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Now is the time for philanthropy to be bold: A Q&A with Isabelle Leighton, Interim Executive Director, Donors of Color Network

April 11, 2022

Headshot_Isabelle_Leighton_Donors_of_Color_Network_2Isabelle Leighton is interim executive director of Donors of Color Network, whose mission is to build systemic racial equity to be more reflective and accountable to communities of color. Leighton has 20 years of experience growing social justice and movement-oriented organizations, including Political Research Associates, where Leighton focused on supporting communities targeted by racist and misogynist forces during the Trump administration. Prior to that, Leighton was the founding director of Equality Fund, a philanthropic advocacy project, and served as NYC co-chair of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in Philanthropy. Leighton currently sits on the boards of the Solidago Foundation, Open City Labs, and the Institute for Research on Male Supremacism.

PND asked Leighton about barriers to donors of color achieving equitable attention and consideration, how media and other allies can assist in better recognizing donors of color, the role that race and racism play in the problems that philanthropists are working to solve, how the philanthropic sector could be more inclusive, philanthropy’s response to climate justice, and how best to demystify and educate the sector on the issues that mean the most to donors of color.

Philanthropy News Digest: While donors of color are not “new” or “emerging,” your report, Philanthropy Always Sounds Like Someone Else: A Portrait of High Net Worth Donors of Color indicates that “philanthropy writ large does not understand who high net worth donors of color are.” What are the barriers to donors of color achieving equitable attention and consideration?

Isabelle Leighton: Philanthropy has a history of being upheld by white supremacy and centered around class, race, and gender—omitting the experiences and stories from people of color entirely from funders to grantees. This has a direct impact on who and what receives funding. Donors of color face constant, historical barriers of entry to philanthropy that often overlook their work and interests in favor of their white counterparts. Donors of Color Network (DOCN) aims to shift the center of gravity in philanthropy towards racial and economic justice to knock down the traditional entry barriers for many donors of color. In doing so, we can address our most pressing issues equitably and create a welcoming space for BIPOC donors who bring experiences and resources invaluable to solving the most pressing issues of our time.

Media coverage is another major barrier to achieving equitable attention and consideration for donors of color. The stories of donors of color have rarely, if ever, been told, and that’s one of the main reasons behind our report. Media across the board needs to make an intentional effort to cover BIPOC donors and stories to amplify their work and raise awareness of the unique causes they fund and why. Our Portrait report revealed that nearly every single interviewee personally experienced racial or ethnic bias that influenced their philanthropic giving. These lived experiences led donors to prioritize social justice, women’s and gender rights, and racial justice as leading issues they want to support. Our goal with this report is to bring more awareness about the work of DOCN and draw more members into our movement to strengthen the voice and power of a philanthropic sector that is more reflective of the vibrant diversity of today’s most innovative problem solvers....

Read the full Q&A with Isabelle Leighton, interim executive director, Donors of Color Network.

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