82 posts categorized "Native Americans"

A moment for arts and social change

July 06, 2021

Museum_of_Chinese_in_AmericaMacKenzie Scott's latest $2.74 billion round of grants made big news for the outsized impact one donor can have on the nonprofit sector and for its focus on tackling inequities. Also notable was the number of arts and cultural groups among the grantees — more specifically, organizations created by and for people of color who work every day to put arts and culture at the forefront of social transformation. 

This support indicates a sophisticated understanding of the primacy of cultural expression as a place of engagement with one another and society at large — essential to transformation for the common good.

Scott said the grants to organizations "from culturally rich regions and identity groups that donors often overlook" were aimed at "empowering voices the world needs to hear." As co-chairs of the Mosaic Network & Fund — which funds and promotes arts and cultural groups of color in New York City and is one of the beneficiaries on the list — we couldn't agree more.

These groups have been tireless in their efforts to showcase aesthetic excellence, preserve diverse cultural traditions, and advance social change, despite being resourced at a level vastly incommensurate with their importance. For example, Ballet Hispánico, a fifty-year-old contemporary dance company that performs classical and contemporary works, trains young dancers, and functions as a source of pride and identity for the community from which it arises. The smaller Mama Foundation for the Arts provides a vital training ground for youth gospel singers. Institutions like these are cultural markers that lift up the voices, stories, and experiences of Americans whose contributions are minimized in or excluded altogether from artistic canons.

Then there are groups such as the First People's Fund, which is investing in Native American artists and culture bearers to preserve handed-down traditions while acting as economic anchors for their communities, and the Museum of Chinese in America, which challenges false, harmful stereotypes to more fully tell the stories of Americans of Chinese descent. These groups bring to light overlooked or misunderstood facets of American history and culture. 

Still others have missions that intentionally fuse art and activism and incubate artists within the heart and soul of their communities. The Laundromat Project — whose early art projects were set in neighborhood laundromats — intertwines art making and community building, supporting creative leaders who rally neighbors around common causes such as housing and health and wellness. And Harlem-based Firelight Media develops documentary filmmakers of color and produces films about communities of color, often reaching national audiences.

These groups are ideal conduits for gathering and broadcasting the thoughts and ideas of people whose voices are scarcely heard. Art and culture tell us who we are and help us organize to tackle the urgent issues of our times, such as mass incarceration, immigration, and climate change.

Creating and presenting art is always a labor of love, but Scott's gifts remind us that artists and the groups that nurture them are an important investment. If we are to tell the American story fully and in all its richly textured splendor, their work is vital.

Equally important, it's time for all of us to join Scott in giving long overdue, meaningful recognition and support to African-American, Latinx, Asian-American/Pacific Islander, Arab-American, and Native American arts organizations that are essential to the vibrancy of our society. While we cannot all make gifts as large as Scott's, we must recognize the transformational role each of us can and must play to ensure that the arts embody the voices of all communities.

(Photo credit: Museum of Chinese in America)

Maruine_Knighton_Kerry_McCarthy_Mosaic_NYCT_PhilanTopicMaurine Knighton and Kerry McCarthy are co-chairs of the Mosaic Network & Fund in the New York Community Trust.

 

Intentional philanthropy to diversify science

May 17, 2021

News_scientists-in-labLast week, Michael Bloomberg announced a $150 million gift to my alma mater, Johns Hopkins University, to provide permanent funding for a hundred STEM PhD students from minority-serving institutions. The gift is noteworthy not for its amount but rather for its potential to increase PhD attainment for Black and Latinx students in STEM fields.

The initiative has the potential not only to signal change but to drive it. In the decade from 2010 to 2019, the share of Black Americans among all PhD recipients rose just over half a percentage point, from 4.9 percent to 5.5 percent. Assuming that representation at Hopkins is reflective of the national data, Bloomberg's gift could double the number of Black and Latinx students in Hopkins PhD programs. It's an important start, but not enough; long-term change will require a sea change in culture across all STEM fields.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) and other funders have been working to address the problem for decades, but several recent studies suggest that targeted funding at the PhD level does not translate to higher retention of Black and Latinx scientists in academia. A 2017 study found that Black faculty members made up only 0.7 percent of tenure-track faculty in biology across forty top institutions in the U.S., highlighting the dramatic attrition of Black PhDs over the course of the typical academic career trajectory. While most PhD scientists go on to have successful careers outside academia, it is nevertheless important to monitor the data for those who stay — not least because academic researchers play a key role in training future scientists, interfacing with clinical trial participants, and directing scientific inquiry. If Black scientists are choosing to seek other careers, we must stop to ask why and address the issues so that efforts to increase representation among scientists translate to all settings where scientists are engaged.

Funding, equity, and community

A decade ago, a study found that Black scientists were significantly less likely to receive a research grant from NIH than similarly qualified white colleagues. In 2019, NIH published a follow-up report showing that one contributing factor to the disparity was that Black researchers applied for funding in areas that were of lower overall priority to the federal agency. A seemingly obvious solution to the problem would be to encourage Black researchers to apply for grants in higher-priority areas. However, the critical questions should be: "Exactly who is determining health research priorities?" and "Are these priorities addressing the needs and perspectives of the whole population?"

