Nonprofit and philanthropy: Stop with the BS and get serious about fighting white supremacy

[Image description: A hand cupping a lit candle in a clear glass. In the background are more lit candles. Image by Rebecca Peterson-Hall on Unsplash]

Hi everyone. Thank you for your patience last week, as I had to skip out on a blog post for health reason. I’m feeling better, though I wish I could skip writing this post too. This is going to be a serious piece that may piss off a lot of people.

Last week, we were reeling from the Supreme Court’s leaked decision to overturn Roe vs Wade. People will die, especially Black, Indigenous, Latinx, Asians and NH/PI, and low-income people, because safe abortions will still remain accessible to higher-income mostly white people.

This week, a white man drove 200 miles to Buffalo and murdered 10 people, most of whom were Black, citing the “Great replacement theory” espoused by many right-wing white supremacists. It is horrifying, and my heart breaks for the families of those who were murdered by this racist terrorist.

White supremacy is the root cause of every problem we are trying to address in this sector. The anti-abortion movement, just like the mass shootings by white men and the lack of regulations on guns, are both grounded in white supremacist fear of white people being oppressed or “replaced.” Climate change, poverty, homelessness, everything is tied to white supremacist ideology. And over the past several years, this ideology has been surging.

Democracy in the US is crumbling, rapidly giving way to white fascist evangelical theocracy. There are already plans to get SCOTUS to reverse Obergefell and make marriage equality a thing of the past again. Louisiana is passing laws that would allow people who have abortions, and who provide them, to be prosecuted for murder. And the earth is going to be uninhabitable. All of this, again, will disproportionately affect Black, Indigenous, Latinx, Asian, and NH/PI communities.

With so much injustice caused by white supremacy, it has been so exhausting seeing how the progressive-leaning wing of our sector operates as a whole. When we are not mired in time-wasting activities, we are engaged in white moderate behaviors Dr. King warned about. Especially funders, major philanthropists, board members, and others who have a disproportionate share of power. When hateful, horrible things happen, they will inevitably release some sort of statement condemning injustice, and then go back to the same crappy habits that make it impossible for people to be effective in fighting these hateful, horrible things. If we’re going to be serious about addressing white supremacy and injustice, then we need to do a few things differently:


Increase your payout rates: I and others have been harping on this for years now. Many of you are still sticking to the legal minimum of 5% in the US, maybe striving for 10%, meaning you’re saving 90 to 95% of your endowments for the future. What exactly are you saving up resources for? Look around you. Everything is on fire. We are at the verge of collapse. At the rate of increased violence, unraveling of civil rights, and climate destruction, there will not be a future. Release more funds, do it quickly, and fund 10 years at a time so nonprofits actually can have long-term plans instead of surviving day-by-day like we’ve been forced to do for decades. Ensure funds are going to Black-led orgs.

Fund organizing work, especially work led by marginalized communities: I still hear about funders who forbids nonprofits from engaging in political organizing and policy work. I understand some funders may have restrictions, if they get government money to allocate, for example. But for many, there is no excuse. Supporting political organizing work is more vital than ever. You need to increase your funding significantly in this area, especially funding going to movements and organizations led by marginalized communities. Every funder who claims to care about justice needs to have in it in their strategic plan to work on protecting voting, abortion, marriage equality, and other civil rights that are now in severe danger.

Get political: Progressive-leaning funders are terrified of being seen as political. For many of you, it seems that being PERCEIVED as political is somehow worse than white supremacists murdering Black people. Get over your disdain of political engagement. It is not noble to stay apolitical when everything we are trying to address in nonprofit and philanthropy is affected by politics. Support 501c4s working to elect progressive leaders, especially women of color, and block the surge of hate-spewing white nationalists from getting into political positions.

Support movement leaders: This article talks about The Gathering, a summit of wealthy and powerful conservative evangelical leaders and funders to discuss how to most effectively fund efforts against reproductive rights, immigration, science/evolution, LGBTQ rights, universal healthcare, climate protection, etc. They create fellowships for young, hard-right-aligned leaders to infiltrate all influential institutions (including major foundations). We need to use the same tactics in supporting progressive leaders fighting against white supremacy. Have fellowships for movement leaders. Set up legal defense funds.

Knock it off with all the grant application bullshit: While people are murdered and democracy dies, some of you are still stuck on mundane, pointless things. My God, it’s like a house is on fire and people are rushing to put out the fire and some of you are still “please describe in 750 characters how your firefighting technique is innovative.” Accept a grant proposal that’s already been written in general or for another funder, and move on. There are critical issues we need to be addressing, and many of you are actively preventing nonprofits from working on them because you’ve been forcing them to spend time and energy on some of the most tedious, nonconsequential things.


Engage in advocacy, mobilizing, and organizing: We can’t address white supremacy by only dealing with its symptoms. We need to engage at the systems level. But many nonprofits are still terrified of engaging in advocacy, lobbying, or anything that could be interpreted as political or partisan. There continues to still be a lot of misconceptions about what 501c3s can and can’t do (here’s a helpful guide on advocacy and lobbying). Build this into your strategic plan and budget. Push back on funders who prohibit or discourage it.

Support basic human rights like voting and abortions: One of the biggest roadblocks in our sector is our belief that being hyper focused on our mission to the exclusion of everything else is the right way to go, that it would be “mission creep” to work on these large scale issues. Protecting human rights and civil rights is not mission creep. All of us who claim to be fighting injustice, no matter what our missions are, should carve out time and energy to be engaged in these battles.  

Do more collective organizing around funding and other issues: All of the above take money. For years we’ve been trained to be grateful to funders and donors and to jump through flaming hoops of funders’ nonsensical whims. We’ve been too compliant. We need to do more organizing, like getting together with a bunch of other nonprofits and demand that funders increase payout, fund marginalized-communities-led orgs, and support advocacy and other systems change work.

Get rid of all the both-siding, civility-focused white moderates on your board: Fighting pervasive, relentless white supremacy is exhausting enough, but many of us are also spending time dealing with board members who don’t get it, who are afraid of taking courageous stances, who would rather we maintain injustice than possibly offend someone or, God forbid, inconvenience their driveway. We don’t have time to spend coddling white moderate board members and donors and indulging in their delusions and backwards priorities. These people need to go.

I’ll stop here. We as a sector need to stop operating as if things were normal. They are not. They are awful and they will likely get much, much worse. We need to snap out of the denial we’ve been living under. Let’s stop releasing meaningless statements unless we plan to do things differently. We are in for the fight of our lives, and the lives of generations to come. Let’s collectively act as if we truly understand what’s at stake.

Donate to Black-led organizations in Buffalo