Grantmaking with a Racial Equity Lens

A focus on racial equity can increase your effectiveness at every stage of the grantmaking process. Blending experience and candid advice from grantmakers, this guide explores how a racial equity lens can help you scan your field or community, cultivate new leaders, encourage creative approaches, get people talking, and nourish change inside your own foundation.

This guide was developed in partnership with the Philanthropic Initiative for Racial Equity.

Highlights

  • Three tools for activating a racial equity lens
  • Your Race/Your Role
  • Questions to ask inside your foundation  

What's in the Guide?

  • What Is a Racial Equity Lens? For grantmakers and foundation leaders, using a racial equity lens means paying disciplined attention to race and ethnicity while analyzing problems, looking for solutions, and defining success. Some use the approach to enhance their own perspectives on grantmaking; others adopt it as part of a commitment endorsed across their foundations.
  • How a Racial Equity Lens Works: A racial equity lens is valuable because it sharpens grantmakers’ insights and improves the outcomes of their work. People who use the approach say it helps them to see patterns, separate symptoms from causes, and identify new solutions for their communities or fields.
  • Applying a Racial Equity Lens: Skills and Strategies: Where, specifically, does a racial equity lens get put to use by individual grantmakers? The answer is simple: everywhere. A keen awareness of race and ethnicity, and of their impact on access to power and opportunity, is a distinct asset when applying the classic skills of effective grantmaking.
  • Implementing a Commitment to Racial Equity: Policies and Practices: When a foundation decides to focus on racial equity, how does that commitment get translated into the organization’s goals and routines? Foundation leaders and program staff share examples of what they have learned about applying a racial equity lens to their programming, operations, and external affairs.
  • Looking Inward: Using a Racial Equity Lens Inside Your Foundation: Grantmakers who have championed racial equity within their foundations describe a handful of tactics for getting over the predictable hurdles. Ground the discussion of racial equity in the foundation’s mission, they say, be open to learning, and be upfront about your goals. But don’t lose sight of the possibility of resistance and setbacks.
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    Questions to Ask Inside Your Foundation About Your Foundation's Own Policies, Practices, and Grant

    About Your Foundation's Own Policies and Practices:

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    Encountering Resistance

    Respond (don’t react) to resistance.
    Most people who try to advance the cause of racial equity grant making inside their foundations run into resistance at some point. Sometimes the pressures are overt. For example, a woman of color who was introducing a racial equity lens into her foundation’s arts programming recalled meeting with the board members of another foundation. At one point, “one of the trustees leaned over and said, ‘When is this whole multicultural thing going to blow over so we can get back to the business of making good art?’” The question was insulting, she felt, yet she answered with an explanation: “Multiculturalism is a reality. Demographics tell the story. It’s not going to blow over.”

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    Interpret Grantmaking Guidelines in New Ways

    A grantmaker found, for example, that the foundation generally funded groups organizing for policy change at state, regional, and national levels — a practice that had the unintended effect of disqualifying many people-of-color led groups, which tended to work at a more local level.

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    Create Space for Learning about Race

    Because racial equity is such a charged issue, grantmakers often need to create opportunities to explore issues of racial equity with each other. Ideally, those should be structured so that they can eventually seed larger institutional investments in racial equity.

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    Implementing a Commitment to Racial Equity in Policy + Practice

    1. Modeling Diversity and Inclusiveness: “As you’re unpacking this issue and trying to figure out what to do,” a white grantmaker suggested, “it makes sense to start by asking, ‘How do we increase diversity in our own organization? Do we need a more diverse board? Do we need a more diverse staff? Do we need a more diverse vendor base? Do we need a more diverse fill-in-the-blank grantee base?’

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    Racial Equity to Assess Impact

    For a grantmaker running a national initiative in juvenile justice reform, a racial equity lens helped identify a rigorous way to trace the impact of a program intended to improve “a broken system that relies much too much on incarceration and does not produce good results, either for kids or for public safety.”

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    Applying a Racial Equity Lens Skills and Strategies

    1. Get People Talking
    “What we’re finding,” said a grantmaker whose foundation has embarked on an explicit course of racial equity grantmaking in education, “is that we’re getting more people and different people to the table. By engaging in this conversation, we’re getting people who would have been afraid on their own to come forward” to talk about racial disparities in student performance.

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    Racial Equity and Other Lenses

    A racial equity lens can be used with other lenses. A racial equity lens sheds light on racial dynamics that shape social, economic, and political structures. Other lenses illuminate other important dynamics that shape issues grantmakers seek to address.