Shifting to nonprofits and philanthropies, it is well documented that advisory recommendation boards lack diverse perspectives and are therefore less able to navigate and guide health research in ways that are most impactful for a diverse population. Increasing the diversity of the bodies that set priorities will feed back into research settings where Black scientists struggle to access funding for the topics they see as most important.

Beyond the differences in fields of study that Black, Indigenous, and people of color scientists choose, NIH has noted that the standard process by which scientific proposals are evaluated may drive disparities in funding. Overall, Black scientists are half as likely to receive key research grants from NIH. The agency has noted that proposals from BIPOC scientists are less likely to be discussed and, when discussed, tend to score lower on average. Given that the applications all came from highly accomplished researchers, the finding not only suggests systemic racism, it underscores how it is perpetuated.

Finally, funders and institutions must pay attention to how Black and Latinx student-scientists are supported when there are so few faculty members available to them. Nearly 6 percent of biology PhD recipients but only 0.7 percent of biology PhD faculty are Black — an imbalance that places a disproportionate amount of mentoring and role-modeling responsibilities on a relatively small number of faculty. Increasing diversity among STEM scholars and scientists must not come at the expense of increasing the workloads of BIPOC faculty. Funders and institutions can help address these challenges by providing more support for Black faculty and/or acknowledging the existence of these disparities in the review process.

Last fall, many of us celebrated MacKenzie Scott's investment in the endowments of historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs). Today, we cheer Mike Bloomberg's effort to connect these programs to top-tier STEM PhD programs. And we hope his investment will set the stage for other funders, philanthropic and public, to support scholars of color at every stage of their scientific careers. All funders must take a deep, critical look at their priorities, vetting processes, and advisory protocols. After all, what better way is there to further the change you want to see?

Altimus-Cara_PhilanTopicCara Altimus, PhD, is a senior director at the Milken Institute Center for Strategic Philanthropy.

5 Questions for...Carly Bad Heart Bull, Executive Director, Native Ways Federation

April 13, 2021

Carly Bad Heart Bull joined the Native Ways Federation (NWF) in April 2020 as its executive director. Launched in 2006 in Longmont, Colorado, by the American Indian College Fund, American Indian Science and Engineering Society, Association on American Indian Affairs, First Nations Development Institute, National Indian Child Welfare Association, Native American Rights Fund, and Running Strong for American Indian Youth, NWF is focused on activating and expanding informed giving to Native-led organizations through donor education and advocacy. To that end, NWF is working to bring together Native organizations and raise awareness and support for the communities they serve, strengthen Native nonprofits, and ensure the highest levels of ethical standards and fiscal responsibility across the sector.

Prior to joining NFW, Bad Heart Bull, who is Bdewakantunwan Dakota/Muskogee Creek and a citizen of the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe in South Dakota, managed the Bush Foundation's work with twenty-three Native nations across Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota and served on an advisory committee for the Investing in Native Communities portal, a joint project of Native Americans in Philanthropy and Candid. She holds a juris doctorate and previously served as an assistant county attorney for the Hennepin County Attorney's Office in Minneapolis; led a successful campaign to restore the Dakota name of the city's largest lake, Bde Maka Ska; and in 2019 was selected by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation as a Community Leadership Network Fellow.

PND asked her about the impact of COVID-19 on Native communities, Native efforts to address climate change, and the role of language in racial equity efforts.

Headshot_Carly_Bad_Heart_Bull_Native_Ways_Federation_KelloggPhilanthropy News Digest: Native American communities have experienced disproportionately higher infection and mortality rates than the general population during the COVID-19 pandemic. To what do you attribute those disparities?

Carly Bad Heart Bull: COVID-19 disproportionately affects communities of color, and Native people are at an especially heightened risk because of numerous factors, including limited access to quality health services, inadequate housing, lack of access to clean and safe water, and other infrastructure issues. Native people are also more likely to suffer from diabetes, heart disease, and other underlying conditions that put them at significant risk.

All these community issues connect back to the U.S. government's failure to comply with historical treaty obligations to fund basic services in exchange for tribal land. The impacts of colonization continue to have detrimental effects on our nations and our people. Our tribes and Native-led organizations are working hard to address these issues, and many of them are doing amazing innovative work. However, they need increased funding and supports in order to most effectively serve their communities. This need existed before the pandemic and it's even greater now. For example, many of our Native language speakers, the majority being elders, have died in the past year from COVID-19. Our Indigenous languages are central to who we are as Native people; they embody the essence of our cultures and teach us Indigenous worldviews and ways of being that connect us to one another and to the land. Assimilation efforts by the U.S. government, including education policies such as the development and implementation of boarding schools and relocation policies, were aimed at disconnecting our people from these important cultural resources. Language teachers and advocates in our communities have been working hard to revitalize our languages for years. It's imperative that this work continues and grows — now more than ever — as we have even fewer fluent speakers to learn from due to the pandemic.

