To “lead by example” is a fundamental principle within philanthropy. However, the power dynamic inherent to the funder-grantee relationship can sometimes lead to a lack of self-reflection or self-discipline among funders. A funder wishing to advance a best practice may require the practice from its grantees but forgo the difficult work of implementing the practice for itself.

This can be especially true when it comes to practices that are designed to tackle issues of race, including both the racial composition of staff and leadership and also the unique barriers communities of color face in accessing the benefits of certain grant-funded programs.

Notable responses have come from across philanthropy, with headlines trumpeting restructured paradigms and transformative approaches to philanthropic giving. These efforts are inspiring, but for institutions where incremental change is the more feasible option, a different model is needed.

Our approach starts with internal practices and opens up the possibilities for new dialogue with grantees and other key stakeholders, reflecting our desire to model best practices before pursuing external changes on the part of the grantee community. Additionally, our leadership works on a consensus basis, making decisions thoughtfully and deliberately after significant consideration, which is why an incremental approach often works well for us.

Dramatic gestures can be inspiring, but empty gestures help no one. At the William Penn Foundation, we found our sweet spot by building momentum from the ground up and by introducing new practices from the inside out.

Crafting a diversity statement, pulling together a working group and publishing your demographic data are three great first steps. It is our expectation that the learning we gain from these incremental and pilot efforts will be harvested to inform the future refinement of our grantmaking goals and strategies, and the improvement of our own business practices.

Read the full article about racial equity in philanthropy by Nathan Boon at National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy.