everyone. I hope you are hanging in there. I’ve heard from so many colleagues
of the devastating impact that COVID has had on organizations and people. Here
are a few quotes from across the sector:
“My agency that serves people with
disabilities is closed, except for essential staff. The other approximately 90
staff have been furloughed without pay or laid off.”
“I work at a food bank that serves people
living with HIV and other serious illnesses, the majority of them are seniors.
Demand is at an all-time high as clients are losing work or family/caregiving
support. Our program is mostly run by volunteers, and we have lost hundreds of
hours per week of volunteer support. We had to cancel three fundraising events
and dozens of food drives, which would have raised hundreds of thousands of
dollars in food and cash. So basically demand is increasing sharply while
funding and volunteer support is decreasing even more sharply. Many staff are
immunocompromised and/or caring for children without childcare while trying to
keep the place running.”
Hi everyone. I just finished reading Edgar Villanueva’s important and illuminating book, Decolonizing Wealth. It highlights something we actively avoid talking about: the history of philanthropic dollars, which is rooted in the colonization of Native land, slavery, and other abuse of and extraction from communities of color. The book also presents a hopeful path forward. I highly recommend it, and will be discussing it more in depth in one or more future posts, so please check it out.
I’m slightly grumpy right now due to the news, and also my two beautiful small children who threw tantrums this evening over something ridiculous. The five-year-old because he had to trace all of four words for his kindergarten homework, something he literally could have done in 30 seconds if he hadn’t spent 30 minutes crying about how much work it was; the two-year-old because his banana had a single bruise spot on it. So keep this in mind as you read. The ornery tone of this post, it’s not you. It’s me. But it’s also possibly you.
A few weeks ago, I gave a keynote, and during the Q&A, someone got up to ask a question:
“I really appreciate how you are trying to move us away from scarcity and martyrdom, but…”—I knew what was coming next— “how do we do that when there’s only so much funding to go around?”
A few months ago a program officer and I were talking about the lack of funding that goes to communities-of-color-led nonprofits (only about 10% of philanthropic dollars go to organizations of color). He shook his head in sympathy and frustration, sipping on his coffee. “There has to be a way to level the playing field,” he said. This was probably the third time that quarter I had heard that phrase uttered by a funder.
This concept of “Leveling the Playing Field” is very present in our sector in our society, like cats or skinny jeans, and we don’t really question it at all. We assume that it is a good thing. If we just make it so that competitions are “fair,” then the people/groups with the most merit, the best ideas and proposals, will win. If we can just make the field more even, then everyone will be able to play the game and everything is good.
This philosophy has led some thoughtful funders to accept applications in Spanish or other languages, accept handwritten applications, or accept non-written formats such as videos or photos (Although, how effective is this last one when my one-man show, The Agony and Ecstasy of Capacity Building, has never resulted in funding?).
In a previous article, I mentioned that equity has been like coconut water. It’s all over the place. It’s flavored with pineapple, sometimes with chocolate. Everyone is drinking Equity; it’s on websites, in conference themes, and in those “word-cloud” thingies. Given how pervasive it is, it’s weird that we don’t seem to have a common, universally-accepted definition for it. As this article states “Very few foundations had a clear definition of what equity meant to them internally, and absolutely no one saw any common definition emerging from the field anytime soon.” So, after thinking about it for a while and talking to other leaders, here’s my take on it, at least in the nonprofit/philanthropic sense:
“Equity is about ensuring the communities most affected by injustice get the most money to lead in the fight to address that injustice, and if that means we break the rules to make that happen, then that’s what we do.”
Last week, my organization, in partnership with several other orgs, called for an urgent meeting between funders and nonprofit leaders. “Protecting Marginalized Communities During the Next Four Years.” It was just a few days of notice, and I was nervous people wouldn’t show up. Over 100 did, half funders and half nonprofit leaders from diverse communities. For three hours, we checked in with one another, shared stories and ideas, and discussed actions.
There are certain days in my career where I return home exhausted and drained, but simultaneously grateful to get to do this work, and to get to do it with brilliant and passionate colleagues. This was one of those days. Although many of the stories shared were painful and alarming—a Muslim colleague detailed the fear and danger she experiences every day taking the bus; two Native colleagues discussed the challenges their communities face at Standing Rock—the energy and support and sense of community were palpable.Continue reading “Funders’ role in protecting marginalized communities during the next four years”