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'What happens when funders don't center community voice in decision making': A commentary by Hannah Lee

September 07, 2021

Headshot_Hannah Lee_Cognizant_FoundationIt's time for philanthropy to trust and listen better to grantee partners

When Ralph Hoagland, the founder of CVS, recruited three hundred of his neighbors from the wealthy, liberal, and largely white Boston suburbs to donate to the Fund for Urban Negro Development (FUND) to support Black entrepreneurs, he promised a “no strings attached” approach to philanthropy. The group's aim was to support Black businesses and community organizations, build Black wealth, and foster community development across the city. FUND emphasized that Boston's Black leaders already had "the ability to solve the problems” facing their communities but just lacked the necessary resources to do so.

Importantly, the group promised not to interfere through "white controls, advice, or helpful hints." At the same time, FUND's white members did expect to serve as coaches and mentors. When Black leaders rejected some of the mentors' advice, members began pulling their support to FUND — and just four years after its launch, the group disbanded.

The story of FUND, more fully detailed in a research paper, took place more than half a century ago. But the rhetoric and eventual outcomes feel all too familiar. It serves as a powerful reminder about what happens when funders don't center community voice in decision making. And it remains a cautionary tale for those working in philanthropy today — especially in the wake of COVID-19 and our nationwide reckoning around racial justice....

Read the full commentary by Hannah Lee, a director at the Cognizant Foundation.

 

 

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