I would also note that we don't yet know the full impact of COVID-19 on Native communities, in part because of the issue of inaccurate and misclassified data as it relates to our communities. It's an important story that needs to be better understood and addressed.

PND: How has philanthropy, both Native-based and more broadly, responded to the needs of Indigenous communities during the pandemic? Have you seen an increase in philanthropic investments in Native communities?

CBHB: Philanthropy responded quickly in many respects. Many foundations increased their giving amounts, and we saw a large number of foundations reduce restrictions on existing and new grants, providing opportunities for organizations to adapt appropriately and use their grant funds in ways that best served the people and communities they were intended to serve during these unprecedented times. At the same time, I've talked to Native nonprofit leaders who lost revenue they depended on because they weren't able to host fundraising events, and in many cases increased philanthropic support hasn't made up for those losses.

That said, I do think the data will show an uptick in funding — a response, in my view, not only to the impacts of the virus but to the greater call to action on behalf of Native communities and communities of color sparked by the murder of George Floyd. We are still not where we need to be, but I remain cautiously optimistic.

One thing I am concerned about is whether any increase in funding for Native communities will be sustained, or just be a one-time philanthropic reaction. I hope the answer is the former. I hope that foundations continue to pay attention to the underlying infrastructure issues that resulted in Native people and communities being disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, and that support for tribes and Native-led organizations continues to increase and not decline as the COVID-19 numbers start to fall. Philanthropy needs to support systemic change efforts that are led and guided by Native people so that our people not only survive, but can thrive in a post-COVID world.

PND: According to data compiled by Investing in Native Communities, large U.S. foundations have allocated just 0.4 percent of their total annual grantmaking to Native American communities and causes since 2006. What, in your opinion, are the factors behind the lack of funding for Native communities, and what is the Native Ways Federation doing to address it?

CBHB: That's correct, and that's also despite the fact that Native peoples comprise 2 percent of the U.S. population and, even more importantly, are the original people of this land. That same analysis found that only 20 percent of large foundations give to Native communities or causes at all. There are multiple factors at play here, and one of the biggest issues is that of invisibility. This country has done a terrible job of educating the broader population about Native history and people. A 2019 NCAI report found that 87 percent of state history standards include no mention of Native American history post-1900, and twenty-seven states don't even mention Native peoples in their K-12 curriculum. According to the dominant narrative, we are a people of the past. But the fact is, we are still here and we matter. There is really important work happening, much of it led by Native nonprofits, to lift up Native visibility and perspectives with a focus on truth-telling and healing.

I've done quite a bit of speaking on the importance of increased philanthropic support for Native organizations and tribes, and one of the responses I've heard too many times to count is, "We'd love to help, but we don't have a program for that." While intentional programs for funding Native communities are great, they aren't always necessary. It's more than likely that any area a foundation is investing in — whether that be education, health, the environment, economic development — is an area where Native organizations and tribes are doing important, necessary work, and that work should be supported.

NWF is working to address these issues in multiple ways. Our seven founding member organizations started coming together a number of years ago in part to address the lack of philanthropic funding for Native-led organizations and the fact that we were seeing a large percentage of funding intended for Native communities actually going to non-Native organizations. It's still a problem. A large part of NWF's work is focused on donor education and advocacy in support of Native-led nonprofits, because we know that we are best situated to effectively serve our communities. And we are further developing our collective voice in philanthropic spaces to hold foundations accountable and to strengthen the Native nonprofit sector on our own terms.

I came to NWF with experience as a Native program officer, and I hope to build on some of that previous work. For example, at the Bush Foundation we did a major analysis of our grantmaking in Native communities and found that our coding practices were inconsistent and that our grantmaking data were not always accurate. This is a bigger philanthropic-sector issue that needs to be discussed more broadly. I actually believe that the 0.4 percent number is inflated — in large part as a result of foundation grant data inaccurately reported as "serving" Native communities. This may not even be intentional, but it needs to be addressed, and it's an area where we at NWF hope to do more work in influencing change within the sector.

PND: You've said that your earlier career as an assistant county attorney taught you "to speak a new language — the language of law and how to navigate systems of power," and that institutional philanthropy needs to develop a common language as it evolves "from a transactional to a relational practice." What kinds of things would such a common language address?

CBHB: For one, the grant coding issue I just discussed; there needs to be a more consistent sector-wide effort toward making sure that grant data is being accurately reported. Current grant reporting by foundations falsely benefit the foundations themselves rather than the communities they are trying to serve, as they may believe they are serving certain demographics at a rate that they are not. Data tell an important story — and there needs to be more conversation and movement toward making sure the story is being consistently and accurately shared.

