Move beyond diversity – reframe power 

Jennifer Choi

We at National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP) appreciated Alliance’s September 2017 issue highlighting the fact that communities served are not reflected in grantmaking programme staffs.

The systemic inequities that perpetuate barriers to opportunities for communities of colour is not a new problem for US philanthropy, but we’re having more explicit conversations about why foundations haven’t been able to effectively address this issue in the face of a new administration where white nationalism has resurfaced in our political consciousness. We’ve written about this in response to the Charlottesville, VA attack.

But it’s important to note that beyond demographic data alignment between foundation personnel and the communities served, we need to shift the power dynamic between funder and grantee to promote meaningful change.

This means funders must be intentional in building trust by sharing power and giving up control – to better listen and move away from a paternalistic approach in funding complex problems. This may require dismantling how decision-making works and moving it away from the ivory tower offices of a foundation.

At NCRP, we are writing a guide for funders to go beyond the diversity issue in grantmaking by reframing power. There are three pillars to do this: building power within communities through community organizing and advocacy funding; sharing power with community stakeholders to promote community-driven change; and finally wielding power through public leadership strategies that leverage a foundation’s role in advancing social justice movements. This includes recommending interventions to self-assess how we can go beyond inviting the usual suspects to solve a complex community issue.

These strategies may seem straightforward and simple, but entrenched in the cultural norms set by foundations misaligned with community needs, they become extraordinarily difficult to execute well.

We look forward to learning more from our international partners on this, and hope we can make better progress on equity grantmaking for social change than we have so far.

Jennifer Choi
Vice president and chief content officer, NCRP

For other views on this issue see ‘Now is the time to build a movement for philanthropic equity‘ by Carly Hare and ‘Multiplying value, not dividing it‘ by Mike Buonaiuto. 

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