196 posts categorized "African Americans"

A Conversation With Nicky Goren, President and CEO, Eugene and Agnes E. Meyer Foundation

March 06, 2018

Founded in 1944 by investment banker and Washington Post publisher Eugene Meyer — who later served as head of the War Finance Corporation, chair of the Federal Reserve, and founding president of the World Bank — and his wife, Agnes, a journalist, author, literary translator, and activist (President Lyndon Johnson credited her for helping build public support for the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965), the Eugene and Agnes E. Meyer Foundation in Washington, D.C., has supported efforts over the years to address racial inequity, urban poverty, and government funding (or lack thereof) for critical needs.

Nicky Goren was appointed president and CEO of the foundation in 2014, succeeding Julie L. Rogers, who had served in that position for twenty-eight years. Before joining the foundation, Goren had served as president of the Washington Area Women's Foundation and acting CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service. In 2015 the foundation unveiled a new strategic plan focused on achieving greater racial equity in housing, education, employment, and asset building.

PND recently spoke with Goren about the process the Meyer Foundation initiated in 2014 to develop and implement a racial equity agenda, the importance of doing that work "authentically," and some things foundations new to the space should keep in mind.

Headshot_nicky_gorenPhilanthropy News Digest: While the Meyer Foundation has long supported efforts to advance equality and break the cycle of poverty for individuals and families, the foundation's 2015 strategic plan zeroes in on the "structural and causal" link between poverty and race. How did the focus on poverty and race come about? Were those discussions already happening at the foundation when you were appointed president and CEO in 2014?

Nicky Goren: At the organizational level, the conversations about race, about racism and its connection to poverty, were not yet happening when I got here. I think individual program officers from time to time had incorporated that connection into their portfolios, but it was not an organizational priority at the leadership level.

I came to the foundation with the point of view that those of us who work in philanthropy really needed to move out of our silos, move beyond thinking about grantmaking as a largely transactional activity, and think differently about how we do our work. And in my initial listening sessions as the new CEO, I was trying to understand where the opportunities were for us to deepen our impact and partnerships in the community and what the big issues were. It became clear to me pretty quickly that the big issue at the meta level was wealth inequality, and that the drivers of inequality in the region were disparities in housing, education, workforce skills, and asset building, and that the through line in all those areas was the history and legacy of systemic racism. From those community conversations it was clear that people were eager to move beyond incremental change to real transformation, which meant looking at things at the population level, which meant looking at root causes, which meant embracing systems change — and confronting racism and its role in creating and perpetuating these disparities. There was no way around it: to do our work authentically, we would have to address systemic racism.

PND: You came to Meyer from the Washington Area Women's Foundation, which focuses on improving the economic security of women and girls in the D.C. region. Did your work there inform the things you are doing at Meyer to advance racial equity?

NG: Definitely. That was the first time I was part of an organization that was using any kind of an equity lens, in that case a gender equity lens. And I was energized by what I learned in terms of the barriers to equality that women face. But in this region, low-income women are most often women of color, and the question started coming up more and more, from both funders and the communities we were working in: "Do you look at the work of the Women's Foundation through an intersectional gender and racial equity lens?" Well, it got me thinking and really helped me ask the right questions when I got to Meyer.

As for the intersectionality of economic and racial equity, at Meyer we've come to understand that the main reason for the persistent economic disparities in our region — and in other urban areas across the country — is racism. And if we don't name it and tackle the systems that perpetuate it — the institutions, policies, practices, and norms around race that lead to these economic disparities — we'll never be able to really address the challenges that low-income communities of color are facing. Naming it and looking at those challenges through a racial lens forces you to ask different questions and come up with different solutions, solutions that are more focused on the long-term and persistent barriers faced by people of color. It's about understanding the role race has played in our region's history and in our country's history so that the solutions you put in place really do make a difference in terms of addressing those disparities.

PND: In a blog post last December, you noted two significant developments in the foundation's efforts to integrate a racial equity lens into its work: the decision to focus on eliminating racial disparities in housing, employment, education, and asset building; and a decision to tackle the root causes of racial inequity and work toward systems change. In concrete terms, how has moving to a systems-change approach affected the way you work?

NG: We're still very much at the beginning of this — we just released the revised guidelines and newly restated goals with equity embedded in them at the beginning of the year, and our first grant cycle under the new framework just opened on February 15. So in terms of what we're seeing and how it will affect our work in the long term, I can't say. But the way we're thinking about it is that moving to a systems-change approach means we'll be supporting more community organizing, community-based and -led organizations, and community-driven advocacy and problem solving. We'll be promoting more collaborative approaches. And we'll be looking across a spectrum of systems-change efforts that, under our old framework, community-based organizations in the region might not have known about or might not have been eligible for.

For organizations that are already deeply embedded in the community and working on systems change in communities of color, we'll continue to provide a range of capacity-building support, from strategic planning to communications development to HR. And for organizations that are not there yet but want to build their racial equity capacity, we'll invest in training, consultants, and so on.

PND: Earlier this month you welcomed Terri D. Wright as vice president for program and community. In that role, Ms. Wright will oversee all the foundation's programmatic activities. You're also looking to fill the newly created position of senior director of strategy and racial equity. How do you see the reorganization suggested by these personnel changes driving your racial equity work?

NG: We're so excited that Terri has joined our team; she brings exactly what we were looking for in terms of experience and background in advancing racial and social equity through policy, practice, and management across multiple sectors. She's led and developed programs; she's tackled the social determinants of health, which are interrelated and are things we'll be working on; and she was at the W.K. Kellogg Foundation with Dr. Gail Christopher as Kellogg was going through its own racial equity journey.

My vision for the senior director position is to have someone who can drive the focus on equity in our own institution and systems and practices as we continue to evolve. That person will also help the board build its capacity around racial equity and systems change, will link those things with team building and training and organizational development more broadly, and will be available to nonprofits that are going down the racial equity path and need guidance or technical assistance.

In terms of program staff, when we approved the strategic plan back in 2015, even before we fully understood what our racial equity work would look like, we acknowledged that all the work we're doing is very local and contextual. So we reorganized ourselves in early 2016 around geography, moving away from the more traditional model of having a program officer for health and a program officer for employment to having program directors based on geography — one for Maryland, one for northern Virginia, and one for the District. That's because all the issues we're working on are interconnected — you can't tackle one and hope to succeed without addressing the others. And they're contextual in terms of policy, the players, where the opportunities are to bring people to the table, and who those people are. The new structure allows our directors to be much more immersed in and connected with their respective communities, in that they're meeting people where they live, literally, and learning firsthand who's doing what and identifying ways to leverage our resources at a much more grassroots level.

PND: What other organizational changes are you implementing as part of your focus on racial equity?

NG: When we included tackling systemic racism as a goal in our strategic plan at the end of 2015, we saw it as a way to initiate conversations both internally and externally about what that would mean. And for the next year and half, we spent time on internal education, building a shared language and understanding, and deepening our ability to have these conversations about race. The board did the same; we did some staff trainings; we spent time looking at other foundations to see what they had done. We started figuring out how to incorporate racial equity into culture-building work. We also had a number of staff retreats that surfaced issues we weren't aware of that have changed the way we think about the way we work. One thing we heard in those retreats was a desire for the foundation to be less hierarchical, and as a result my leadership team has gone from three people to five people, which has broadened the perspectives available to all of us and made it easier for us to work in cross-organizational teams.

We also took a hard look at and changed the way we hire — in fact, I have a post on the Washington Regional Association of Grantmakers' blog about the four things we did to ensure that our practices lead to more staff diversity. At the same time, the board has changed the way it recruits, increased the number of board members, and changed the term limits of board members so as to bring on new members more quickly. We've also looked at how we select our vendors and at our personnel policy — some of this work is ongoing, of course, but we've been at it since the end of 2015.

PND: You've written that "[r]ace-neutral efforts, to date, have not been effective. It's time to confront racism head-on as we identify solutions." Do you think the philanthropic sector, broadly speaking, is coming to the same conclusion?

NG: There are a lot of reasons to be optimistic. We're seeing a lot of exciting developments locally and nationally in the philanthropic sector around racial equity; there isn't a single national convening I've been to in the last year where racial equity hasn't been the focus of at least one session, if not one of the major themes. Clearly, there's a growing demand for and interest in this conversation. As we went through our own process, we looked to other foundations for models — foundations that were much farther down the road on their own journeys like the Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation and the Weingart Foundation and the Hyams Foundation and the Meyer Memorial Trust — all of which have been engaged in this work and understand why it's imperative. Locally, WRAG took this on two years ago when it put together a series for philanthropic leaders in the region called "Putting Racism on the Table" and, over a period of six months, walked participants through the process of creating a shared understanding of systemic racism, implicit bias, and white privilege, culminating with Dr. Gail Christopher talking about how a foundation can incorporate racial equity into its work. I believe that effort has had a ripple effect across the sector, across other sectors as well, so that racial equity is becoming more openly discussed and broadly accepted and increasingly adopted. I just had a meeting with a local elected official who is putting together a cross-sectoral group to figure out how to incorporate a racial equity lens into government.

Given the history of philanthropy in this country, we need to understand the role it has played in helping to perpetuate some of the challenges we face and rethink how we go about our work. I don't know that philanthropy has fully acknowledged where the wealth came from that created so many of our endowments; in many cases we see the private sector investing in things that keep communities of color at an economic disadvantage, and then philanthropy is called on to "fix" it by funding direct services. But if we really want to make a difference, we need to talk about systems change, and that inevitably leads you into a conversation about race. That's okay. The more we have those conversations, the more our eyes will be opened to the privilege that so many of us have, the systems we've put in place to preserve that privilege, and how we might think differently about our work. And because many of our boards are made up of people from outside the philanthropic and nonprofit sectors, taking those boards through this journey has a ripple effect, I think, on other sectors. 

I'm proud as someone who works in philanthropy to say that, increasingly, we're seeing philanthropic institutions use their voice in ways that they might not have in the past. The most recent example involved the heads of the Heinz Endowments and Pittsburgh Foundation co-authoring an op-ed in response to an editorial in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in a way that tackles systemic racism head on and that some might see as political, though I didn't read it that way. It's one of many signs that the philanthropic sector is moving in the right direction.

PND: How have the Trump administration's policies affected the foundation's work?

NG: We started down this path eighteen months before the last presidential election, and we'd decided on the goals and focus areas before that, but the current political climate merely reaffirms for us that we made the right decision. It's as important, if not more so, today to focus on racial inequities and disparities in society and rise to the challenge that doing something, once and for all, to address the plight of economically disadvantaged Americans, who are disproportionately people of color.

One thing that did happen post-election is that we partnered with the Greater Washington Community Foundation and other funders to create the Resilience Fund, which we put in place specifically to fund the critical needs of nonprofits working to support the communities in our region most vulnerable to changes in federal policy. We've far exceeded our original goal of raising $500,000, and we're going to extend the effort through at least the end of the year and possibly through 2020. The first round of funding awarded through the fund supported a number of organizations working with immigrant communities on immigration issues and DACA and responding to the Muslim travel ban. We also made a series of grant to address the increase in hate and intolerance and the climate of bullying that has emerged in a huge way since the election, as well as digital news literacy in schools. More things will be funded as issues emerge — we're paying attention to the impact of changes in tax law and health care, for example, and will be looking for opportunities where an infusion of philanthropic dollars could make a difference.

PND: The Meyer Foundation mostly awards annual general operating support grants and, on a case-by-case basis, program support as well as multiyear and capital grants. Why are general operating support grants the right tool for advancing racial equity?

NG: I would say that general operating support grants are the right tool for philanthropy in general. They give our grantee partners maximum flexibility, and in the case of racial equity that's often what's needed to advance solutions. Dictating how grant funds can or can't be used ties the hands of nonprofits, and part of equity, of course, is sharing power. General operating support puts the power of deciding how best to use grant funds in the hands of grantees, where it belongs. Even if we had decided not to go down the racial equity path, we'd have remained a predominantly general operating support funder, but especially when we're talking about equity, it's the way to go.

PND: What recommendations or lessons learned can you share with other grantmakers that are thinking about adopting a racial equity lens in their work?

NG: We could literally write a book about it. But we're still in the early innings, so I might have a different answer for you a year from now. The first thing I would say is that it's important to understand where your organization is in terms of its evolution, what its history is, who your staff are, and what its capacities are. As I said earlier, I don't think we could've authentically started this work at the Meyer Foundation without first doing the kind of serious internal examination that we did. Maybe other organizations can: WRAG stepped out with its "Putting Racism on the Table" series and made it a core part of its programming, but now, two years later, it is taking a step back and saying, "If we're really serious about this, we need to look at ourselves." I think that's a good decision. They saw an opportunity, and it was the right opportunity at the time, and they took advantage of it in a positive way, and now they're realizing they have more work to do. I don't think there's a right or wrong approach to this; you just need to understand who you are and, at some point, do the internal work — whether it's at the beginning, the middle, or the end will depend on the organization. But to do racial equity work authentically, that's what needs to happen.

I totally get that people may be scared. We've taught ourselves that it's not "polite" to talk about racism and the wide disparities it has created in society. It's hard, no question about it. And real change is going to take longer than perhaps we'd like, and there will be bumps in the road. But if every individual and institution started to have these conversations today, if every individual and every institution started with themselves, it would change the way we work and ten years from now we would find ourselves in a very different place. You learn so much about things that have gone unspoken, taken for granted, or that we've never learned about once you start talking openly and sharing and learning together. Yes, there will be hard moments — a lot of them — but you have to keep pushing through. The next conversation will be a little easier, and so will the one after that; it's like building a muscle.

It's imperative that we do this work. Yes, it's hard, and it may take a lifetime, but I've seen and learned enough over the last few years to know that we don't have a choice. We must do this work, and we must do it now.

— Kyoko Uchida

Weekend Link Roundup (March 3-4, 2018)

March 04, 2018

Rising-pricesOur weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

African Americans

Writer and activist Alicia Garza, who helped found the Black Lives Matter movement, in partnership with the Center for Third World OrganizingColor of Change, Demos, Socioanalitica Research, and Tides Foundation, has announced the launch of the Black Census Project, which hopes to talk to 200,000 black people from diverse backgrounds about their hopes, dreams, and needs by August 1. African Americans in participating can take the first step and fill out the online census.

Arts and Culture

ArtsPlace funders have released a statement on the Trump administration's 2019 federal budget request.

Climate Change

Nonprofit Chronicles Marc Gunther published an op-ed about climate philanthropy, and its failure to drive real progress on the issue, in the Chronicle of Philanthropy a few weeks ago. The Chronicle has given him permission to repost it on his own blog, here


This should come as a surprise to no one: in a statement released earlier this week, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) called Betsy DeVos "the worst Secretary of Education this country has ever seen — by a large margin. Secretary DeVos has spent her first year bending over backwards to allow students to be cheated, taking an axe to public education, and undermining the civil rights of students across the country. [She] has failed in her job and she must be held accountable." Mother Jones's Edwin Rios has the details.

Higher Education

Public colleges and universities are facing a perfect storm of existential challenges over the next decade, and institutions in Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont are the canaries in the coal mine. Lee Gardner reports for the Chronicle of Higher Education.


The Pew Research Center's Fact Tank has put together an excellent primer on U.S. immigration policy and proposed changes to those policies.


What's the first reaction many of us have when we learn that someone is thinking about starting a nonprofit? "Don't!" But maybe, says Nonprofit AF's Vu Le, we should lighten up a little bit and recognize that there will always be "well-intentioned individuals who feel [the] burning desire to found their own nonprofit. Persuading them to not do it may work in a few instances, but if we want systemic change, we need to look at this holistically." 