Also, there needs to be an emphasis on relationship and trust building. That means taking care of one another and recognizing the roles that we each play in the broader effort toward realizing a healthier society. For too long, grantee organizations have been expected to learn the language of institutional philanthropy in order to receive funding, rather than foundations better understanding, and reflecting, the communities they serve. This type of transactional relationship is imbalanced, and it doesn't serve anyone well in the long run.

Native organizations work closely with the communities they serve, and they need to be appropriately resourced to do their work as effectively as possible. That means not only increasing funds but also increasing flexibility in terms of how foundations fund. It means increasing general operating support and trusting that we know best what to do with the funds. And it means reducing extensive reporting requirements — let us focus on the work rather than on writing detailed overburdensome reports. One thing it doesn't mean is that we don't have to communicate — we should be checking in, building relationships, and learning from one another.

PND: You've noted that Indigenous wisdom and ways of being are integral to the vitality of communities and the planet. How do you envision philanthropy's role at the intersection of racial and environmental justice? And what can it do, or do more of, to support Native advocacy for climate action?

CBHB: Philanthropy needs to increase support of Native-led environmental justice efforts — we will all be better for it. Native people are the original stewards of this planet, and the solutions to some of the most pressing environmental issues we are facing — such as climate change — can be found within the ideologies and practical applications of Indigenous wisdom.

Yet very little of the philanthropic dollars that go to environmental justice efforts go to Native-led organizations or tribes. That needs to change. A great majority of the wealth in the philanthropic sector was accumulated at the expense of communities of color, Native nations and people, and the environment. The extraction of natural resources, the removal of Native people from their homelands, the use of forced labor — these violent extractive and transactional actions have had a detrimental effect on our communities and on the environment. Philanthropy needs to hold itself accountable for the destruction that has taken place in our homelands and they need to support Native-led environmental justice efforts working to protect, restore, and heal this planet while we still can.

I'm optimistic of the future because I need to be for my son. Our work to restore the Dakota name of the biggest lake in Minneapolis, Bde Maka Ska, was and is important because we are the original people of Mnistoa Makoce (aka Minnesota, or Where the Water Reflects the Sky); I want him to grow up knowing where he comes from and to be proud of who he is and of his people. Creating a better world for him, and for future generations yet to be born, is what keeps me going. My ancestors went through a lot so that I could be here, and now I have the responsibility to carry that legacy forward. It's also past time for non-Native people in this country, including in the philanthropic sector, to listen to and act in support of our Native nations and our Native-led organizations and efforts. We will all be better for it.

— Kyoko Uchida

Jobs for America’s Graduates supports our nation’s most vulnerable students

March 29, 2021

Jobs for Americas GraduatesJobs for America's Graduates (JAG) was founded forty years ago to address the inequities experienced by too many young adults in America. Over those four decades, JAG participants have shown that a well-executed model can help those historically held back by discrimination, poverty, and other barriers achieve equal or greater success in high school, postsecondary education, and employment. As a national nonprofit with affiliates in 40 states operating across 1,450 communities, JAG reaches 76,000 of the most underserved youth in America each year, providing them with the essential skills they need for success.

As the country continues to grapple with the ongoing pandemic and renewed calls to address racial and social inequities, JAG continues to support young people who have been hardest hit — and are likely to be impacted the longest. JAG represents the diversity of America and serves people of color, those with disabilities, the economically disadvantaged, and other underserved populations with programs that help them achieve equality in outcomes and opportunities.

During the past year – and throughout its forty-year history — JAG has achieved remarkable outcomes. Consider the following:

  • JAG students achieved a 97 percent high school graduation rate in 2020, which is higher than the 84 percent national graduation rate. And JAG serves the lowest performing 20 percent to 40 percent of the high school population.
  • JAG graduates are 230 percent more likely to be employed full-time than their non-JAG peers, and for African-American participants the rate is nearly 290 percent.
  • JAG graduates are twice as likely to go on to postsecondary education as their non-JAG peers.
  • The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that as of May 31, 2020, the highest unemployment rates in the nation were experienced by youth 18 to 19 years old (30+ percent). But for the JAG Class of 2019, the rate was less than 11 percent — a third that of the national average for all youth in that age group, not just the most vulnerable students served by JAG.

JAG achieves these kinds of outcomes thanks to a "village" of supporters, including governors, nineteen thousand employer partners, donors, legislators, school administrators, and other champions and advocates. Fourteen of the nation's acting governors serve on the JAG board of directors — the largest number of governors serving on any board in the country. The board is chaired by Gov. John Bel Edwards (D-LA), with support from vice chair Kim Reynolds (R-IA). Indeed, JAG has benefited from bipartisan support since its inception, while legislatures in twenty-four states have continued their support for the organization, recognizing that the most underserved populations need our services today more than ever.

Behind the scenes, JAG Specialists (teachers) are the key to student success, managing the day-to-day with their students, helping students master JAG’s 37 Employability Skills Competencies, and showing unwavering support for their kids.

