I’m thinking of participating in an intense, action-oriented cohort for white-identifying philanthropic leaders from across the U.S. who are ready to critically examine their organization’s commitment to racial and gender equity. I’m contemplating doing this with my organization’s Board President; he’s also my boss, colleague, and a second-generation family member of the foundation where I’m employed.

Your first thought might be, “Oh no, this is a bad idea. There are power dynamics at play and things can get uncomfortable and awkward quickly. How will this impact their working relationship?”

I’m here to say, despite reservations, this can be an incredible idea, and the outcome can be truly transformational. Jeremy and I participated in Camelback Ventures’ Capital Collaborative over the last eight months. Participating in this racial equity and justice cohort together not only strengthened us as individuals, but as partners in this work. It also accelerated our actions and brought a new level of accountability I’m not sure we could have imagined prior to joining the program. It came with a lot of deep conversation, divergent thoughts, sometimes uncomfortable feelings, and a whole lot of work that will continue indefinitely; but, it was worth every second.

As a 10-year-old place-based family foundation, our equity journey didn’t start quite from inception. We thought we were doing all the right things as a funder – meeting with any organizations that contacted us, no LOIs or application cycles, utilizing a limited formal application only after we said yes to funding, no formal reporting, centering relationships, funding with limited strings. It wasn’t until late spring in 2020 that the continued vast racial inequities – heightened by the pandemic and the murder of George Floyd – prompted us to take a pause to listen, reflect, and truly reexamine our work as a foundation. 

Transparency and humility are two of our core values. So when we recognize we have made mistakes or have fallen short as a funder, we admit it, interrogate it, and do our best to quickly right the course. As we started to take a deeper look at our foundation and grantmaking practices, we realized that equity was not a primary focus – admittedly, not a focus at all. Not because we didn’t think it was crucial, we were just focused on "doing good." But, frankly, “doing good” without intention just isn’t good enough. We knew we needed to stop being complicit and make equity a priority in our work.

Jeremy and I had been having conversations since 2020, working on ourselves and the organization; but we were missing something. We felt we needed something more, something that would truly push us to interrogate our practices, uncover our weak spots, leave us with actions to change our own organization, and introduce us to fellow leaders looking to disrupt the philanthropic space. After learning about the depth of the Capital Collaborative program we signed up for the third cohort – together

As sound and transparent of a relationship as Jeremy and I have, I would be disingenuous if I didn’t admit I was a little nervous to go into this journey with him. I learned leaning into those nerves was an important part of the process. Here are some other tips that might be helpful as you consider doing this critical work with a board member, boss, colleague, or all those things wrapped up in one:

    • Take time to hear one another. Jeremy and I often start our thinking at different ends of the spectrum. For example – after day one of our first Capital Collaborative Cohort Summit 1 in Durham, NC – I started our conversation with fierce internal criticism. I felt like everything we were doing from a racial equity and justice perspective was wrong and we needed to basically expunge all our work. That thought may sound dramatic, but it’s not far off from my mentality at the time.On the other hand, Jeremy felt like we were doing okay as a foundation. There was a sense of pride and ownership in the trust-based and collaborative work we had done. By the next morning, I had come around to really thinking about Jeremy’s points and realized there were some practices that were on the right path. Jeremy, on the other hand, had slept on it and was now in agreement that expunging all previous work was necessary and we were doing a terrible job.By the third morning, and after a lot of deep conversation, we met somewhere in the middle. We knew we had a lot of weak spots and needed to make significant changes. But, we also recognized there were bright spots in our work. There were things we were doing equitably that we could continue to build upon to create a better way forward. Taking the dedicated time in Durham together gave us the container needed to truly hear one another and accelerate the action more quickly when we returned home.
    • Recognize, at times, the action paths will differ based on the power dynamics at play. Jeremy and I are a team. This process validated the fact that we both genuinely want to flip the script on historical philanthropy practices. We also realize, while we walk in alignment, there are different roles we might play on this journey based on power dynamics. For example, Jeremy can say something in a room full of predominantly white, wealthy board members and foundation leaders that will come off completely differently than if I were to say the same thing.Unfortunately, this is just the current reality we are in and the risk level for him is mitigated. He is more than willing to step into that role and push hard for change in those spaces. This does not give me an exit ramp by any means. It is still always my role to speak up and out in those spaces, have courageous conversations, and push for change in the sector. However, our actions may take different routes in this work.
    • Use this opportunity to strategize on how you can act quickly to make change within your organization and in the philanthropic space. Participating alongside Jeremy on this journey truly accelerated our action toward becoming a more equitable and just funder. As a small and nimble organization, we historically have been able to move quickly. But – when you are looking to interrogate the practices, funding pillars, and overall operations of an organization – there is this tendency in philanthropy to overthink, over-intellectualize, and spend a lot of time trying to get things perfect.

From the time we left Durham in the Fall of 2022, we quickly put a plan in place to have a conversation with the board to get approval for a full strategic planning process for 2023 – one truly rooted in equity, as well as in community. That process was approved and by the time we got to our second convening in March of 2023, we were almost at the point of selecting our consulting firm. As I write this, the work has begun. 

I am not sure we would have gotten to this point so quickly without the Capital Collaborative program and the entire Camelback Ventures family. I am certain we wouldn’t be here if I had done the program on my own and without a key decision-maker at the table with me. We’ve also come out of this cohort determined to hold each other accountable for moving things forward, always reflecting, acknowledging when we make mistakes, and continuing to do the work each day to become an anti-racist organization and co-conspirators in the industry.

I pondered where to focus for this blog post because there were so many pathways I could take. The Capital Collaborative was one of the most impactful and thought-provoking experiences of my professional career – and the level of gratitude I have for Camelback Ventures and all the partners who played a part is immense. 

Ultimately, Jeremy and I both felt very strongly: To effectuate change within your own organization and in the world of philanthropy, partnership between board and staff is critical. We recognize there might be skepticism in doing this work collaboratively. I can only speak for myself, and I know every relationship is different, but doing this work together was truly transformational for our foundation. If you have a safe, trusting, and transparent relationship with your board members, or even just one, I highly recommend considering going through a journey like this together


The Capital Collaborative by Camelback Ventures works with white funders and social impact investors who want to deepen their individual and organizational commitment to racial and gender equity in philanthropy — but may not know how. You can learn more about how to get involved by submitting an interest form for the Capital Collaborative’s next cohort or signing up for the newsletter.