This post was authored by Niki Jagpal, research and policy director at the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP). She blogs frequently about philanthropy and social justice.
There’s nothing simple about the innumerable social issues funders and nonprofits are trying to address every day. The crises affecting our nation and the world have prompted philanthropists to become more organized, focused and, perhaps above all, “strategic” in their efforts.
The movement toward “strategic philanthropy” has already contributed to greater philanthropic effectiveness. Yet, despite important contributions to education, health, the arts and the environment, the persistence, and in some cases exacerbation, of great disparities along the lines of class, race and gender suggest that philanthropy’s ultimate effectiveness is limited.
How can grantmakers boost the impact of their contributions to a more just society? The answer might well lie in fusing strategy and justice in the ecosystem of the nonprofit sector. Consider the interconnectedness of the issues that funders are addressing and it becomes clear that our sector functions much like any system such as the human body: if one part of it changes, the entire system is affected. Indeed, many of the issues that we are attempting to resolve individually are more often than not linked to each other. Heeten Kalan, senior program officer at the New World Foundation, recently penned a guest post where he noted that we cannot view any issue in isolation. Seemingly disparate issues are, in fact, interconnected in the ecosystem of our sector.
As my colleague Kevin Laskowski and I contend in NCRP’s recent publication, Real Results: Why Strategic Philanthropy is Social Justice Philanthropy, systems change requires a well-coordinated and resourced nonprofit ecosystem comprising grantmakers, grantees and the communities we are working to help.
Here are three things funders need to fuse strategy and justice:
a) A clear understanding of one’s goals includes identifying the desired impact and who will benefit from grantmaking and how.
b) A commitment to evidence-based strategy includes the positive, tangible impact – and frequently the necessity – of influencing public policy.
c) The input of those who stand to gain or lose the most from grantmaking, i.e., grantees and the communities they serve, to keep a philanthropic strategy on course.
To assess the current state of giving to underserved communities and social justice grantmaking, NCRP analyzed data from the Foundation Center from 2007 to 2010. NCRP’s analysis of grants intended to benefit vulnerable populations, broadly defined, across issues found that education funders reported 21 percent of grant dollars, health funders reported 39 percent, arts and culture funders reported 10 percent and environment and climate funders reported 15 percent of their grant dollars to benefit marginalized communities.
A similar analysis across the four issues of grants made with a social justice purpose found education funders reporting 6 percent, health funders at 11 percent, arts and culture at 4 percent and environment and climate funders at 11 percent. Although it is possible that some foundations do provide monies in these ways but do not report them or code them accurately, the analysis provides a solid picture of the state of giving to underserved communities and social justice.
Additionally, grantmakers would see more impact if they looked past issues of interest – without foregoing an issue-specific focus – to other issues and find ways in these interact and overlap.
NCRP’s report for environment and climate grantmakers Cultivating the Grassroots: A Winning Approach for Environment Funders documented the work of Kentuckians for the Commonwealth (KFTC), a 30 year-old state-wide membership organization that works on advancing social, environmental and economic justice at the local, state and national levels. KFTC provides technical workshops, builds alliances with other grassroots organizations in various states and trains community members in basic organizing skills.
As a funder of KFTC and a member of the environment report’s advisory committee, Heeten explains that KFTC is “working with thousands of its members to connect issues of criminal justice to jobs to the environment to people’s livelihoods and community resilience. They make the connections their members make the connections. Why can’t funders make those connections and start funding outside our narrow silos? We are going to need more than just the traditional environmental organizations to get anywhere, and it is time for the philanthropic community to look beyond traditional environmental organizations.”
As noted in Cultivating the Grassroots, being part of a funder affinity group allows its members to help advance a more transformative, accountable and effective sector. Members practice truly strategic philanthropy. A focus on people and communities, which is a constituency that grantmakers traditionally do not engage with because they appear so different than funders, is what makes their strategy just.
Working across issues to address a specific problem is not only feasible but also increases the chances that grantmakers and grantees achieve their goals as it helps mitigate rigid disparities among our communities in a sustainable and inclusive way.
When philanthropy acknowledges the nexuses of various issues, uses a social justice lens in developing strategy and focuses on the most underserved among us, it is strategic philanthropy at its best.
Heeten Kalan, Senior Program Officer at the New World Foundation, HEFN Steering Committee Member, and Board Chair of the South Africa Development Fund, wrote this week’s post. He aspires to be a safari guide in South Africa’s world famous Kruger National Park and loves to help people plan their safaris.
On a warm and sunny day more than ten years ago, I visited the Ebenezer Baptist Church, the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial and the King Center in Atlanta. Having read and heard about the U.S. civil rights movement and struggle for freedom for black people in this country, I was excited to draw links and connections to the anti-apartheid movement. For me, it felt like visiting Robben Island, a place of historic magnitude and significance in my home country of South Africa.
I walked around the Center learning about Dr. King’s life and learning more about the wonderful connections he made with leaders of independent African states and liberation movements. What I was not prepared for was the Gandhi Room.
The Gandhi Room, a tribute to Mohandas K. Gandhi, explores the relationship between these two leaders and highlights Gandhi’s inspiration and philosophical insights to Dr. King’s leadership of the U.S. civil rights movement. Dr. King kept Gandhi’s book in his jacket pocket and visited India. Gandhi’s concept of Satyagraha (Sanskrit for “insistence on truth” and employed in the Indian struggle for independence from the British) deeply influenced Dr. King’s beliefs and work.
Here I was, a South African of Indian descent living in the U.S., feeling as if three oceans were colliding and converging. Dr. King saw the power and value of learning about and forging various philosophies. He understood how movements were connected and intertwined. He saw how economic and racial injustice were digits of the same hand. He grasped the adage ‘that an injury to one, is an injury to all’ and recognized that he was ‘his brother’s keeper’. I sensed the power and inspiration of all those themes that day in Atlanta.