What can staff at nonprofits do to counteract the negative actions of a nonprofit leader who "begins to believe that she (and only she) cares enough, knows enough, or is enough to fix the massive problem she cares so deeply about [aka a Nonprofit Savior]"? Social Velocity's Nell Edgington has some good suggestions.


Mark Zuckerberg has sold $357 million of stock this month, part of plans to unload up to $12 billion to help fund the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative.

On the Washington Regional Association of Grantmakers blog, Nicky Goren, president and CEO of the Eugene and Agnes Meyer Foundation, shares four recommendations as they relate to diversity, equity, and inclusion in hiring.

How will the rise of the millennials change philanthropy? Forbes contributor Jeff Fromm shares the perspectives of Rebecca Laramée, chair of Future Sinai at the Sinai Health Foundation, and Anita Strohm, vice president at Crossroads Communications.

On the HistPhil blog, Alexander Hertel-Fernandez, an assistant professor of international and public affairs at Columbia University, launches a new forum on the history of conservative philanthropy with a post that looks at how wealthy conservative donors and political entrepreneurs built up the infrastructure that positioned the GOP to take over statehouses and state legislatures across the country.

Are there more radical ways to improve openness in grantmaking that would benefit both funders and grantees? The Center for Effective Philanthropy's Kevin Bolduc thinks a transparency movement in the medical field called OpenNotes may have hit on some benefits that translate fairly directly to the grantee-funder relationship. 

Got something you'd like to share? Dro p us a line at mfn@foundationcenter.org.

Cities Are Raising the Bar and Building Beloved Communities Where Black Men and Boys Can Thrive

February 16, 2018

Cbma_promise_of_placeTo build beloved communities across America where black men and boys are healthy, thriving, and able to achieve their fullest potential — that is the Campaign for Black Male Achievement's (CBMA) core mission and rallying cry.

CBMA's work is driven by the unwavering belief that black men and boys are assets to our communities and our country, that they possess untapped potential and brilliance, and that they thrive when given opportunities to succeed. We cannot truly prosper as a nation when any group is left behind and forced to exist on the fringes of society. The well-being of black men and boys is directly connected to the well-being and strength of our families, communities, and nation as a whole.

Over the past decade, CBMA has supported leaders in cities across the United States who are working to accelerate positive life outcomes for black men and boys and whose efforts are moving the needle in measurable ways. To chart and track the progress happening in these cities, in 2015 CBMA developed the Black Male Achievement (BMA) City Index, which scores cities based on their level of engagement with and investment in black men and boys. In conjunction with the new index, we released Promise of Place, a first-of-its-kind report series that assessed commitments and targeted initiatives across fifty cities focused on supporting black men and boys. A few weeks ago, we released a follow-up report, Promise of Place: Building Beloved Communities for Black Men and Boys, that explores whether those cities are keeping their promises. Encouragingly, we have found that most cities have in fact increased their investments and actions in support of black men and boys.

The new Promise of Place report finds that, since 2015, 62 percent of the cities included in the index have ramped up their efforts to support black males across a variety of focus areas and needs, with scores based on five key indicators: demographic mix, commitment to black men and boys, presence of national initiatives supporting black men and boys, targeted funding supporting black men and boys, and CBMA membership. Detroit and Washington, D.C., remain the two highest scoring cities, each with a score of 95, while Jackson (Mississippi), Seattle (Washington), Omaha (Nebraska), and Mobile (Alabama) saw the greatest improvements in their scores. Cities not captured in the first report — including Denver and Yonkers, New York — have since become highly engaged in leading black male achievement efforts.

To be clear, the BMA City Index is not a ranking of which cities are doing the best with respect to this work. Rather, it is meant to serve as a starting point to see what commitments and engagements cities are making to black men and boys. It is imperative that city and community leaders hold their cities accountable to these commitments and continue to collaborate on measuring the impact of their efforts.

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A Conversation With Kavitha Mediratta, Executive Director, Atlantic Fellows for Racial Equity

February 09, 2018

Chattel slavery — a practice (and later institution) in which enslaved Africans and African Americans were bought, sold, or traded as property at the whim of their "owners" — was common in British America from the earliest colonial days. Gaining a foothold in the tobacco country of Virginia and Maryland in the seventeenth century and spreading north and south from there, it was well established in the mid-Atlantic and South by the time of independence, reinforced, as historian Ira Berlin writes, by a regime of violence that was "systemic and relentless; the planters’ hegemony required that slaves stand in awe of their owners. Although they preferred obedience to be given rather than taken, planters understood that without a monopoly of firepower and a willingness to employ terror, plantation slavery would not long survive."

The violence employed by the slaveholding class to protect and extend its authority was, as Berlin notes, buttressed by special judicial codes, the courts (including the Supreme Court), and the U.S. Constitution itself. As the institution grew in scale and scope in the nineteenth century, driven in part by the invention of the cotton gin, which greatly boosted the profitability of cotton as a crop, and the outlawing of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, the slaveholding class stepped up its efforts to promote ideologies that justified the institution’s existence — as well as the brutality and means, judicial and extra-judicial, used to maintain it.

While these explicitly racist attitudes were, as Eric Eustace Williams has argued, a consequence of slavery rather than its cause, their regrettable persistence has caused incalculable damage to American society, infected countries such as South Africa — which continues to struggle with its own history of racial apartheid — and even today divide Americans against each other. Indeed, whether America ever comes to grips with the pernicious legacy of slavery remains an open question.

Recently, PND spoke with Kavitha Mediratta, founding executive director of Atlantic Fellows for Racial Equity, a ten-year, $60 million initiative launched by Atlantic Philanthropies, about that question and what her program is doing to support creative leaders dedicated to dismantling anti-black racism in both the United States and South Africa.

Mediratta previously served as chief strategy advisor for equity initiatives and human capital development at Atlantic and before that led the education program at the New York Community Trust and directed school reform programs at the Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University and the Institute for Education and Social Policy at New York University. She has, in addition, written extensively on race and educational opportunity in the U.S., with a focus on inequalities in school discipline, and has taught in elementary and middle schools in New Jersey, Chicago, and India.

Headshot_kavitha_medirattaPhilanthropy News Digest: How did you get into philanthropy and racial equity work?

Kavitha Mediratta: Well, actually, racial equity work is what led me into philanthropy. I came to the United States with my parents, who are Indian, when I was three, and we settled in a community on Long Island where we were pretty isolated. This was in the 1970s, and we thought America's days as a segregated society were behind it, but that's not really how it was on Long Island when I was growing up, and from an early age I was exposed to some of the contradictions between the idea of America as a place of opportunity for all people, and the way in which black people in America and others who are seen as different often are treated.

As a result, I became interested in racial equity pretty early on. I worked as a teacher and then as an organizer and policy analyst before ending up doing a lot of work with parents and high school students to improve public schools, which I saw as a key locus of opportunity for young people of color but that too often failed to deliver on those opportunities to help children realize their full potential. And it's really the work I did with young people that brought me to philanthropy, and Atlantic [Philanthropies], which had long supported people of color who were working to reform public education, and public institutions more broadly, in America.

PND: What are we talking about when we talk about racial equity? Do you have a definition that informs your day-to-day work?

KM: For us, racial equity is about creating a society in which opportunities and outcomes for people are not defined on the basis of racial categories. But we go a little bit further than equity, in that we talk about dismantling anti-black racism, aka white supremacy, as an important step toward building a truly just and inclusive society. And what we mean by a just and inclusive society is a world in which everyone has the opportun­ities they need not only to thrive, but to be seen fully for who they are, which is an important thing, since, at the moment, only some people in America are seen fully. The question is, How can we build a world in which all people are seen fully for who and what they are, and who are treated with the dignity, respect, and right to self-determination that all members of our national and global community deserve?

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Weekend Link Roundup (February 3-4, 2018)

February 04, 2018

AP-Groundhog-Day.3Our weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

African Americans,

"It's obvious," writes Andre Perry on the Hechinger Report site, "that black history is needed all year long. But white history as we know it can no longer be the standard in a multicultural society, which is supposed to maximize the potential of all of its members."

Arts and Culture

Janet Brown was named executive director of Grantmakers in the Arts in December 2008 and retired from that post in December. On his blog for the Western States Arts Federation, Barry Hessenius talks with Brown about what has changed in arts philanthropy, GIA's racial equity work, and the current status of creative placemaking efforts in the U.S.

Civil Society

We look to civil society for many things and benefits, but do we appreciate and understand the critical role it plays in our democracy? In an excerpt from Philanthropy and Digital Civil Society: Blueprint 2018, philanthropy scholar Lucy Bernholz lays it out for us:

Majority-run democracies need to, at the very least, prevent those who disagree with them (minorities) from revolting against the system. Civil society provides, at the very least, the pressure-release valve for majority-run governments. Positioned more positively, civil society is where those without power or critical mass can build both and influence the majority. It serves as a conduit to the majority system and a counterbalance to extreme positions. It also serves as an outlet for those actions, rights, and views that may never be the priority of a majority, but that are still valid, just, or beautiful. When it exists, civil society offers an immune system for democracy — it is a critical factor in a healthy system, and it requires its own maintenance. Immune systems exist to protect and define — they are lines of defense that "allow organism[s] to persist over time."...

Corporate Social Responsibility

The UNHCT, the UN Refugee Agency, estimates that it will only reach 1 out of every 4 Syrian refugees at risk this winter. And with 200,000 displaced families in Syria, 196,000 in Iraq, 174,000 in Lebanon, 115,000 in Turkey, and 83,000 in Jordan, the global refugee crisis isn't likely to be resolved simply or quickly. Writing for Inc., Anna Johansson has a nice list of companies that are stepping up to help refugees.

Perhaps in an effort to appeal to socially aware millennials, Hyundai and Anheuser-Busch InBev will be running cause-based marketing spots during this year's Super Bowl. A harbinger of things to come or just business as usual? E. J. Schultz reports for AdAge.


Here's another (bittersweet) milestone of note: DonorsChoose Just funded its millionth project. Fast Company's Ben Paynter has the details.

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Newsmaker: Fred Blackwell, CEO, The San Francisco Foundation

January 31, 2018

Fred Blackwell joined The San Francisco Foundation, one of the largest community foundations in the United States, as CEO in 2014. An Oakland native, he previously had served as interim administrator and assistant administrator for the city, led the San Francisco Mayor's Office of Community Development and the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency; and directed the Annie E. Casey Foundation's Making Connections Initiative in Oakland.

In June 2016, TSFF announced a new commitment to racial and economic equity in the Bay Area. PND spoke with Blackwell about the foundation's racial equity lens, movement building in the wake of the 2016 elections and Charlottesville, and what it means for philanthropic organizations to speak out, step up, and actually try to achieve racial equity.

Fred_blackwellPhilanthropy News Digest: How do you define "racial equity"?

Fred Blackwell: I define it as just and fair inclusion in a society where everyone can participate, prosper, and thrive, regardless of their race or where they live or their family's economic status or any other defining characteristic. Obviously, the way we think about equity is colored by our particular focus on the Bay Area — a place where there is tremendous opportunity and prosperity being generated, but also where access to those opportunities is limited for many people. So from an institutional point of view, we need to answer the question: How do we make sure that the region prospers in a way that the rising tide lifts all boats?

PND: When you stepped into the top job at TSFF in 2014, the foundation already had a lengthy history of social justice work. How did the decision to focus the foundation's grantmaking on racial and economic equity come about?

FB: Shortly after I came to the foundation, we conducted a listening tour of the Bay Area. As part of that listening tour, we held what we called our VOICE: Bay Area sessions — a series of large public meetings in seven diverse low-income communities across the region. In addition, we held consultative sessions, half-day meetings with practitioners, policy people, and thought leaders to talk about trends, both positive and negative, they were seeing in the region and how those trends were affecting people. We did a lot of data collection and analysis. And the data all pointed in the same direction: the need for greater levels of inclusion here in the Bay Area. The fact that race and economic status and geography had predictive power over where people were headed and what they could accomplish concerned us, and it was important to try to respond to that.

There are two pieces of the foundation's history that we wanted to build on: one is the social justice orientation of our work, and the other is our regional footprint. We serve Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, San Francisco, and San Mateo counties. So in focusing on the equity issue, we're also thinking about it from a regional point of view. What makes the Bay Area unique is its diversity and prosperity, and yet we are a prime real-time example of the kinds of inequalities and inequities that you see on multiple levels across the country. It's important to us as a unit of analysis because equity and the issues that emanate from it — whether it's economic opportunity or housing or education or criminal justice or civic participation — none of those issues conform neatly to the boundaries of the various jurisdictions in the region. People may live in Oakland or San Francisco or Berkeley or Richmond, but they experience the Bay Area as a region.

What I think I brought to the foundation is a laser-like focus on the dimensions of social justice work with respect to racial and economic inclusion and equity — making sure that that "North Star" is something that is modeled at the top and cascades down through all levels of the organization. I would say that we are more explicit than we've been in the past about making equity the focus — not just in our grantmaking but also in how we work with donors, how we provide civic leadership in the region, and how we bring our voice to the table and those of our partners in order to make a difference. We view that North Star as guiding not only our programmatic work but everything we do here at the foundation.

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5 Questions for...Lateefah Simon, President, Akonadi Foundation

January 04, 2018

At 40, Lateefah Simon has spent more than half her life as a civil rights advocate and racial justice leader. She was a 17-year-old mother when she went to work for the Center for Young Women's Development and was just 19 when she became the organization's executive director. In the years that followed, she helped position the center as a national leader in the movement to empower young women of color — an achievement for which she was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship in 2003. She later led the creation of San Francisco's first reentry services division, headed the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area, and served as a program director at the Rosenberg Foundation, where she helped launch the Leading Edge Fund in support of the next generation of progressive movement leaders in California.

In 2016, Simon became the second president of Akonadi Foundation, whose mission is "to eliminate structural racism that leads to inequity in the United States." PND spoke with her about the work required to build a movement focused on racial equity — and philanthropy's role in that effort.

Philanthropy News Digest: The Akonadi Foundation, which is headquartered in Oakland, is focused on "building a localized racial justice movement." Why is it important for the racial justice movement to act locally?

Headshot_lateefash_simon_2017Lateefah Simon: What those of us in philanthropy and those working on the ground doing movement-building work know is that many of the racialized policies that have divided communities, from juvenile justice to local policing to school policies, have taken place on the municipal level. We also know that our efforts have to be extremely strategic to undo these policies — for example, the disproportionate overuse of school suspensions and expulsions against black and brown students that has been standard policy for many, many years.

To create racial justice in our communities, we have to go deep — to the source, where the policies come from, and also to the culture. Our work is not just about going after and disrupting racist policy but also about ensuring that all communities of color are working together, understanding that one group's organizing, movement-building, and advocacy work will benefit other groups. If we're fighting for anti-gentrification policies in Chinatown, African-American and Latino communities are going to be able to use those efforts to inform their own organizing, and so on.

PND: The foundation takes an "ecosystem" approach to its grantmaking. What do you mean by ecosystem grantmaking, and why do you believe it's the right approach for your movement at this time?

LS: Five years ago, the Akonadi Foundation set out to envision what Oakland could look like in ten years. Oakland has been a cradle of social movements — and is best known, of course, as the birthplace of the Black Panther Party. There's a historical narrative here around race and the interconnectedness of people of color coming together to defeat horrific racist policies; it's our legacy. In our ambition to create a ten-year period of change, our thought was, even as a small foundation, we need to make grants that address the ecosystem in which "justice" is created and delivered. We know that here in Oakland, for example, we have a responsibility to fund base-building groups that are enlisting people willing to fight back, to fund groups that are going to craft policy prescriptions, and groups that will — when those campaigns have succeeded — ensure implementation of those prescriptions as well as follow-up advocacy and legal oversight of the policies.

