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Most white leaders in philanthropy, including myself, know that systems in the U.S. have been built to yield inequitable outcomes, especially along racial lines. We know that philanthropy exists because of these systems and plays a role in perpetuating disparity, but often we lack the skills and confidence to personally know what to do to begin to create change and then hold ourselves accountable.
I am a white woman who has long understood my personal and professional work to have an embedded and essential commitment to racial justice. In the fall of 2022, I seized the opportunity to join Camelback Ventures’ Capital Collaborative third cohort, seeking to figure out how to better integrate this commitment to my work in philanthropy.
Two years into my work as a managing director at Blue Meridian Partners, which focuses on strengthening the infrastructure of place-based partnerships to close disparities and increase economic mobility in communities across the U.S., I sensed a disconnect between becoming an expert funder and supporting racial justice outcomes. Camelback helped me to reckon with this challenge, with white peers and with Leaders of Color who allowed me to improve on how to build relationships and become a stronger person and funder.
Camelback Ventures’ Capital Collaborative provides the opportunity for willing and motivated white philanthropic leaders to learn from some of the nation’s most innovative, effective, and creative (and when working with white leaders, patient) entrepreneurs and nonprofit leaders. The Capital Collaborative also creates space for us to build community, support each other in learning and fostering change, and commit to permanently doing our work in a better (and different) way. It’s been a privilege for me to be a 2022-2023 Capital Collaborator with the support of my employer.
The following are a few of the most important lessons on taking action that I’ve learned over the past year on this journey:
- Get out of the way!: It’s time for us to acknowledge that understanding our best role in supporting the systemic changes that close racial disparities is truly right in front of us. When we stop listening so much to ourselves and over-emphasizing our value as being the expertise that we bring, then we can instead commit to listening and moving resources to Leaders of Color who hold the ideas, creativity, skills and knowledge we really need to drive change. This kind of shift is not zero-sum; it actually can help us get to a better outcome.
- Move the funding, be accountable, and results will follow: It’s great for white funders to learn and hold knowledge, especially about the historical and current systems that perpetuate racism and inequity, but knowledge is not the measure of our success, nor is deepening our understanding sufficient. My success is and should be measured by action - the way in which I support and resource the leaders best positioned to develop their practices and lead on change. We all need to be disaggregating the data – not just on the populations we serve – but on the leaders and organizations we support, and hold ourselves accountable to continuously move more and more funding to leaders and organizations of color.
- Prioritize Leaders of Color. I am learning to implement contracting and grantmaking practices that prioritize Leaders of Color. I’ve also found that when scanning the field to develop new relationships that lead to providing funding, ensuring that colleagues of color hold power in selection processes is extremely important and impactful.
While these lessons may sound straightforward, and the implementation therefore easy, I’m finding that they can be hard, but they are possible. My employer is committed to moving children and families on a path to improved social and economic mobility and deeply understands that our philanthropic capital must work towards closing racial disparities in order to achieve that mission. We are a racially diverse organization, with racially diverse investees leading some of the nation’s top evidence-based interventions and strategies that can and will continue to make a difference in millions of lives each year. We collect and disaggregate data in numerous meaningful ways, and we are deeply committed to continuously improving. While we are on a good path, we understand, just like so many of our peers, that we too have work to do in our journey to becoming an anti-racist organization.
Having spent two decades prior to joining philanthropy as a social sector practitioner, I had become accustomed to developing authentic relationships and then building and executing on programs and policy change in partnership with others that I could verify were supporting better outcomes in communities. Translating that experience to the funder role as a white-identifying woman was not easy or intuitive for me. Learning from my Blue Meridian colleagues and leaders and becoming a Capital Collaborator have helped show me the way.
The takeaway I hope other white philanthropy staff will hear is that even if you think you know the “right way” to work toward racial justice: You do not! We owe it to ourselves, our colleagues, and the communities we intend to serve to keep learning. Opportunities like Camelback’s Capital Collaborative are terrific ways to make the commitment and know that you’ll have a network for life that will help you see your intentions through.
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.
Melinda Pollack provides strategic and executional leadership on critical business priorities and leads innovation efforts which will expand Blue Meridian’s work as it evolves. She explores new philanthropic investment opportunities, leads due diligence on potential Blue Meridian investees, and manages relationships with current investees, with a focus on Place Matters. Prior to joining Blue Meridian, Melinda was the Senior Vice President for National Initiatives at Enterprise Community Partners where she oversaw strategic planning, national fundraising, and program management with a focus on affordable housing, economic mobility, racial equity, health and environment. Before this, she served in roles at Mercy Housing and The George Washington University Neighbors Project. Melinda is a thought-leader around topics related to affordable housing with multiple articles written for publications such as the New York Times, Denver Post, and Huffington Post. Melinda earned a BA at George Washington University and an MPA from the University of Colorado, Denver.