Among other things, they:

  • Serve as a lifeline for their students. JAG Specialists often are the most consistently present adult in their students' lives, offering guidance that helps disadvantaged young people stay in school, graduate on time, and pursue postsecondary education and/or a career. In addition, because JAG is a trauma-informed organization, JAG Specialists have been able to help their students overcome feelings of anxiety, depression, and isolation stemming from the COVID crisis.
  • Go above and beyond for their students. JAG students (and their families) have been disproportionally impacted by job losses during the pandemic, with many no longer able to depend on regular paychecks to cover their basic expenses. During the pandemic, JAG Specialists have delivered groceries to food-insecure families that might otherwise not eat, laundered students’ uniforms to ensure they have clean clothes to wear to work, and provided masks and cleaning supplies to students and families in need as well as learning materials where Internet access is not available.
  • Have worked tirelessly with school districts, our corporate partners, and other supporters to provide much-needed tech equipment and connectivity during the pandemic. The sudden, unplanned switch to remote and/or hybrid learning in many school districts spotlighted the homework gap: students without access to technology are at a distinct disadvantage. For vulnerable youth who already faced economic and academic challenges, this leads to a growing risk that they will wind up a lost generation. JAG has partnered with companies like T-Mobile and AT&T to provide computers and connectivity to JAG students so they can stay engaged and involved with school, jobs, and support systems.
  • Provide virtual job-readiness training. JAG Specialists have always trained their students in the organization's thirty-seven job-readiness skills (e.g., resume writing, interview prep, etc.). Now, they're doing it virtually, preparing students to enter one of the most daunting job markets in recent history.
  • Facilitate partnerships. JAG Specialists, working with JAG National, are securing employment and learning partnerships with companies like Adecco, McDonald’s, Honeywell, Synchrony, AT&T, and Entergy. These partners provide JAG students with real-world experience, mentoring, and — often — their first jobs.

While JAG has enjoyed overwhelming support during this difficult year from its partners, donors, legislators, administrators, and teachers, it’s also important to acknowledge the 76,000 JAG students who rose to the occasion, showing their resilience and determination in the face of adversity. They are the real heroes in this story.

Headshot_kenneth-m-smithKen Smith serves as president and CEO of Jobs for America's Graduates (JAG), the nation's largest dropout prevention and school-to-career transition program for young people of promise. He also serves as a trustee of the America's Promise Alliance, a cross-sector partnership of more than three hundred corporations, nonprofits, faith-based organizations, and advocacy groups that are passionate about improving lives and changing outcomes for children and young people.

Empathetic leadership during the storm

March 17, 2021

Texas storm capture"Lead with an iron fist," said some.

"Never let them see you cry," others recommended.

"You were born to lead," many affirmed.

Countless people have offered advice and encouragement to me as a leader over the years. Yet the idea of empathy in leadership has rarely been addressed.

As a Black female nonprofit executive in Texas who earlier this winter found herself in a vulnerable moment, I feel compelled to record some of my struggles. First there was the pandemic, followed by the killing of George Floyd and heightened racial tensions, and then — boom! — a winter storm with near-zero temperatures that collapsed the state's power grid and left millions of Texans in dark, unheated homes. Even as it was happening, I knew it was going to be bad, and most likely deadly.

My first instinct was to reach out to my staff and inquire about their housing, food, and other needs. In my experience, employers in times of crisis rarely do wellness checks on their employees (other than to inquire whether the employee will be coming into work or not). While nonprofits are quick to respond to community needs during a disaster, how many organizations offer direct support to their own staff? As an empathetic leader, I was concerned first and foremost that those closest to me were safe and out of harm's way.

During the deep freeze, I considered my teams' mental health and reminded them of our EAP program and insurance plans that could assist with counseling. With a team comprised largely of women of color, I understood how responses to crisis and trauma live in our bodies. But in my role as executive director of Faith in Texas, I also knew I had to consider all the harms suffered by the communities my organization serves.

Where did that leave me? Self-care seems to be the rage these days, but it's much easier said than done. Infuriated by the lack of accountability on the part of Texas officials, ERCOT, and electric companies serving the state, I decided to take a break from the news. But within an hour, an employee texted me asking if we could help dozens of families that had been locked out of their hotel rooms and had nowhere to go.

It was then that the magnitude of the crisis became apparent. This wasn't a time for self-care. As a single mother, my heart ached for the displaced mothers and their children. I imagined them trying to survive the freezing cold, dealing with harsh conditions as they scrambled to find public transportation to the suburbs, where mutual aid groups could secure them rooms. I imgained them trying to find food to eat, water to drink, hygiene products, even underwear for themselves and their kids.

It was more or less the same thing the employee who texted me was experiencing. A Black woman and mother of small children, she, too, was scrambling to find temporary housing. And yet she was advocating for others in crisis; self-care would have to wait.

In the days that followed, family and business colleagues from around the country reached out to check on me and my sons. And my answer to their first question was always, "I'm fine. Grateful to be safe, warm and healthy." But I was numb.