And just as importantly, we know that if we are pushing communities to organize and fight campaigns, culture has to be at the center of this work; much of our cultural work as people of color is about staking claim to a city we helped build. So thinking about how change happens, about how the people of Oakland move toward justice — it's broad, and must be led by an "ecosystem" of grant partners who are in movement together.

In 2018, we're going to be engaging our grantees and having them give us a better idea of where we are. The world has completely changed in the last year. And because the world has changed, and the conditions of our city have changed, it's important for us to go back and look at our theory of change and redefine and reexamine how ecosystem grantmaking needs to work.

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Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts 2017

January 02, 2018

It's no surprise, perhaps, that the most popular item on the blog in 2017 was a post, by Michael Edwards, from 2012. Back then, the country was clawing its way back from the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, and the future, if not exactly bright, was looking better. Two thousand-seventeen, in contrast, was...well, let's just say it was a year many would like to forget. Edwards, a former program officer at the Ford Foundation and the editor of the Transformation blog on the openDemocracy site, had agreed to write a four-part series (check out parts one, two, and four) on the Bellagio Initiative, an effort funded by the Rockefeller Foundation to produce a new framework for philanthropic and international development, and his third post had much to say about how and when, in development work, we measure, how we use and interpret the results, and who decides these things — concerns as relevant today as they were in the final year of Barack Obama's first term in office.

Of course, smart thinking and useful advice never go out of fashion — as the posts gathered below amply demonstrate. Indeed, with an administration and majorities in both chambers of Congress seemingly determined to roll back many of the progressive gains achieved over the last half-century, nonprofits and social entrepreneurs working to protect the rights of marginalized and vulnerable populations, undo the vast harm caused by a systemically biased criminal justice system, combat the corrosive effects of money on our politics, and address the existential threat posed by climate change will need all the smart thinking and useful advice they can lay their hands on. So, sit back, buckle your seat belt, and get ready for 2018. It's going to be an...interesting year.

What have you read/watched/heard lately that got your attention, made you think, or charged you up? Feel free to share in the comments section below.

Interested in writing for PND or PhilanTopic? We'd love to hear from you. Send a few lines about your idea/article/post to mfn@foundationcenter.org.

The False Slogan of 'Right to Work': An Attack on Worker Freedom

December 18, 2017

NoRTW_buttonToday's economy is rigged against working families and in favor of the wealthy and the powerful. That's not by accident. CEOs and the politicians who do their bidding have written the rules that way, advancing their own interests at the expense of everyone else.

Now, they're trying to get the rigged system affirmed by the United States Supreme Court. In a few months, the justices will hear a case called Janus v. AFSCME Council 31, which would make so-called "right-to-work" the law of the land in the public sector, threatening the freedom of working people to join together in strong unions.

The powerful backers in this case have made no secret about their true agenda. They have publicly said that they want to "defund and defang" unions like the one I lead. They know that unions level the economic playing field. They know that unions give working people the power in numbers to improve their lives and communities and negotiate a fair return on their work while keeping the greed of corporate special interests in check.

Union membership is especially important for people of color, historically providing them with a ladder to the middle class and helping them earn their fair share of the wealth and the value they generate. More than half of African-Americans make less than $15 per hour. But belonging to a union is likely to lead to a substantial pay raise and superior benefits. African-American union members earn 14.7 percent more than their non-union peers. The union advantage for Latinos is even greater: 21.8 percent.

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5 Questions for…Vanessa Daniel, Founder and Executive Director, Groundswell Fund

December 07, 2017

Groundswell Fund
 is the largest funder of the reproductive justice movement in the United States. In addition to its CatalystRapid Response, and Birth Justice funds, the organization created the Liberation Fund in the wake of the 2016 elections to support effective grassroots organizing efforts led by women and transgender people of color across the social justice sector. A joint project of the Groundswell Fund and the newly created 501(c)(4) Groundswell Action Fund, the Liberation Fund will announce inaugural grants next week to grassroots organizations selected with the help of women leaders of color, including Alicia Garza, Ai-Jen Poo, Mary Hooks, and Linda Sarsour. 

PND spoke with Vanessa Daniel, founder and executive director of the fund, about intersectionality in the context of reproductive justice and racial equity and her hopes for the Liberation Fund. Before founding the fund in 2010, Daniel worked in grassroots organizing, advocacy, and grantmaking at the Tides FoundationSEIU, the East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy, and what is now Race Forward: The Center for Racial Justice Innovation.

Philanthropy News Digest: You founded Groundswell Fund after working to advance LGBTQ rights as well as economic and environmental justice at various organizations. Why did you decide to focus on reproductive justice for women of color, low-income women, and transgender people?

Heashot_vanessa_danielVanessa Daniel: When I first learned about the reproductive justice (RJ) movement in 2005, I had been working in various social justice movements for ten years. The RJ movement had been founded a decade earlier by a group of black women and was on its way to becoming the largest force in the country in terms of engaging a multiracial base of women of color, low-income women, and LGBT people on reproductive issues and as grassroots organizers and activists. I was a young, twenty-something, queer, biracial woman of color from a working-class immigrant family on one side and raised by a second-wave white feminist single mother on the other.

I had, like many women of color, experienced what I lovingly refer to as a lot of bad "movement dates." Have you ever been on a date with someone who orders for you without asking what you want? Or people who talk about themselves the whole time without asking how your day was? Well, you can have the equivalent of that date with a social justice movement. It's not true for every organization, but for example, you have a lot of labor unions that invite women to the table but don't want to talk about reproductive issues, even though these issues are important to women. You have many immigrant rights groups that don't want to talk about LGBT rights, even though there are lots of LGBT people in the immigrant communities they are organizing. You have way too many white feminist organizations inviting women of color to the table and then not talking about race, even though racism is literally killing us. The reproductive justice movement was, quite simply, the best movement date I ever had, because it was the first time I had encountered a movement that didn't require me to leave any piece of myself or anyone I loved at the door in order to enter. I could be whole.

And here's why. There are three hallmarks of RJ: First, it's multi-issue. That means it says to people, yes, we are standing with you on the right to access abortion and contraception, but we are also standing with you to stop environmental pollution that is harming reproductive health; to stop mass incarceration and immigration detention and deportation that continues an ugly legacy of breaking up families of color that dates back to slavery and mission schools and immigration exclusion acts; to expand comprehensive sex ed in the public schools along with non-stigmatizing supports for young parents that don't shame and shut them out of their education; to expand access to birthing options like midwifery that are finally shifting racial disparities that have left black women four times more likely to die as a result of childbirth than white women in this country; to fight for LGBT rights. It's a holistic movement.

Second, it centers grassroots organizing as a strategy. It doesn't believe major social change trickles down from large organizations sitting "inside the beltway"; it believes it surges up from cities and states, from ordinary people holding their elected officials accountable in their home districts.

Third, it is a multiracial movement with significant leadership from women of color working alongside white women who are able to consider things through a racial justice lens. It is tactically impossible to move the needle on most social justice issues today without the leadership and engagement of communities of color, which, polls show us, vote in a more progressive direction down ballot on nearly every issue progressives care about.

The RJ movement exemplifies what it means to build a movement with the backbone to leave no one behind. And that, I believe, is the kind of movement that all social justice activists should be looking to build. RJ is shining a light on the path the larger progressive movement needs to walk in order to be successful.

PND: It's estimated that African-American women in the United States are three to four times more likely to die of childbirth-related complications than their white counterparts, while the infant mortality rate for babies of African-American mothers is more than twice that of babies of white mothers. What's behind these racial disparities?

VD: The data has perplexed many scientists, in part because when they control for education levels, economic status, diet and behavior, and other factors, the disparities still show up in the data. This means that middle-class, college-educated black women who take excellent care of their health are still dying at higher rates than low-income white women without a high school diploma. How does one explain that? There is a growing number of scientists, including epidemiologists who believe that racism itself is a major factor in these disparities. First, the racism and implicit bias of many medical practitioners often leads them to provide substandard care to women of color. Many studies back this up; one recent study, for example, shows that people of color, including children of color, are given significantly less pain medication than are white people.

