contribution to this vital collective pursuit. We want to see a world where race no longer predicts life’s outcomes, especially for young people.
Our giving has evolved a lot over the years, but especially in the last five years as we began a learning journey focused on racial equity. We believe that changing the way systems operate is the most durable, sustainable way to make the kind of equitable progress needed. But how we do that has evolved over time.
The best way to illustrate our evolution is through looking at the education system. We started by investing in basic research on adolescent development and non-cognitive factors that impact learning. Then, we focused our work on intervening with young people -- particularly young people who had been marginalized. We looked at programs that taught students new skills, like how to develop a growth mindset.
But these approaches were incomplete. Rather than placing the burden on the student, backed by research we believe that the responsibility resides with the adults and organizations driving today’s educational and related youth-serving systems. We shifted our learning by listening to the students themselves, to community partners, and to educators. The message back was simple – the environment in which young people learn is a critical ingredient for student success. If a student feels that they belong and feel supported in school, when they see teachers who look like them, when they study curriculum that acknowledges them, then they are far more likely to achieve and imagine a positive future for themselves as adults.
We’re working with partners to synthesize the research and elevate the most promising programs applying best practices. We’re hopeful that communities can translate these learnings into actionable policies tailored for their specific needs.
On giving to leaders of color
We are more intentional now about partnering with leaders of color. We are measuring who our funding supports in all our philanthropic pursuits. We’ve made considerable progress shifting dollars to leaders of color, and we have more work to do.
In the period immediately following the protests after George Floyd’s murder by the police, we announced nearly $1 million in funding to support the dismantling of anti-Black racism. The development of this fund was led by a committee of Black staff members from our team and focused on Black leadership and power building. It was separate from the foundation’s established strategies and provided unrestricted funding to organizations elevating Black leadership, bolstering Black political engagement, and leveraging community-based organizing to advance anti-racist policy change across the nation.
We are learning a lot already from these leaders. We have a better understanding of the critical need to shift power and support more organizations led by people of color, particularly Black and Indigenous leaders rooted in communities. These leaders have been hard at work on these challenges for years. We expect to continue in partnership with them as our work evolves in the future.
We are also focusing on supporting leaders of color and leaders with lived experience inside our strategy areas. For example, in our Impact-Driven Philanthropy Initiative, we were early funders of the Donors of Color Network and of JustFund, both led by amazing women of color and advancing social justice philanthropy.
On their learning journey as donors
We have always been committed to continuous learning, but we have become better listeners. We’ve also been humbled by our own limitations when it comes to identifying the problems that need to be solved, as well as the best approaches to developing solutions. Our own lived experience is different compared to young people and adults in the communities in which we are working. The systems we hope to play a role in transforming were designed for people like us. They work for us. But what we need are systems -- schools, public safety, health, housing -- that work for everyone. The people who have been least well-served by these systems historically are the people we need to look to for leadership on how to change them.
On advancing systems change through new models
First, outside our foundation, we’re exploring investments in advocacy and policy engagement that you might find 501(c)(4) organizations advancing. Second, we’re keen to ramp up how we use our voices, how we convene cross-sector leaders in our network, and generally create opportunities for leaders in community to participate in conversations and rooms for which we can help create space. We’ve been really good at a 20th century model of philanthropy and we’re eager to adapt our approach to the tactics required in the decade ahead.
Read other stories about donors centering equity.