As a white-identifying funder who has spent nearly two decades working in a family foundation I was well aware of the significant disparities in how capital flows along gender and racial lines, both in the nonprofit and for-profit sectors. In 2019 I joined a new community, the Capital Collaborative by Camelback Ventures, to help hold me accountable, and to keep my awareness real, dynamic, and applied in action.
As our Capital Collaborative cohort launched its work together, though, I quickly realized how much of my own work I had not yet interrogated and how much deconstructing and rebuilding I had to do. For the first time, I did an analysis of our own foundation’s annual grants by leader gender, race, number of grants, and number of dollars. What did it show? Our dollars flowed disproportionately to white leaders in general, and white men in particular, mirroring the same disparities of which I had been aware and disapproving. And I was acutely embarrassed by the dearth of funding to women leaders of color.
My curiosity ratcheted up. How did my own identity factor into my grantmaking? What truly were my blindspots? Where did privilege accrue - or not - and how did that get replicated throughout society? I would describe myself as a systems thinker, and yet I realized that to some degree I was complicit in helping the philanthropic “system” - the accumulation of financial capital, social capital, and power along race and gender lines - seek stasis and self-perpetuation. But why? I was hungry to do better.
One compelling shift for me was to better understand how our entire society has been racially structured, and how it shows up in who holds power and how inequities along lines of race present across systems (e.g., health, education, finance, criminal justice, housing, etc.). While my training as a doctoral student makes me want to cite peer-reviewed research after each statement here, I will say that my learning in this program was a different type of exercise - based in lots of data, yes, but also grounded in a reinterpretation of white-dominant narratives to re-center those often marginalized by the existing and historic power structure. It floored me that I had gotten to this stage of my life and had yet to truly internalize the profundity and intentionality of how systemic racism - the privileging of whiteness - was constructed and perpetuated, or fully actualize my privilege to combat or deconstruct it. The groundwater metaphor from the Racial Equity Institute helped sharpen my understanding of the insidiousness of this racialized structuring of everything. And the trainings and workshops in this program crystalized my call to action. I began to be more curious, ask more questions, center different voices, think differently about “problems” and “solutions,” and stepped into practices that better reflected my values of equity, integrity, impact, and belonging.
Concretely, this has supported new actions and stronger practices in my work and in our granting:
- Prioritizing race and gender: We have an explicit goal of investing in leaders of color and women. We cultivate our pipeline throughout the year with that lens and we do annual analysis of the distribution of our dollars to hold ourselves accountable to our goals around equity. I also consider the race and gender of vendors and meeting locations, invitees and facilitators at convenings, and sources of data for learning.
- Reframing risk: We now move more dollars to earlier-stage entrepreneurs and leaders and fewer to later-stage growth and replication work - which tends to be led by those who have historically benefited from the dominant power structure (i.e., white men).
- Grantee voice and choice: We invite grantees to share their stories as they wish rather than requiring them to adhere to defined grant narrative parameters. We also largely do general operating grants, trusting leaders to lead the work as they choose. We ask them what their goals are, and how they will know if/when they’ve met those goals, rather than prescribing any metrics to them.
- Centering partnership: I ask how I can be helpful, offer pre-submission review and feedback on proposals, and serve as a connector to other leaders and funders with whom I hold relationships. I ask for feedback, prioritize relationships over transactional exchanges, and try to flatten power dynamics when doing scheduling, picking meeting spots, and setting agendas.
- Public signaling: I am explicit with my/our prioritization of racial and gender equity. I have been told by some grantees over time that we “punch above our weight,” that even though our grants aren’t the largest, my personal investment and our grants often propel others to invest as well - both in dollars and relationships. More publicly spotlighting the importance of prioritizing race and gender when investing in leaders can only help to realize increased equity in philanthropy - and society.
Since making these changes, I’m proud to say that our portfolio has notably shifted: In 2019, when I joined the Capital Collaborative, 32% of our dollars went to BIPOC leaders, 31% went to women leaders, and just 2% went to BIPOC women leaders (insert cringe).
In 2021, 53% of our dollars went to BIPOC leaders, 65% went to women leaders, and 32% of our dollars went to BIPOC women leaders, an exponential increase over historical amounts.
Of course there are things I’m still working on: Effectively practicing “radical candor” in giving and receiving feedback, stepping into discomfort more to engage real-time in hard conversations about racial equity, and continuing to strive for integrity in living these values throughout all aspects of my life.
Joining the Capital Collaborative with Camelback Ventures back in 2019 was another step in my journey of saying “yes” to an opportunity from which I could learn and that would enable me to work alongside people who could enrich my life. The impact of this learning, personally, interpersonally, and organizationally has been transformative in how I see and move through the world. It’s real, life-long work, and I’m glad to be alongside Camelback Ventures in my journey.
Camelback Ventures’ Capital Collaborative works with white funders and social impact investors who want to deepen their individual and organizational commitment to racial and gender equity — but may not know how. You can learn more by submitting an interest form for the Capital Collaborative’s 2022 cohort or signing up for the newsletter!