Second, and very importantly, scientists are pointing to the impact that racism, experienced on a daily basis by people of color, has on the body. The midwifery and doula models of care we support are often run by women of color or by a multiracial staff that provides high-quality, culturally competent care. Our grantee Sacred Heart Birthplace in Espanola, New Mexico, has a 2 percent cesarean section rate, compared with a state average of 24 percent, and a 92 percent breastfeeding rate at six months post-delivery, compared with a state average of 26 percent. In Florida, our grantee Common Sense Childbirth has achieved a 0 percent preterm birth rate among black women, compared with the state average of 14.2 percent.

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5 Questions for...Laura Speer, Associate Director, Policy Reform and Advocacy, Annie E. Casey Foundation

October 30, 2017

Children are the future. In a country whose population is aging faster than expected, the implications of that truism should be of special concern. The Annie E. Casey Foundation, a private philanthropy based in Baltimore that works to improve the lives of America's children and their families, certainly believes so. And it backs that work up with data — lots of it, including its signature KIDS COUNT data book and center.

Earlier this month, the foundation published the second report (28 pages, PDF) in its Race for Results series, a KIDS COUNT spinoff that explores "the intersection of kids, race and opportunity" and describes many of the barriers to success facing children of color in America. The report also includes a section devoted to immigrant families and children, as well as policy recommendations designed to ensure that all children in America have the opportunity to realize their full potential.

PND spoke with Laura Speer, associate director for policy reform and advocacy at the Casey Foundation, about the new report's findings, the potential consequences of Trump administration policies for immigrant children, and the economic argument for boosting spending on programs designed to improve health, education, and economic outcomes for kids of all races and color.

Headshot_laura_speerPhilanthropy News Digest: Your new report, the second in the Race for Results series, is based on data from 2013 to 2015 and shows general improvement across the board in most of the twelve indicators the foundation uses to measure how children from different racial backgrounds are faring on the path to opportunity. Were you surprised by any findings in the report?

Laura Speer: Well, we were happy to see improvement across the board in many of the measures we track. Of course, both reports covered periods when the country was recovering from the Great Recession, so it wasn't a huge surprise to see improvement in many of the measures — things like the percentage of young people who are graduating from high school or teen pregnancy rates. Those are areas where we're seeing improvement for all kids. What is disheartening, however, is that there really wasn't much of a change in the gaps that existed previously for African American, Native American, and Latino kids, all of whom, in the aggregate, are still lagging behind other groups of kids in terms of meeting these milestones.

PND: The report argues that we can't afford to ignore those disparities any longer. Moral arguments aside, why do we need to pay more attention to the barriers that prevent kids of color from reaching their full potential?

LS: We made the case in the first report, and we reiterate it again here, that in the United States today, slightly less than 50 percent of the child population are kids of color. However, demographic pro­jections show that that is going to change pretty quickly, and that kids of color will be the majority of the child population in just a few years. And, because kids grow up to be adults, people of color will comprise the majority of the workforce within the next couple of decades and the population of the country itself will be majority people of color by 2040 or so. In other words, today's kids of color are our future work force, the future parents of the next generation of American kids, the future leaders of our country. And that is why it is more important than ever that we not accept or get comfortable with these disparities, and why we've got to identify the factors that are contributing to the barriers to success that exist for kids of color and figure out how, as a country, we can design policies and programs that help more young people achieve their full potential. We need these kids and all the talents they possess if we want to be able to compete on a global scale and be successful as a country in the long run.

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Embrace Racial Healing to Change Hearts and Minds

August 22, 2017

Hands_photo_from_iStockPrior to the displays of hatred and the tragic loss of Heather Heyer,
a young woman who seemingly embraced the virtues of healing, a transformation was taking place in Charlottesville, Virginia. This college town, where roughly 80 percent of the residents are white, culminated a lawful process in February when its city council voted to remove the statue of Robert E. Lee from a city park.

Passionate acts came from opposing sides, as opponents filed suit
to stop the removal and the city changed the name of Lee Park to Emancipation Park. But there was honest dialogue and truth-telling, the ingredients for healing. Neighbors learned more about one another, their culture, and motivations. But the progress was derailed.

The protesters who converged in Charlottesville were largely white men often perceived as privileged in our society, and among their slogans was "We will not be replaced" by immigrants, blacks, Jews, or homosexuals. Instead of feeling empowered, they were threatened and seemed in pain. Their hearts and minds needed healing.

But racial healing doesn't begin until you intentionally, respectfully, and patiently uncover shared truths, as Charlottesville residents had begun to do before the violence and turmoil. Shared truths are not simply the removal of physical symbols, like monuments. While that may begin to change narratives, it doesn't reach the level of healing that jettisons racism from the land or creates equitable communities. Racism has persevered because remedies ranging from public accommodation laws to Supreme Court rulings are limited in scope and reach: They fail to change hearts and minds.

A new approach is needed that penetrates the full consciousness of our society, draws in all communities, and focuses on racial healing and truth-telling.

Racial healing can facilitate trust and authentic relationships that bridge vast divides created by race, religion, ethnicity, and economic status. Only after truths are shared, racism is acknowledged, and hearts begin to mend will communities begin to heal the wounds of the past and together move forward to address the bias in employment, education, housing, and health that causes widespread disparities and denies opportunities to our children.

To be sure, racial healing is predicated not just on emotional encounters such as saying, "I'm sorry"; rather, it's predicated on truth-telling. But who's truth? We all have our own truths, and we need collective conversations to help us in reaching a common truth and vision for the future based on what we decide.

And while sharing our individual truths requires that we share stories, reaching a common truth is more than a blending of stories. It's about co-creating morals, principles, wisdom, and guidance that is written on our hearts and captured in our faith and how we treat each other as human beings. It is developed by all of us in the courtyard, in town halls, and in living rooms with family and neighbors. That's where we develop "the" truth.

At the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, we promote racial healing because it moves people to act from their hearts. Real change happens when people work together and build relationships. Rarely does it occur when it is forced upon communities by laws and rulings. Last January, WKKF coordinated an annual National Day of Racial Healing that inspired civic, religious, community, and philanthropic organizations to collaborate on activities designed to facilitate racial healing. But we can't wait until next January to embrace racial healing.

Today, with the threat of unrest billowing through communities, our country needs to heal. All sides must air their fears and anxieties, and articulate their visions for a future where all children can thrive.

After centuries of racial hierarchy, all sides have been wounded. Whenever a policy or decision gives privileges to some and not others or perpetuates injustices, the collective community suffers, and part of our common humanity is lost. It leaves some wounded and unable to work toward our collective interest.

What is inspiring is the healing that is happening around the country. Earlier this year, two hundred people gathered at the Chicago Theological Seminary for an extraordinary day of racial healing. People of all races, genders, religions, and ethnicities gathered in healing circles to share their "truths" on the racism they endured or (consciously or unconsciously) unleashed on others. The healing circles were sanctuaries for truth-telling and helped people see one another, acknowledge differences, and begin to build authentic relationships.

WKKF, through our Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation (TRHT) framework, is supporting racial healing in fourteen places where the framework is being implemented. Since 2010, when our America Healing initiative launched, WKKF has actively promoted racial healing and supported racial healing practitioners who are available to help communities, concluding that:

  • Racial healing accelerates human capacity for resilience, for embracing one another, and for reconnecting people who previously had their identities denied back to their roots, culture, language, and rituals.
  • The focus of racial healing is our "collective humanity" and lifting up that which unites us rather than that which divides us, while discovering, respecting, and indeed honoring our unique experiences.
  • Racial healing will facilitate narrative change, which will help everyone in communities articulate the truth about their collective histories and be exposed to full, complete, and accurate representations of themselves and their communities.

Headshot_montgomery_tabronCommunities must heal so they can grow. Let's heal and build sustainable progress neighbor by neighbor, community by community, to transform America so all children can have a brighter future.

La June Montgomery Tabron is president and CEO of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.

