Funders, back up your equity statements with actual cash to BIPOC communities


[Image description: A rolled-up wad of US dollars, the outer one being a one-dollar bill, held together with a rubber band. The wad is resting on a spread of higher-level bills, including 20s and 100s. Image by pasja1000 on Pixabay]

Hi everyone, thank you to all of you who expressed concerns for my sister on her COVID recovery, which I mentioned last week. She’s getting well enough for us to resume our ongoing sibling bickering over inane things, so I think that’s good.

Before we get into today’s post, on December 10th at 11am PT, there is a free webinar on Transformational Capacity Building, led by my brilliant colleagues April Nishimura, Roshni Sampath, and Anbar Mahar Sheikh, based on this article I helped write. Fellow organizational development nerds, I hope to see you there so we can explore a more equitable model of doing capacity building. Or at least figure out how to explain what the hell it is to our families over virtual holiday dinners.

As I drove to my sister’s to deliver groceries and minestrone soup, I passed by a home improvement store and noticed the dozen folks standing out in the cold, waiting for construction or landscaping day jobs. As the pandemic progressed, day laborers have been hit hard. Gigs have been drying up, and many workers have families to support.

This year has been a nightmare, but I don’t think the majority of us really understand what is coming. Moratoriums on evictions are ending soon, and 40,000,000 people face being kicked out of their homes. As winter arrives, the levels of poverty, homelessness, pain, and trauma will reach levels we may not be able to grasp and our sector is not equipped to handle.

Unfortunately, except for a few rare (and much-appreciated) exceptions, philanthropy as a whole has not risen to the challenge. Foundations are still hoarding, continuing with this delusion that things will get back to “normal” and so they have some sort of moral obligation to maintain perpetuity. If this pandemic is “unprecedented,” then where is the “unprecedented” response from philanthropy? 792 funders signed a pledge vowing to make nonprofits’ lives easier by converting restricted grants to gen-op, streamlining applications, etc. That’s a start, but that’s like there’s a huge wildfire and you formally agree to stop smoking in the forest (It’s helpful…but why were you smoking there in the first place?). Where is the pledge signed by 792 foundations vowing to triple or quadruple or go all-in with their payout rate and give out funding immediately to the communities most in need?

The BIPOC leaders I know across the sector are exhausted by all this. While the pandemic has affected everyone, Black, Indigenous, and communities of color have been disproportionately affected. They’re mentally, emotionally, physically exhausted by the disproportionate impact to marginalized communities, by the fact that still only a pathetic 10% of funding goes to BIPOC communities, and by philanthropy’s tepid response during a moment when it can make a tremendous difference.

It is time for philanthropy to step up and fund BIPOC communities, fund significantly, and fund quickly. In my state, 150 BIPOC executive directors signed an open letter to funders in Washington State demanding they double their annual payout to 10%, fund BIPOC orgs, give 5-year unrestricted grants, and support advocacy work. From the letter:

Over the past few years, funders have talked about equity, diversity, and inclusion. Many of you have attended workshops on undoing racism and have made public statements in support of Black lives. However, we have seen little of this translating into actual changes in your practices that would allow us to effectively do our work during this critical moment. We still see the same tokenizing behaviors, the lack of trust, and the hoarding of resources at a time when we nonprofits and the communities we serve need you to step up. It is unconscionable that so little funding has gone to communities of color over the past decades.”

While this letter is targeted toward funders in Washington State, the sentiments apply to our entire sector. If we’re going to get through these critical next few months, and then next few years, nonprofits need the resources to do their work. If you are a funder, please read the entire letter above, then discuss with your board and staff what actions you will take.

Don’t spend too much time discussing though—start funding. If you wonder where to begin, the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, Casa Latina, Community Action Board of Santa Cruz County, Inc. (CAB), and Inclusive Action for the City started a campaign to raise $62.5M over the next five years to distribute to over 50 organizations across the US so they can support day laborers, develop their infrastructures, and engage in advocacy. This is the Pa’lante Fund, and it should be a quick decision for funders to make when they’re looking at whom to partner with. Every funder should support this fund immediately.

Nonprofits, our time to be meek and deferential is over. Your work is too important for you to wait and hope that funders in your city/state act of their own accord. Get together and write your own open letter to funders and get hundreds of other organizations to sign. Get local newspapers to publish it and new stations to cover it. Be ambitious and loud. Meanwhile, on a national level, get your organization to add its name to this petition at to get Congress to enact legislation requiring foundations to double their payout, among other policy recommendations. Over a trillion dollars is just sitting there in endowments and donor-advised funds while people starve and die. It is immoral, and we are complicit if we keep putting up with it.

I want to end by reiterating the urgency for funders to act. You should not be waiting for nonprofits to organize and make demands before you do what’s right. Give out more funds immediately and do not keep saving for a future that will likely not exist for a lot of people. Things have worsened considerably and yet will still get even worse.

In June, jolted by the reckoning of systemic racism, many philanthropic partners put out solidarity statements in support of Black lives. But we’ve been reading these equity-aligned statements for years without seeing much change. Do you actually mean what you write? Then fund Black orgs. Fund Indigenous orgs. Fund Latinx orgs. Fund API orgs. Fund them like you have been funding large white-led orgs. And do it quickly; no one has time to wait even a month, much less six or eight months for you to make decisions. As the letter signed by the BIPOC leaders above states, “Your solidary statements are meaningless unless you back them up with substantive actions”

Donate now to elect Reverend Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff in the Senate run-off races in Georgia. Whoever controls the Senate will affect every single issue all of us are working on in this sector.