Through my contacts, I began to hear about helpers on the front lines — heroic individuals, small nonprofits, and local Black churches that were doing crucial, in-the-moment work to help people survive. I knew their names wouldn't be mentioned during funder calls. And while local and national media outlets were making an efort to highlight the work they were doing and individuals around the country were responding to calls for donations, I realized I had a responsibility to elevate all the organizations and people who were selflessly neglecting their own self-care to provide critical services. Truth be told, I wasn't sure if every organization had 501(c)(3) status, but that hardly seemed to matter. They needed — and deserved — all the resources they coud get. And they deserved to be trusted to use the money — not just in-kind donations —  in an effective manner. Standing up for grassroots organizations is another role I embrace.

Leading with empathy probably isn't the best long-term strategy for a Black female nonprofit executive looking to impress large funders and donors, but, inspired by John Hope Bryant's Love Leadership, it's the legacy I prefer to leave. Like Bryant, I recognize that there can be no strength without suffering, no power without vulnerability. As Black women calling for equity and healing, my sisters and I speak out of love and respect, from a history of suffering, and mindful of our own vulnerability. All we ask is that you give us an opportunity to show our greatness.

(Photo credit: Mario Cantu/Cal Sport Meia via AP Images)

Headshot_Akilah Wallace_cropAkilah S. Wallace is executive director of Faith in Texas. This article originally appeared in the Opinions section of  Women of Color in Fundraising and Philanthropy.

Climate philanthropy beyond the check: holding banks accountable

February 18, 2021

Pumpjack in Alberta Oilfield_GettyImagesClimate philanthropists are often called on to support grassroots activists fighting fossil fuel projects in their backyards — like the Black community in Louisiana's Cancer Alley that is protesting the siting of yet another petrochemical plant or the Standing Rock Sioux fighting the Dakota Access Pipeline. A growing awareness of environmental justice means we look to fund folks who are directly impacted by the project in question, as they're usually the ones with the best solution. That's a positive development.

But philanthropists can do more to support climate action — and they can do it without having to give more dollars. How? By using the clout we have with our banks.

While individuals and foundations give generously in support of frontline climate activists, most of our wealth is parked in banks that use those funds in ways that exacerbate the problems we're trying to address. Big banks like JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Bank of America, Citibank, and Morgan Stanley are major funders of the fossil fuel industry and provide many of the players in that space with unrestricted lines of credit. That money, in turn, is used to fund the projects our grantees are fighting to stop.

Sound wacky? It is.

Enbridge's Line 3 project is a case in point. In northern Minnesota, Chippewa water protectors have been sitting in trees and in front of bulldozers, fighting to stop construction of what has been billed as a "replacement" tar sands pipeline across three hundred and thirty-seven miles of treaty-protected lands and waterways used by the Chippewa since time immemorial for hunting, fishing, and wild rice gathering. Pipelines leak; sooner or later, they do. The Line 3 pipeline would transport more than 900,000 barrels of diluted bitumen (tar sands) over two hundred different water sources to Enbridge's refinery each and every day. The completion of Line 3 would also lock us into another half century — the lifetime of a pipeline — of tar sands pollution and the further destruction of Alberta's boreal forest. Tar sands are an environmental injustice of historic proportions perpetrated on Canadian First Nations and a climate tragedy for all of us.

Many philanthropists have provided support to the groups that are fighting Line 3 and getting arrested on these cold winter days; they include GINIW, MN350, and Honor the Earth. The work of these activists truly is heroic, and they deserve our support. But we have influence beyond our philanthropic dollars, because Enbridge needs a new loan if it is to complete the pipeline, and that loan likely will be coming from your banks.

Nearly three dozen big banks currently underwrite a $12 billion-plus "credit facility" for Enbridge. One loan is up for renewal at the end of March, another in July. The lead agents in the U.S. are Bank of America, TD Bank (a Canadian bank with a strong U.S. presence), and Wells Fargo. These banks will orchestrate the securitized funding with participation from Citigroup, Huntington Bancshares, JP Morgan Chase, Morgan Stanley, and Truist Financial.

What's more, the loan to Enbridge is an unrestricted line of credit, meaning the company can build whatever it wants with the funds. Interestingly, many of the same banks that extend credit to Enbridge have made commitments to align their loan portfolios with the Paris Agreement, including achieving net-zero carbon emissions in those portfolios. JP Morgan has adapted a "Paris-aligned financing commitment" that says, in part,  "[we] will establish intermediate emission targets for 2030 for [our] financing portfolio," while Morgan Stanley has announced that it intends to reach net-zero financed emissions by 2050. Elsewhere, Bank of America has joined the Partnership for Carbon Accounting Financials (PCAF), a Dutch organization that measures the financing of carbon emissions, with BofA vice chair Anne Finucane announcing that "we are helping to drive a consistent framework for institutions to measure financed emissions, as well as providing a useful tool in the management of these emissions...."

