Philanthropy & Communities of Color

Tactical Philanthropy is currently covering the Grantmakers for Effective Organizations conference with the help of a blog team. This is a guest post by Kathy Reich of the David & Lucile Packard Foundation.

By Kathy Reich

image At today’s session on “Foundations and Communities of Color”, session moderator Anne Vally from the James Irvine Foundation called me out as a Tactical Philanthropy blogger and challenged me to write a blog post on this topic. (Thanks, Anne.) Diversity and inclusion in grantmaking are hard topics to write about. They’re even harder to talk about, as the session today showed.

How foundations can and should relate to communities of color is not a topic one can even begin to address in 90 minutes. I was left struggling with the limitations of conference formats. On the one hand, what’s the use of starting a conversation that needs not 90 minutes, but months and years of intensive reflection and challenge? On the other hand, the folks who need to engage in such deep reflection the most are not the ones likely to devote that kind of time and attention to it. For some people, 90 minutes may be all you get.

I think Anne did a great job of shepherding the conversation, and I did want to share a few thoughts and reflections from the group:

  • Moving to more philanthropic support in communities of color is not something that you can do in a three-year grantmaking initiative (for example). It takes many years of commitment.
  • Foundations should remember that some of the biggest, most successful white-led nonprofits began as efforts that were catalyzed and supported by foundations for years or even decades before they truly prospered. Foundations should think about making similar investments now to build the capacity of organizations led by and serving people of color.
  • We need to be collecting better data about diversity in grantmaking—and we need to do it in a centralized, standardized way, so that a nonprofit doesn’t have to provide diversity data to 15 different funders.
  • The opening plenary speaker, Dev Patnaik, spoke about the need for empathy in philanthropy. Empathy, combined with a healthy dose of humility, is essential whenever foundations connect with people and communities of color.
  • What kinds of networks can we all catalyze and strengthen to help people of color-led organizations build connections and access to foundations?

Finally, one point that I don’t think came out in the discussion: This was a session about foundations and communities of color. But there are so many aspects to diversity that could get missed or underemphasized with this lens—LGBT, class, age, disability, gender, ethnic differences that are not technically racial differences, to name just a few. A lens on communities of color is extremely important, but we can’t afford to neglect the others either.

How have you entered into conversations about foundations and communities of color in your work? Have you tried anything that you feel is particularly innovative, empathetic, risky? Have you tried anything that didn’t work, and what did you learn from it?


  1. Brendon says:

    This is a very delicate issue, and I agree that it cannot be addressed in 90 minutes. My organization, Cafegive, deals with many non-profits specifically designed to help African-Americans and the people of Africa. We help these charities through the wonders of online shopping. Someone only needs to do their regular online shopping with one of the 340+ merchants on our site, and a percentage of the purchase goes to the shopper’s chosen non-profit. There are over 30 NP’s to choose from, meaning that there’s one which will connect with everyone. Give cafegive a try and feel good about your online shopping!

  2. Kathy,

    Thanks for your great summary of this session. I think it’s really important for us to continue to have these kinds of dialogues that focus specifically on race. Otherwise, we won’t have a ghost of a chance to even get to the months and years of reflection that you speak of. Which is why it puzzled me that you would say this:

    “This was a session about foundations and communities of color. But there are so many aspects to diversity that could get missed or underemphasized with this lens—LGBT, class, age, disability, gender, ethnic differences that are not technically racial differences, to name just a few. A lens on communities of color is extremely important, but we can’t afford to neglect the others either.”

    While I agree with you that having multiple lenses within which to view diversity are important, what often happens is that the conversation about race actually gets diluted when you factor in other aspects of diversity. Having conversations about race and philanthropy does NOT negate the need to talk about other diversity issues. It’s not an either/or, and I think it hinders progress by talking about it that way. The more we can focus on race without diluting the conversation (and possibly even derailing it), the further along we’ll get. And I’m guessing that was the intention behind calling the session “Foundations and Communities of Color.”

  3. Kathy Reich says:

    Thanks so much for your thoughtful comment. I understand your concern. But I’ve been in many conversations over the years where an oversimplified discussion of diversity (black-white, say, or white-Latino) has diluted or derailed discussion of the complexities that we all need to face in our ever more-diverse society. For example, multi-dimensional tensions among races (black-white-Latino-Asian) often are not addressed, or LGBT folks, who often experience terrible oppression within communities of color that are themselves marginalized, are told to wait their turn.

    I guess the point I am trying to make (perhaps not very eloquently) is that conversations about race have to be complex and multi-dimensional. And if there are dimensions of difference that we are not going to address in a given conversation, then we should at least name up front what will not be addressed, why it won’t be addressed, and when we think we’ll get to it.

    Again, thank you so much for your comment, and I look forward to continuing the conversation with you. Hopefully others will join in!


  4. Jeff Jackson says:

    Thanks for your frank back and forth Kathy and Rosetta. I see merit to both of your nuanced perspectives. As a gay white man with/of relatively higher economic “privilege” (how’s that for loaded?) from the US living in Mexico and regularly working in Cuba where I’m facing (and sometimes not facing) various elements of diversity on a daily basis, I like the approach where we give dedicated time/focus to issues of race or gender or class or orientation, without merging them. I also see us advancing faster when we strategically unite our frameworks and political forces for a common social justice purpose. Perhaps the separation is helpful for some things like understanding and the uniting is helpful for other things like action.

    What has struck me as a virtual participant of the GEO conference is the absence of color and the visual appearance of privilege among those posting on this blog. I add to that imbalance myself. I’m impatient with and frustrated by our repeated reasons for this. There are many (yet not enough) philanthropists/leaders/academics/activists of color in our near and far circles (at least in mine) who would make excellent blog posters. I’m tempted to ask why this blog has only one person of color posting with a picture, but I’d rather ask how will we change to make a difference next year. Perhaps each of us that posts commits to finding a “diverse” co-poster.

    The above has a lot of juice for me right now as my head and heart are still struggling with what is likely the most difficult professional conversation I’ve had in my career (still with no satisfactory answers; only temporary understandings). I just returned from Cuba where I dove head first (perhaps in the shallow end of the pool) into a conversation with a Cuban colleague about all that is loaded behind our different salaries when we are supposedly equal partners. Leave it to a fiercely independent straight Cuban Latina white woman to question some of our deepest held professional responses to the inequity questions. This might sound a bit off-subject, but I think it presents an on-the-ground example of the different perspectives the two of you have shared.

    May the discussion continue. Again, thanks for your perspectives.