NMAAHC and the Museum of the Future

August 07, 2017

In my previous post, I shared details of a visit to the National Museum of African American History and Culture, during which I had the opportunity to meet with Rhea L. Combs and Jon S. Goff of the museum’s film and photography program. With the help of Combs and Goff, I also was able to connect with a number of staff in related areas and quickly came to appreciate that another important dimension of NMAAHC — really, the key to its identity — is technology and the way, today, it has been integrated into exhibition design, audience engagement, and the extension of a museum's programs beyond its walls.

Nmaahc_separate-but-not-equalThis includes things like interactive exhibits, touch screens, livestreaming of events, and much more. As I visited  various galleries, for example, I encountered an impressive number of items, many of them digitized; the museum is committed to sharing the majority of its collection with the public rather than keeping it in storage. I was also struck by how all the exhibits I saw were beautifully enhanced by digital technology, including one wall of objects that delighted a group of teens as they took turns touching images and uncovering additional information on everything from baseball memorabilia to pop culture couture.

In Best of Both Worlds: Museums, Libraries, and Archives in a Digital Age (78 pages, PDF), former secretary of the Smithsonian G. Wayne Clough notes that the institution has committed to digitizing millions of objects in its collection and anticipates that the initiative will make the collection more accessible in ways we can hardly imagine.

As Clough explained in a 2013 interview on Smithsonian.com: "In the past, the creative activities were entirely behind the walls of museums and collection centers. The public only got access through labels in exhibitions, which told them what we thought. Now, in this new world…, people are going to be engaged with us in a conversation, not a monologue."

Museums established prior to the digital age have had to rethink their collections and reconfigure space to accommodate these developments, but NMAAH's long lead time has been an advantage in this regard. Although Congress voted to establish the museum in 2003, African- American veterans of the Civil War first proposed the idea for a museum devoted to the African-American experience in 1915. Founding director Lonnie G. Bunch III, whose career as a historian and curator includes several previous Smithsonian positions, arrived in 2005 with a staff of two. (The museum employs nearly two hundred people today.) The museum itself didn't open until 2016, but Bunch and his small staff launched its first program in 2007, embracing technology and partnering with other Smithsonian museums, including the National Museum of American History (which hosted the photography show I wrote about in my previous post), in 2009.  

In a Smithsonian magazine article marking the museum's opening last fall, Bunch elaborated: "Rather than simply plan for a building that would be a decade away, we felt that it was crucial to curate exhibitions, publish books, craft the virtual museum online — in essence, to demonstrate the quality and creativity of our work to potential donors, collectors, members of Congress, and the Smithsonian."

 "Black Culture and History Matter," an article by folklorist Kirsten Mullen in The American Prospect, emphasizes this point: "The NMAAHC is the first major museum to 'open' on the web before its physical structure is even built."

A PND On the Web profile of the museum earlier this year praises its "standout" website; director Bunch credits early support from IBM for the site. (IBM has contributed more than $1 million to the museum.) The PND profile notes that the site allows visitors to access collections and exhibits, and highlights a section for educators, a mobile app, and the Many Lenses initiative, which features staff at several Smithsonian museums discussing personally selected objects in their respective collections.

With thousands of objects, programs, and exhibitions to manage, the museum has done a marvelous job — and should be credited — for the amount of material  already on display and the many points of access to those materials provided to the public. Even so, as I consulted the website for information on the museum's many areas, projects, resources, and exhibitions, I sometimes found it difficult to navigate the volume of information. (To help readers of this article, I've included links throughout.)   

Even before it opened, NMAAHC could take advantage of the Transcription Center, the Smithsonian-wide project mentioned in my previous post. In his 2013 interview, Clough anticipated a future in which a museum would "crowdsource its research," an experiment the Smithsonian had just launched with the center. Fully operational now, the center has mobilized a corps of nearly nine thousand digital volunteers from all over the world who have transcribed more than two thousand projects using their own computers and broadband connections. The volunteer transcriptions are reviewed by center staff and then posted on the Web, where they can be accessed by researchers and the general public.

Laura Coyle, collection manager and head of cataloging and digitization, tells me that since the museum joined the transcription initiative in 2015, thirty-four collections or items in the NMAAHC project have been transcribed. As an example, the James Baldwin collection, with a hundred and twenty-four pages of material, was completed thanks to the efforts of forty-three volunteers.

Another project is focused on indexing and transcribing the archives of the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, which was created by the U.S. government after the Civil War to address the problems of the four million formerly enslaved people and hundreds of thousands of impoverished white people living in the South; there are nearly two million letters, reports, contracts, and other documents related to administration of the bureau. Preserved by the National Archives, the materials are now being made accessible to the public. NMAAHC’s "Freedmen’s Bureau Project" includes a partnership with FamilySearch International, which has indexed the material to capture names and dates, allowing people to search for ancestors. With the assistance of the Transcription Center, the museum also is in the process of transcribing bureau documents.

 "So far, we've made available all thirty thousand records of the Assistant Commissioner for North Carolina," Coyle tells me. "And we're continuing to process and prepare the remaining records for transcription and will eventually make available the entire Freedmen's Bureau collection online and through the Robert Frederick Smith Explore Your Family History Center at the museum."

In addition to the transcription work, NMAAHC has created at least a minimal digital record of all thirty-seven thousand items in its collection — photographs, documents, and artifacts. To date, more than eight thousand images are available online via the Collection Search page. And later this year, the museum will expand access to its film and video collection (which at the moment is only available via YouTube), making it viewable directly through the museum's website.

"Because so much is possible through digitization," says Coyle, "it makes all the other things we do possible: our website, our prints and publications, our exhibits, our mobile access. And we were able to do everything right from the start."

I ask Coyle, who has a degree in art history and worked at the National Gallery of Art and the Corcoran Gallery in Washington prior to joining NMAAHC in 2010, if her education and experience prepared her for the opportunities, and challenges, of the digital age.

"This job did not exist when I was in school," she says. "Museums started using digital tools to manage collections when personal computers became widely available in the nineteen-eighties. With the advent of the Web in the nineties, museums realized they could share their collections and stories digitally, but no one was quite sure how to do this. We just couldn't imagine all the ways digitization would be a part of our lives.  Now, of course, actual and virtual visitors expect museums to offer a variety of digital experiences. But we still don't know what the digital museum will be in the future. NMAAHC was committed to digitization from the start and remains committed to the digital museum concept, wherever that takes us."

Coyle tells me that when she came on board, "It was just me working in this area. Everyone was focused on building the collection and building the building."

Today, her staff of nineteen includes specialists in cataloging, record creation, rights and reproductions, digital assets management, and photography. Rounding out the "Digi Team" are the five media digitization and preservation staff working in the Digitization Media Center. All together, the team produces catalog records and images for internal and public platforms; reformats audio-visual materials; manages digital materials and intellectual property rights related to collections; responds to requests for collection information; and oversees publication projects.

"My team is a service organization within the museum," Coyle says. "We work with the curatorial team and participate in the creation of digital content for various platforms. That's essential for online and traditional exhibitions, collection research, and publications." For instance, of the nearly twenty-five thousand photographs in the museum's collection, a digital archive of more than sixty-three hundred photographs is now accessible through the website.

But keeping up is a challenge. "Digitization is time consuming and costly," says Coyle. "At this point, only 25 percent of the museum's collection is well cataloged, imaged, and online to the public — our definition of fully digitized. And we're continuing to collect, so digitization will always be a little behind. Cataloging is also an ongoing process and we can always add more information. People expect a lot in this area, so we want to meet the demand as much as we can."

Meanwhile, demand is growing. In the first three months of this year, for instance, 319,000 people visited the museum's Collection Search page. "We know that people are searching our collection online" says Coyle. "And we'll be collecting more analytics to learn more about what visitors do once they get there."

The Digi Team also manages the Collection Stories feature on the website, where NMAAHC staff are invited to share their response to an item in the permanent exhibits. Coyle chose the dress worn by Carlotta Walls ("Dress for the Occasion") on the historic day in 1957 when Walls helped integrate an Arkansas high school as one of the "Little Rock Nine." An image of the dress, digitized along with related photographs and documents, appears there and is also available through Collection Search.

"That dress made a mighty impression on me," Coyle tells me, "and I was really honored to meet Carlotta Walls LaNier, who donated the dress to the museum."

Collecting the Collection

One of the defining qualities of NMAAHC is its process for acquiring material. Collecting began a decade ago, and director Bunch has described the task of starting a collection before a museum even opens in various interviews. In a 2016 Washington Business Journal article, he shared some of the details of his own family history, what led him to become a historian, and some of the experiences that helped shape his vision for the museum.

"I thought the best thing we could do," Bunch said in that interview, "was to use African-American culture as a lens to understand what it was to be American. This was not a museum for black people by black people. It was a museum for resilience, for optimism."

He then related a story about the first item received by the museum, the result of a serendipitous meeting with an Ecuadoran man, Juan Garcia, who subsequently donated a canoe seat carved a century ago by his great-grandmother, who lived in a community of escaped slaves — an encounter that impressed upon Bunch the presence and history of Africans throughout the Americas.

"That artifact helped me frame the museum as a global museum, not just an American museum," he told the Business Journal. "That was transformative for me."

But not all items came to the museum that serendipitously. In the 2016 Smithsonian.com article mentioned above, Bunch shared the concerns he felt in those early days.

"Maybe it was the curator in me, but what worried me the most was whether we could find the stuff of history, the artifacts that would tell the story of this community," he said. "Some of the early plans for the museum de-emphasized artifacts, partly out of a belief that there were few to be collected and technology could fill any void. But I already knew that even if you have the very best technology, a tech-driven institution would fail. People come to the Smithsonian museums to revel in the authentic."

Bunch reflected on his experiences, over his career, with "community-driven collecting," including reaching out to African-American families and securing gifts "over a cup of tea." And he spoke eloquently of the urgency he feels to find and preserve these artifacts.

"I believed that all of the twentieth century, most of the nineteenth, maybe even a bit of the eighteenth might still be in trunks, basements, and attics around the country. I also knew that as America changed, family homesteads would be broken up and heirlooms would be at risk. We had to start collecting now, because the community's material culture might [not] exist in ten years."

With support from the Bank of America Charitable Foundation and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the museum created "Save Our African American Treasures," a program designed to appeal directly to communities and surface those forgotten items stashed away in attics and trunks while at the same time educating people on how to preserve family photos, documents, and artifacts. That approach continues, although as the museum's staff has grown to include professional curators, the approach to curation and the collection has shifted.

At the same time, the stories of Naomi Long Madgett, the poet who donated the films of Rev. Jones to CAAMA (see my earlier post), and Carlotta Walls LaNier, who donated her dress, are echoed over and over in the larger collection. While many items in the NMAAHC collection have been purchased, many more have been donated by people whose fervent desire is to see the preservation of their family history.

According to Michèle Gates Moresi, supervisory curator of collections at NMAAHC, the vast majority of the items in the collection have been donated. "I don't have a current count of the total number of people who have donated artifacts to the museum," she said in an email exchange, "but last summer, when we organized a special event for object donors, we had a list of more than sixteen hundred." An estimate of the value of all the artifacts donated does not exist, but the donated material is quite possibly the museum's most valuable asset. In addition, many individuals have stepped up with monetary donations; as of the end of the first quarter, the museum had a hundred and sixty thousand charter members, some who had given substantial amounts, and many more who had donated what they could.

(The generosity of donors is a consistent theme in studies of African-American philanthropy. A recent PND article points out that "African-American households tend to give more of their discretionary income — as much as 25 percent more — to charitable causes than white Americans; that figure increases as African Americans move into the ranks of the wealthy.")

A Great Convener

In Lonnie Bunch's interview with the late Gwen Ifill shortly before the museum opened, the PBS NewsHour co-anchor, in reference to a series of racial incidents around the country, stated, "We are at a crossroads in our country." Bunch agreed with her characterization and expressed his conviction that NMAAHC could play a positive role in moving forward as a society. 

"Our job is to create a space that, through dialogue and exhibitions, can make America better," he added. "We expect this to be one of the most diversely visited places in the U.S. In surveys, 75 percent of white Americans said this is a story they want to know as well. I hope this museum will continue to evolve, continue to change, because it really has to be a place that is the great convener."

Since I attended my first NMAAHC exhibition (the 2009 photography show I mentioned in my earlier post), I've been looking forward to seeing the finished museum. Even at a time when interest and scholarship about the African-American experience has flourished, it has not always been easy to learn about that history and culture. NMAAHC redresses that gap; its film and media programs in particular are reaching audiences on a deep emotional level, and the integration of technology in almost every aspect of its operations has greatly enhanced its impact. The museum's collection and the way it is presented affirm an African-American identity, as was always the intention. But the museum also succeeds brilliantly in advancing the mission crafted by its founders and articulated by Bunch: "To tell the story of America through an African American lens."

Kathryn Pyle is a regular contributor to PhilanTopic. Check out her other posts for PhilanTopic here.

Weekend Link Roundup (August 5-6, 2017)

August 06, 2017

Sam-shepard-in-winterOur weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

African Americans

We begin with this week's startling statistic. According to the Pew Research Center, one out of four black Americans have faced online harassment because of their race or ethnicity.

Arts and Culture

On the James Irvine Foundation blog, Leslie Payne, a senior program at the foundation, asks: What does it mean to participate in the arts today?


On the Center for Effective Philanthropy blog, Jen Wilka, executive director of YouthTruth, reports  on key findings of a survey of more than 55,000 high school students that asked them how prepared they feel for life after high school.

Here on PhilanTopic, Alexis Morin, co-founder and executive director of Students for Education Reform, reports that a survey of first-generation college students conducted by her organization found that the majority of them feel unprepared for college.

And in a post for the Hechinger Report, Nicole Dobo shares key findings from Time to Act 2017: Put Data in the Hands of People, which argues that while the use of data in formulating education policy has evolved for the better, parents and teachers still find it difficult to get access to that data.


The last time the federal government tried to slow the legal immigration to the United States by adopting a merit-based system was fifty years ago — and Lyndon Johnson was president. Alana Semuels reports The Atlantic.

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Toward More Inclusive Diversity in the Philanthropic Sector: LGBTQ People and People With Disabilities

July 28, 2017

DiversityThe philanthropic sector has taken steps to address the lack of inclusion of women and people of color in its talent pool. But newly released research from the Council on Foundations reveals that several demographics often are missing from philanthropic talent conversations and decisions.

The reason for this may well be a lack of data. For almost thirty years, the council has collected data on grantmaker staff composition and compensation in the United States. Our annual Grantmaker Salary and Benefits Survey represents a set of data points from more than a thousand grantmakers, including data on nearly ten thousand full-time paid professional and administrative staff members.

Using this rich dataset, we analyzed the demographics of the philanthropic sector looking back five and ten years, with a focus on the representation of women and people of color. Our recently released report, State of Change: An Analysis of Women and People of Color in the Philanthropic Sector, highlights findings based on that analysis.

Even our large dataset, however, lacked sufficient data for us to be able to conduct any meaningful analysis with regard to sexual orientation, gender identity, and physical/intellectual disability.

That raises a number of important questions. Are the LGBTQ population and people with disabilities simply underrepresented within the talent pool available to the sector? Are survey respondents reluctant to report on these particular demographics? There are no simple answers. Much has been said about the underrepresentation of women and people of color in top jobs at the nation's foundations, and several organizations have developed fellowship and pipeline programs designed to bolster the diversity of the next generation of philanthropic leaders. Role models such as the California Endowment's Robert K. Ross and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation's La June Montgomery Tabron also serve as champions for the importance of diverse and inclusive institutions that embrace equitable grantmaking practices.

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Quote of the Week

  • "For in tremendous extremities human souls are like drowning men; well enough they know they are in peril; — nevertheless, the sea is the sea, and these drowning men do drown...."

    — Herman Melville (1819-1891)

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