And yet, looking around this world and taking stock of what we are fighting for and against, I do not get that overwhelming feeling of convergence. Our movements for change, when we can actually call them movements, are, by design, isolated from each other. We have mastered the art of exposing our differences rather than taking the time to explore our similarities. Perhaps that American characteristic of individualism is the ‘operating system’ behind our struggles and our inability to see the connections among us. Perhaps it’s vying for philanthropic dollars and media hits that drive the need to differentiate and inadvertently create walls between us.
Regardless of the reason, it has to shift soon. Our isolation from each other is not healthy. Our inability to make serious connections with each other, and especially with people who are not like us, is a detriment to any future success. Each of our struggles should involve all of us: immigration is not only an immigrant issue; climate change is not only an environmental issue; same-sex unions and benefits are not only LGBTQ issues; drugs and violence are not only urban issues; drought and water scarcity are not only rural issues.
At the New World Foundation we are funding multi-issue, state-based organizations that weave various issues to educate and build a broad constituency. Having such a constituency allows these organizations to call on them to move specific issues as needed. We are experimenting with blurring the lines between program areas so we can be responsive to the needs of the field rather than locking ourselves into a handful of issues and charging ahead with a monolithic focus. We also partner with other funders and donors to maximize impact, reduce grantee and program officer time and energy, and educate each other by pooling our resources and streamlining the grantmaking process. The current political and economic context begs us to examine old ways of working and experimenting with new and creative ways. Our goal of building a just, democratic, clean and fun society for all depends on it.
Let’s take a moment today, on this day remembering Dr. King and his legacy, to look at the larger picture and remind each other that an injury to one is indeed an injury to all. We are, ultimately, each other’s keepers. Let’s start that work now. We hope you will join us.
This week’s post was written by Ramtin Arablouei, HEFN’s Program Manager for Environmental Health and Environmental Justice. Ramtin joined the HEFN staff in late 2007. Prior to that, he worked with the Children’s Law Center and the St. Mary’s Votes Project.
I have spent much of my short professional career working in philanthropy, a sector where most people are much older and look different than me. I am Iranian-American, English is my third language, and I had a very modest upbringing. Whether it is my funny sounding name, accent, or appearance, I have always felt a bit isolated. On top of this, I haven’t had the chance to connect professionally to many people whose backgrounds resemble mine. Fortunately, this changed when I went to the Center for Whole Communities (CFWC) retreat in September.
Supported by several funders including some HEFN members, the CFWC NextGen 2012 retreat convened environmental and social justice professionals to strengthen the next generation of leaders, particularly people of color. It’s a space for young professionals who are not often looked to for big vision or strategic wisdom. Participants are selected from a large pool of candidates who have been nominated by CFWC alumni, in my case a HEFN member. My cohort consisted of 18 professionals from across the U.S., mostly people of color, between the ages of 25-35.
The retreat, which aimed to improve our leadership and storytelling skills, and to create community, took place over six days on Knoll Farm in southeastern Vermont. For some, the outdoor camping conditions tested limits. We slept in tents or yurts. Shower facilities were outdoors. There was no electricity. And at night, it was cold and the silence was deafening. There wasn’t much wildlife on the farm except for some coyotes and the occasional black bear. This information provided very little comfort during my late-evening walks back to my tent under a pitch black Vermont sky.
The heart of the retreat was in the intense personal interactions among participants. Each person came from wildly different backgrounds. Everyone was alien, yet incredibly familiar. Whether the topic of conversation was animal rights or Hip Hop or organizing strategies, the intellect and passion in these conversations blew me away.
There were also feelings I hadn’t expected. I was shocked by the pain, sorrow and unhappiness in the stories of young people of color trying to make a difference and a career in the non-profit sector. Most participants, despite their accomplishments and intelligence, expressed that they felt powerless at their organizations. They told stories of being threatened or shut down by superiors after challenging norms around race, gender, and class. Others said they were ignored and their opinions not valued. It is a feeling many young people know in the beginning of their careers. But none of these participants were new to their fields. They were mostly accomplished mid-level staff at NGOs. These were front-line descriptions of a macro-level problem.
Not surprisingly, research paints a similar picture as the anecdotes I heard at the retreat. In its 2011 study, the Level Playing Institute found that “seventy percent of employees of color believe that their employer does not do enough to create a diverse and inclusive work environment.” A 2010 BoardSource survey of non-profit organizations found that 84 percent of all board members at non-profit organizations in the United States were white. In 1993 the number was 86 percent.
Many environmental justice funders and activists have voiced concern about the lack of minority leadership throughout the field for years. Poor people and people of color are most often directly impacted by environmental degradation. It matters when leadership in civil society and philanthropy reflects the diversity and dynamism of the work it supports.
These concerns have not been voiced in vain. Within HEFN’s membership several foundations have supported long-term efforts to close the race, class, gender, and generational gaps within the field. Many environmental justice organizations have committed to shared generational leadership. Others have intentionally recruited staff or board members who reflect the diversity of the communities they serve. Thankfully, a core group of funders have been there to support these efforts.
I believe it is no longer a question of whether or not environmental leadership should become more diverse, it is a question of how. As many current leaders retire, it will be time for a new generation to take the reins of the environmental and social justice movements. I expect that many of my peers from the NextGen retreat will be among those leaders.
By the end of the program I saw a shift in many of the participants and felt it myself. Everyone seemed a little more empowered and confident. Each of us left with a better sense of our own vision. As I got in my shuttle back to the airport on a dewy, cold Vermont morning, I looked back at Knoll Farm eagerly waiting for the future.