In unprecedented crisis, funders aren’t reaching BAME communities


Fozia Irfan


We are three months into the most challenging situation to ever face philanthropy and the not for profit sector in the UK, and yet astonishingly very few funds seem to have actually reached BAME[1] communities – the most disproportionally affected by Covid- 19.

Which begs the question, why? Why have the majority of foundations been slow to deliver resources, funding and support to the communities most in need. We have seen gestures of support such as the one from London Funders, but this has not been translated, on the whole, into many new grants or funding.

The key issues seem to be:

  • Intellectualising and Procrastination – with little accountability foundations have no external power to force them to act rapidly within critical time periods. Yet the Ubele Initiative have shown that ‘9 out of 10 BAME micro and small organisations are set to close if the crisis continues beyond three months following the lockdown’.
  • Lack of Expertise – Despite the research from the Race Disparity Unit which was set up in 2016 and clearly demonstrates differential outcomes for BAME communities, few foundations specifically seem to prioritise or target funding to address these disparities and I say ‘seem’ as very few foundations provide an analysis of their data, by any of the protected characteristics.
  • Problematising – I have lost count of the number of meetings I have attended, where I am faced with generalisations focussing on the ‘lack of ability’ of minoritised communities to fill in a form. If we are not getting enough applications from BAME communities, there is something fundamentally wrong with our process, not with the community.
  • Voice and Representation – Where is the voice of people from BAME communities in the foundation ‘whitespace[2]’? Many initiatives to involve these communities have not considered power dynamics, have not delegated decision making and are extremely extractive, mining the lived experience of those most marginalised[3].

So here is my four-step guide to getting funds out to BAME communities.

1. Step Away. Foundations are good at stepping into an issue but not great at stepping away – if your foundation has no experience of reaching BAME communities, you need to step away and find the BAME-led infrastructure organisations that can quickly, such as Resourcing Racial Justice. Delegate your power and decision-making.

2. Examine your current funding. As part of the Funders Alliance for Race Equality a number of foundations have trialled an audit tool which allows foundations to analyse what proportion of funding is distributed to BAME communities. At Beds and Luton Community Foundation, we have been involved with the pilot of this and discovered the following from a randomised sample tool – 46 per cent of our grants support BAME communities and 34 per cent of our grants fund BAME-led organisations.

This is a start – we have further work to do by looking at the value of funds distributed and also the percentage of failed applications and we recognise that we are in a geographical area where there is greater diversity in population. But this exercise has demonstrated that it can be done, even by a relatively small foundation.

3. Representation Matters – ‘Who is at the table has a great deal to do with how the pie is divided’. There is no scientific evidence to prove a causal link between the relatively high proportion of BAME funding outlined and the fact that Beds and Luton Community Foundation have a BAME CEO, a BAME Chair, 50 per cent BAME staff and 40 per cent BAME trustees, but it is difficult to argue it is not connected. Foundations need to represent their communities in all their aspects and more importantly support any minoritised employees who face additional burdens of representation and exclusion.

4. Universal Funding does not reach people equally – if you have a universal funding programme and somewhere in the small print it states that BAME communities are encouraged to apply, you will not achieve equitable funding. Tailored, specific, culturally relevant, and targeted funding is the only way to achieve equity in funding and if you need some resources on equity in grantmaking, follow the DEI Coalition.

Foundations have the resources and ability to fundamentally address inequality and injustice, but the speed of our reactions is now adding to the issues marginalised communities face. We are at the tipping point of becoming part of the problem in perpetuating that inequality. Yet still there is time, if we act urgently to redress the balance and demonstrate that we are part of the solution so that no one can judge us for being on the wrong side of history.

Fozia Irfan is CEO of Bedfordshire and Luton Community Foundation and named as one of the ‘25 Most Influential Charity Leaders’ in the UK.

Tagged in: Covid-19


  1. ^ I prefer the term ‘advancing racial justice’, rather than ‘funding BAME communities’ but acknowledge that most foundations are not at the point of using this narrative.
  2. ^ Term used by Professor Elijah Anderson to denote physical spaces where people of colour are marginalised.
  3. ^ See also: Why can’t funders distribute to communities affected by coronavirus?

Comments (1)

Mefteh argoub

We are charitable organisation struggling in this tough moment critical situation hardship time Seeking for financial help Serving all communities

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