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    How a Racial Equity Lens Works: Relevant to ALL Groups

    A racial equity lens reveals how race is relevant to all groups. “Like everyone,” said one program officer, “grantmakers sometimes fall back into very narrow definitions
    of racial equity.”

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    Revealing Inequity

    A racial equity lens uncovers patterns of inequity. A racial equity lens helps reveal how society’s benefits and burdens are distributed such that race predicts privilege and disadvantage. It also aids in thinking about what can be done to change the equation.

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    How a Racial Equity Lens Works: Sharpening the Focus on Outcomes

    A racial equity lens sharpens the focus on outcomes: A racial equity lens can help grantmakers clarify their real objectives, then shape strategies and align resources to meet them.

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    What is a Racial Equity Lens?

    One grantmaker of color explained, the problem of racial inequity can seem so complex and intractable that it’s hard to imagine how a foundation could address it. Race is a difficult topic to discuss; people avoid it in foundations just as they do in other sectors of society. A white foundation executive put it this way: “My concern,” he said, “is that foundations are not pushed, nor do we push ourselves, hard enough on the issue of racial equity. We stand above the fray when we should be deeply involved in it.”

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    Questions to Ask Inside Your Foundation
    ABOUT YOUR FOUNDATION'S POLICIES AND PRACTICES
    • How is a commitment to racial equity reflected in our mission, vision, goals, and workplans?
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    Three Approaches to Grantmaking with a Racial Equity Lens

    Approach: Table for Collecting Diversity Data

    The San Francisco Foundation

    More and more foundations are routinely collecting data on the diversity of current and prospective grantee organizations - an activity that invites exploration even if it doesn’t necessarily lead to explicit racial equity grantmaking.

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We hope this guide will be a useful starting point for conversations that help grantmakers, foundation executives, trustees, grantees, and other colleagues understand how racial and ethnic disparities affect programmatic goals.

In particular, we hope that reading and discussing the guide together will lead to clearer policies and more systemic approaches to grantmaking with a racial equity lens. Recognizing that conversations about race and racial disparities can often be challenging, we offer a few suggestions for getting started with discussion, inquiry, and planning:

  • Check your assumptions: We all use a racial lens whether we choose to or not, so why not do it consciously and well? Ask yourself: When was the last time I checked my own lens for acuity? Can I articulate my views on racial disparities and the factors I believe contribute to them? Can I engage colleagues in discussion? Read through the PRE collection of resources on page 19 to select materials, speakers, or consultants to help you and colleagues improve your skills. 
  • Look “upstream” at past grantmaking decisions: In a staff meeting or retreat, choose a core program or activity and ask what impact a racial equity lens might have had on its design. Would you have chosen different strategies, grantees, or intended outcomes? What hurdles might you have encountered along the way? How could they have been managed? 
  • Borrow tools and adapt them to your context: Pick a program and try using the Annie E. Casey Foundation tool on page 21 to see if additional information or strategies might improve its effectiveness. Ask: Do we need to know more about the role of race or ethnicity in the problem we’re trying to address? What could we learn and what data could we collect to sharpen our perspective? Or take a look at The San Francisco Foundation and Ford Foundation diversity tools. If your foundation already collects diversity information, ask if you’re using it well to promote racial equity. What strategies do you use to help grantees increase the quality of their work by increasing their diversity? Try analyzing data from several key grantees over time or looking at data from grantees in a particular field to learn more about diversity and its implications for programs.
  • Share the guide with your trustees: A foundation’s board of directors may want to read the guide and discuss the ideas that stand out for them. To prepare for the possibility that they’ll want to learn more or adjust policies to make the foundation more conducive to using a racial equity lens, read and discuss Questions to Ask Inside Your Foundation on page 27. 
  • Organize a discussion with other funders: Using the guide as background reading, convene a conversation about racial equity grantmaking and its potential impact on thinking and practice within your field or community. What does a racial equity lens tell you about the problems you are seeking to address as funders? How might it change your priorities? Does it suggest new opportunities for collaboration?
  • Open up conversation with grantees and other constituents: Host an informal meeting with grantees or others working in your community or field; send them the guide in advance. Ask them: If your foundation was planning to adopt an explicit racial equity lens, how would it affect their own strategies? In what ways could your foundation better support the use of a racial equity lens in their organization and in their field? Do they know of other partners, including funders, who share your interest?
  • Look beyond your usual networks: Using a racial equity lens might mean getting ideas from new people and funding organizations you haven’t worked with before. For a quick overview of strategies that can help you broaden your network and diversify who you know and what organizations are on your radar, see Scanning and Networking in GrantCraft’s A Closer Look series.

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