The idea of equity – when one can no longer predict an advantage or disadvantage based on race, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation or ability – is not hard to grasp. But practicing equity requires a commitment to tempering power with accountability.

When I was trained as a community organizer, I learned that our empowerment depended on relationships of mutual accountability and trust.

We expected each person and organization in our membership to give their word and to keep it – the same standards to which we held policymakers and government officials – regardless of position, age or organization size.

Many foundation staff are clear that they are accountable to their trustees or donors, and they are clear that those who receive grants are accountable to the foundation for the use of the money.

But what kind of commitments do you make as a funder to grantee partners beyond the grant? Do you invite your grantee partners to hold you accountable to your commitments to them?

Without mutual commitments and mutual accountability, no institution can advance equity.

My organizer training also helped me get comfortable with power. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Power, properly understood, is the ability to achieve purpose.”

On those first days of training, we learned that power isn’t bad, but it can be used for a bad purpose.

Yet very few of us could honestly say we wanted to be powerful, nor did we understand how to build power. Power comes from organized money or organized people, and philanthropy has both.

During our Philamplify assessments, NCRP found that foundations’ conversations about advancing equity seldom include an explicit acknowledgement and understanding of funders’ power.

We responded with the Power Moves initiative, centering power in our analysis of how philanthropy can advance equity, because any institution that commits to advancing equity requires an understanding of the source and amount of its own power.

Funders and donors have at least an implicit understanding of power. When a funder talks about weighing so-called risk, the ability to spend in perpetuity or to grow its donor base – these conversations carry an understanding that financial capital affects a funder’s “ability to achieve purpose.”

Read the full article about using philanthropy's power to advance equity by Jeanne Lewis at National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy.