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Beyond AB 624: Reframing the Long View

July 03, 2008

1diversity_200411As we reported last week in PND and as Michael Seltzer noted in this post, ten of the largest foundations in California have agreed to make a multiyear, multimillion-dollar investment in minority and low-income communities in the state. In return, State Assemblyman Joe Coto (D-San Jose) has agreed to drop his sponsorship of AB 624 -- a bill that would have mandated the collection and posting by foundations of data about their grantmaking to communities of color -- effectively killing the bill.

(Image courtesy of the Council on Foundations and Foundation News & Commentary)

The ten signatories to the agreement -- the California Endowment and Ahmanson, California Wellness, Irvine, Annenberg, UniHealth, Hewlett, Parsons, Packard, and Weingart foundations,issued the following statement on June 24:

As leaders in the philanthropic community, we recognize that California's future depends on all of its communities enjoying meaningful opportunities to improve their quality of life. And, as one of the most diverse states in the nation, our future depends significantly on the success of the communities of color that together comprise a majority of our population.

Consistent with our institutions' particular missions, the intentions of our donors, our founding documents and any restrictions imposed by regulatory bodies, we reaffirm our continuing commitment to incorporating the values of effectiveness, diversity and inclusiveness into our all aspects of our work.

Nonprofit organizations throughout the state play a critical role in addressing the challenges facing minority and other predominantly low-income communities. Yet three systemic issues restrict the ability of these organizations to realize their full potential:

  • The lack of capacity of many minority-led organizations and other grassroots community-based organizations to compete for funding from large foundations.
  • The need for additional investment in capacity building and leadership development targeted at such organizations and leaders of color; and
  • The lack of access to larger foundations by many minority-led and other grassroots community-based nonprofits.

The [signatory] foundations, which represent some of California's largest philanthropic organizations, are committed to undertaking tangible actions to address these issues. In doing so, we shall build upon existing initiatives and will dedicate the resources necessary to carry out new ones. We expect that other foundations will join in these efforts.

By the end of 2008, we plan to announce a comprehensive set of grantmaking activities, which we expect to be overall in the multimillion dollar range and over several years, to begin in 2009 that will lead to increased funding for:

  1. Capacity-building support and technical assistance targeted to minority-led and grassroots, community-based organizations that primarily serve minority and low-income communities in California; and
  2. Support for leadership development activities that will bolster and train a diverse pipeline of executives, staff and board members for the nonprofit and philanthropic sectors.

We believe the organizations receiving funding for these capacity building and leadership activities will be involved in a variety of programmatic activities, including but not limited to: youth development, healthy communities, civic engagement, environmental justice, financial literacy and policy advocacy.

We are confident that, over time, these measures will increase and improve the efficacy of our and other donors’ funding of programs and services that will benefit minority and low-income communities in California.

As part of these grantmaking activities, we intend to meet on a periodic basis with key community leaders to review progress against stated objectives and to benefit from the perspectives of those who understand these issues and can inform our work. We will also report publicly on an annual basis on the activities undertaken by the foundations as part of this collaborative effort.

Finally, to help focus our efforts, we plan to supplement ongoing research on foundation giving in California with an independent study of the nonprofit sector in California, including the communities it serves, and the number of minority-led, community-based nonprofits and their capacity needs.

And with that, what was shaping up to be a "a clash between well-intentioned but misdirected intervention by government and defensive reactions from the philanthropic sector," to borrow Gara LaMarche's phrase, seems to have been defused -- for the moment, at any rate.

LaMarche's characterization of the mini-controversy can be found in the foreword to a collection of essays (24 pages, PDF) published earlier this spring by the Philanthropic Initiative for Racial Equity (PRE), a multiyear project that hopes "to increase the amount and effectiveness of resources aimed at combating institutional and structural racism in communities through capacity building, education, and convening of grantmakers and grantseekers." In addition to LaMarche's foreword, the collection includes essays by Rick Cohen ("Understanding AB 624"), David Cournoyer ("With Foundations as Partners, Communities of Color Can Share Creative Visions"), Rinku Sen ("Fund Racial Justice Strategies, Not Just Diversity"), Makani Themba-Nixon ("Can Counting Really Make a Difference?"), Arturo Vargas ("Data Collection Is an Important Tool for Building a More Vibrant Nonprofit Sector"), Karen Zelermeyer ("LGBTQ Funding and Racial Equity Funding: Can We Talk?"), Eva Patterson ("Our Dis-ease with Race"), and Lori Villarosa ("Beyond AB 624: Reframing for the Long View"), the project's executive director.

As Villarosa writes in her essay, the debate leading up to the agreement made "uncomfortable bedfellows" of "philanthropists who sincerely value racial and ethnic diversity (as evidenced by their grantmaking and past statements) and conservatives who have gone to great lengths to stop efforts to remedy discrimination [in American society]." With that in mind, the goal of the publication is to reframe much of the debate "toward meaningful and long-term strategies to increase philanthropic support for racial and social justice."

It's an admirable goal and a terrific collection of essays, at once thoughtful, well reasoned, and impassioned. If you're interested in the issue of diversity as it relates to foundations and the broader society, you owe it to yourself to spend an hour with it this weekend. And if you've got any suggestions as to how the diversity debate can be (productively) reframed, we'd love to hear them.

-- Mitch Nauffts

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Posted by Dan Bassill  |   July 05, 2008 at 12:36 PM

I would love to see these foundations team up with a company like ESRI and a company like Oracle who are leaders in the field of Geographic Information Systems and Database technolgies, and based in California.

The result might be maps like we show at http://tutormentor.blogspot.com that show the demographics and areas where foundation and public money are needed throughout the city of Chicago to support an entire sector of non profits doing similar work, for similar purpose, but in different areas and with different kids.

A use of these tools might help build a more consistent application and wider distribution of these funds over many years so that the problems the foundations and the state legislature focus on might be reduced.

Perhaps it's wishful thinking.

Posted by DJ  |   July 08, 2008 at 09:40 AM

I guess this makes me bit of a contrarian here, but it seems a terrible thing that the govt. tried to create mandates they had little business making, and basically forced these entities to knuckle under. That sets a bad precedent for the next time some "well intentioned" official has a bright idea- no matter how laudable the goal may be.

Posted by Aady Pitt  |   July 20, 2008 at 03:00 AM

I imagine this prepares me bit of a contrarian here, but it seems a terrible thing that the govt. tried to create mandates they had little business making, and basically pushed these entities to knuckle under.


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