Despite such statements, participating in an unrestricted credit facility that enables Enbridge to complete Line 3 means these banks have no current plan to meaningfully address or measure financed emissions — let alone  "manage" them. Indeed, by going ahead with the loan, these same banks are increasing their financing for carbon emissions. 

High-net-worth clients of these banks can and should be questioning them about their hypocrisy. We should ask — no, demand — that they not just measure financed emissions but take action to reduce them. Banks listen; they care about their reputations. In response to a spate of negative publicity, demands from the G'wichin people, and much client pressure, all six big U.S. money-center banks and dozens of international ones recently announced they will not fund drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. These are just a few of the examples of successful environmental pressure campaigns brought to bear on banks.

It may seem like a tough ask to suggest to your bank how it should conduct its business. It's not. First of all, it's your bank, and it needs your deposits. Second, you're only asking them to observe and strengthen their own commitments to climate action and environmental justice. And third, with "peak oil" upon us, banks will benefit from our prodding, in that the actions they take to address climate change almost certainly will improve their bottom lines. Don't believe me? Consider: the market capitalization of Exxon Mobil (XOM), which peaked above $500 billion in 2007, no longer is large enough for the company to be included in the Dow Jones, while the two best performing equity funds in 2020 were Invesco clean energy funds. The times they are a-changin'.

Foundations and high-net-worth donors can help advance the climate action movement by raising their voices. For some, that might be more difficult than writing a check, but it's really not that hard — and the upside is, well, exponential. Imagine if no one had to chain themselves to an Enbridge bulldozer; imagine if Enbridge couldn't secure the funds it needs to build Line 3. Imagine the impact your action would have on Native communities, ranchers, and farmers — not just tomorrow but for generations to come.

Fellow philanthropists, let's make our voices heard. Starting with Line 3, let's demand that our banks and bankers stop funding the climate crisis.

(Photo credit: GettyImages)

Jill Soffer_PhilanTopicJill Soffer is co-founder of Our Part, a foundation that funds climate and democracy work, with a focus on movement building initiatives.  She also serves on the boards of the Sierra Club Foundation, the Wilderness Workshop, and the NRDC Action Fund and recently founded Banking for Climate, a campaign aimed at engaging high-net-worth individuals, families, foundations, and businesses to ask their banks to stop funding fossil fuel expansion.

5 Questions for...Lisa Mensah, President and CEO, Opportunity Finance Network

January 15, 2021

After serving for two years as under secretary of agriculture for rural development in the Obama administration, Lisa Mensah joined Opportunity Finance Networka leading network of community development financial institutions, as president and CEO in March 2017. In November, with a $100 million investment from Twitter, OFN announced the launch of the Finance Justice Fund, a socially responsible investment fund aimed at raising $1 billion in grant capital to address racial injustice and persistent poverty in the United States. 

PND asked Mensah about the initial response to the fund, the impact of COVID-19 on the efforts of community development financial institutions, and the persistent lack of investment in rural communities.

Lisa_Mensah_squarePhilanthropy News Digest: What kind of response to the Finance Justice Fund have you gotten from corporate and philanthropic investors since the fund's launch in November? And are you on track to meet your fundraising goal?

Lisa Mensah: It's been wonderful to see the strong interest from both corporations and philanthropies in the work we're doing to finance justice. OFN is in discussion with potential new Finance Justice Fund investors; some of them are new to the CDFI industry and some are longtime partners. All understand that now is the moment to invest in Black and minority communities — the nationwide call for economic justice is louder and stronger than ever. We have a path to meeting our $1 billion goal and expect to announce new investment partners in the first quarter of 2021.  

PND: What was the genesis of the fund? Was it in the works before COVID-19 was declared a public health emergency and nationwide racial justice protests erupted after the killing of George Floyd last spring, or was it created in response to those twin crises? 

LM: Justice takes money, and CDFIs exist to finance justice. Our field started as a small grassroots movement to counter discrimination in banking and investing — the earliest CDFIs were created to provide financial services and support to people that banks wouldn't or couldn't serve. We've grown into a $222 billion industry that works to address longstanding disinvestment, the racial wealth gap, and persistent poverty by investing in people and communities left behind by mainstream finance. So the roots of the fund are really in our industry's history and unique role as community lenders. 

For years, OFN has been advocating for more public- and private-sector investment in communities underserved by mainstream finance. Since I joined OFN in 2017, we've been listening to our CDFIs and exploring new programs that would help the industry go bigger and bring new partners to our work. Then 2020 happened. 

The overlap of a pandemic-related economic crisis that disproportionally hurt low-income and minority communities and widespread calls for social justice put CDFIs front and center as a way to address both. The forces of 2020 — and interest from new corporate partners like Twitter — accelerated our plans. 

The Finance Justice Fund is just one result. In March 2020, OFN also welcomed Google as a partner: With OFN as the intermediary, the company is investing $170 million from its corporate treasury and $10 million from its philanthropic arm into CDFIs to help minority and women-owned small businesses. This mix of debt and grant capital is the type of investment we need to scale. 

