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It was an inauspicious beginning. In 2012, Larry Kramer began his tenure as president of the Hewlett Foundation — one of the largest foundations in the country. He had written an inaugural blog asking his constituents to candidly share with him their views about the foundation’s philanthropy.
As founder of the California Alliance of African Educators (CAAAE), I flippantly wrote back that he did not want to know what my organization thought of Hewlett’s giving. Assuming that my reply would land in spam or be ignored by someone charged with monitoring responses, I was shocked when Larry answered and encouraged me to please share more.
Not long before he joined the foundation, the Greenlining Institute had published a scathing report about how very little California grantmakers, including Hewlett, the James Irvine and the David and Lucile Packard Foundations, gave to organizations run by non-white people, so I suggested that Larry start by reading it.
Being the consummate knowledge-seeker, Larry read that report and wanted to learn more. He invited me to meet him in his offices in Hewlett’s state-of-the-art building in leafy Menlo Park. I agreed on one condition: The CAAAE was in the process of creating a brand new national organization called A Black Education Network (ABEN) and I wanted him to give me feedback about it and, by the way, did he happen to know Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation, because he was the funder I was hoping would invest $1 million per year for 10 years in the creation and support of ABEN, just as Packard had done in its creation and support of Preschool California. Larry told me in an email that he would be happy to make that introduction.
I sat in Larry’s office on Friday, Dec.13, 2013, and liked him instantly. Affable, self-effacing and brilliant, Larry was the perfect audience for ABEN’s 14-page, glossy, full-color and spiral-bound vision for its future including that $1 million budget and narrative. Because I was going to school Larry about racism in philanthropy, I brought along a favorite PowerPoint that I had created for a presentation in a colleague’s political science course at San Francisco State University that I entitled “The Color of Philanthropy or Why the Black Panther Party Did Not Get Systemic Funding.”
After Larry listened to my spiel, he turned to me and casually said, “I would like to seed this.” Remember, I was not there to ask Larry for a dime. I was there to teach him and garner access to Darren. He said he could probably give me $100,000 per year for 3 years or, at minimum, $50,000 per year for 3 years, but he would give me the $150,000 all at once if he could only give me the lesser amount. I carefully gripped the side of my chair so that I would not fall off as this magnanimous gesture sunk in.
Read the full article about funder partnerships by Debra Watkins at Medium.