Stop making us package and repackage racial equity and justice


Eleni Refu


As a recent entrant to the world of PSOs after having spent some years in the philanthropic and nonprofit sectors, I was particularly eager to learn more about the challenges PSOs face in advancing racial equity in the sector. I hoped to come away with lessons that can inform my work at the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP) where I am working to connect power structures to racial equity and social justice for funders.

Of course, having the opportunity to forge meaningful connections with other like-minded people, knowing that the work on racial equity is not one that can be moved forward by any singular person or entity, was also appealing.

The 2o2o Forum Virtual Conference offered a wide selection of relevant topics applicable to our current reality. Despite this, the same running theme seemed to appear throughout all the sessions I joined. Session after session, it seemed folks were raising the same question: how can I get my members onboard with that?

After hearing from a variety of individual experiences, what was even more apparent was how many PSOs were still having to bend over backwards to push funders to align with contemporary notions of racial equity and justice and the work needed to address those issues in their community.

There is still so much work we must do to ensure that philanthropy is responding to urgent needs effectively and equitably, but in order to do that, it’s clear we must continue to keep recognizing and conforming to the moment at the top of the list.

Without doing so, PSOs are forced to expend so much of their labor, time, and resources trying to package and repackage racial equity and justice in a way that might be palatable or motivational to funders, just because of how risk-averse they continue to remain.

It’s clear how critically we need funders to move themselves because we are wasting so much of the efforts we could be applying to other urgent areas when we’re trying to handhold funders to accept our current reality.

It makes you wonder, do funders truly realize how much they are standing in the way of the advances we could be making right now when we are forced to conform progress in a way that is convenient for them?

In that sense, I achieved my primary objective in that with these insights, anecdotal experiences, and resources provided throughout the conference, I have an even clearer picture of where our challenges lie in advancing racial equity and justice, and what we could do to better utilize the unique role PSOs play in this effort.

Eleni Refu is Sr. Engagement Associate at National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP)

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