The last few years (and beyond) were incredibly difficult for leaders of color. Amid a pandemic that has exacerbated inequities, the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and 10 Black people in Buffalo reminded us of the reality of racism permeating everyday life in America. United States Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley, the first Black woman elected to Congress from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, said it best when she observed, “We are managing a pandemic within a pandemic. Police brutality is a scourge, it is a pandemic. The pre-existing condition before COVID, and it still exists, is racism.” Foundations and their partners have employees mourning the lives of those lost and sitting with these injustices. These events shook our organizations at their core. At the onset of the pandemic, Mathematica joined the more than 800 foundations in signing the Council on Foundations pledge, “A Call to Action: Philanthropy’s Commitment During Covid-19.” It was important for us to listen deeply to partners and leverage data to inform public discourse, policy decision-making, and grantmaking across the philanthropic ecosystem.

As a former educator, grantmaker, leader of three national funder networks, and advisor to two U.S. secretaries of education on philanthropic alignment with experience deeply engaging communities, I currently serve in a bridge-building role between research and philanthropy as senior director of foundation engagement at Mathematica. Because foundations are in different places along the spectrum of understanding the power of research to orient their knowledge of the issues affecting their grantees and communities, my leadership role in advancing our philanthropic practice has involved ensuring that my colleagues understand the complex social challenges plaguing underserved communities. Given my lived experience, I’m a trusted advisor to foundations seeking to engage in deeper learning as a partner to grantees and communities.

In responding to the Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP) report Foundations Respond to Crisis: Lasting Change? I am compelled to reflect on this defining moment in philanthropy from these perspectives. When Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. led the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, he described a “fierce urgency of now,” reminding a divided nation that we need each other, and that we are stronger when we make progress together. Dr. King’s words still ring true. The future is now, and the philanthropic sector is well-poised to deliver on the promise of sustainable change amid the dual pandemics of COVID-19 and racial injustice in close partnership with grantees through equity-focused investments and evidence-informed grantmaking.

Based on my experience as an educator, public servant, and advisor to foundations, I offer my recommendations for how the philanthropic field can practice radical accountability — a cornerstone of the evidence-informed grantmaking framework — to make a lasting impact. Evidence-informed grantmaking is an equity-centered strategic framework that leverages data — partnering authentically to deeply understand community context and complexities — to guide grantmaking strategies. It facilitates a process of learning at every stage of a foundation’s grantmaking cycle, both pre- and post-investment. I offer three strategies to engage in the practice of evidence-informed grantmaking grounded in equity, catalyzing lasting change in partnership with grantees most proximate to challenges to ensure deeper impact.

Read the full article about radical accountability by Kimberlin Butler at The Center for Effective Philanthropy.