PND: How has COVID-19 impacted OFN's and member CDFIs' programs and priorities? Are there lessons learned that might be applicable to the broader nonprofit sector?   

LM: The communities CDFIs serve are the communities that have been hurt most by the economic and health impacts of the pandemic, and so they have been very busy. 

From the very beginning of the crisis, OFN — the organization of thirty-five staff members and the network of more than three hundred CDFIs — understood the threat facing our communities and borrowers. In response, our member CDFIs have established new ways of providing services and support to borrowers. They have been proactive about easing the economic disruption for America's smallest, most vulnerable businesses, nonprofits, and homeowners, making loan accommodations, and standing up new loan programs. Many CDFIs have also helped small businesses adjust their business models to meet the new realities of stay-at-home mandates and changes in customer behavior. Our response from the beginning was focused on survival and recovery for our communities. 

One lesson for our industry and the broader nonprofit sector is that recovery from a major crisis demands partnerships, and that when those partnerships are strong we can move America forward. The last ten months have seen new partnerships with philanthropy, impact investors, corporations, and government. Never again should the CDFI field think of itself as insignificant. We must see ourselves as essential partners to the big work of having an economy that works for all. 

PND: The phrases "racial injustice" and "communities with high rates of poverty and disinvestment" are more often associated with urban, rather than rural, areas. What's behind that disconnect, and what are the implications — for rural communities in general, and for BIPOC residents of those communities in particular? 

LM: The truth is that racial injustice and high rates of poverty and disinvestment exist in both urban and rural areas. Persistent poverty in America — extreme poverty rates of more than 20 percent for more than thirty years — exists in more than ten thousand census tracts, roughly 14 percent of all U.S. neighborhoods. It has a strong hold in many rural communities: 19 percent of areas characterized by persistent poverty are rural, and millions of rural people live in persistent poverty. We also don't hear much about the racial diversity that exists in rural America. We don't think of Native communities or Black communities or Latino communities when we think about rural America, but these are vibrant and important populations in rural America.

I've focused on rural development for much of my professional life. One of the key questions is how to alleviate and begin to reverse the economic distress that has been driven by the systemic loss or contraction of major sectors of the economy such as agriculture, forestry, mining, and manufacturing. The community developer's challenge is to find ways to create wealth and livelihoods by reinvigorating local economies and connecting to larger urban/regional markets. CDFIs do this but also retain a racial equity lens and are willing to make loans to the communities and people who have too often been ignored. This is true in both rural and urban areas. 

And, of course, rural and minority communities live under the double-edged sword of poverty and racism — they've suffered the most historically and suffer the most from crises like COVID-19, climate change, and economic upheaval. 

PND: Your career has spanned the private, public, and social sectors, and you've led collaborative efforts across all three sectors. What has been your North Star in your work over the years? And what are your hopes for the incoming Biden administration with respect to policies that support racial and economic justice?   

LM: Economic justice has been my North Star — for me, that means fighting for financial capital to reach all people and communities. Financial capital is the fuel that drives economic opportunity, and I'm on a lifelong journey to help make sure that the allocation of capital is inclusive. 

I have many hopes for the Biden administration. It is exciting to see the administration embrace a goal of advancing racial equity and then to define this goal as spurring investment in small business opportunities, investing in homeownership and access to affordable housing for Black, Brown, and Native families, and ensuring that racial equity is considered in federal procurement and federal investments in infrastructure, clean energy, and agriculture. These are all policies to which CDFIs have much to contribute.  

CDFIs understand that government policies helped create the racial wealth gap and government policies must help end it. In the last week of 2020, Congress passed a historic government investment in CDFIs as part of the most recent COVID relief bill: $12 billion for CDFIs and minority depository institutions (MDIs). This is a giant step forward for our industry and the communities we serve. But injustice is persistent and tenacious, and we won't undo it with one bold step.

So, I'm considering that federal investment as a down payment, and I hope we can build on it in the months and years to come.  

— Kyoko Uchida

Make America whole: how to heal our divided society

January 08, 2021

America_dividedOn Wednesday, a white man strolled into an office, settled down in a leather chair, and casually put his dirty boots on the desk in front of him. I saw this, and I wept.

For this was not his office, but that of Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. She had been evacuated by armed police for her own protection, and the man, Richard Barnett, was part of a pro-Trump mob of domestic terrorists who had smashed their way into the U.S. Capitol building. It had been a long and traumatic day at the end of a long and traumatic four years, and this is what reduced me to tears — a photograph of a white man with his feet up.

How very easily he and his fellow extremists had strolled, virtually unchallenged by police, through the halls of power. How comfortably he committed the crime of sedition, disgracing our country while the whole world watched in amazement. How warmly he was praised for his thuggery by a president who called him a "very special person" and a "patriot."

I wept for our national humiliation and for the violation of our precious, fragile democracy. I wept for all the Black protesters who just six months previously had knelt on the hard, hot streets outside that very building to peacefully proclaim that their lives matter and who had been beaten, pepper-sprayed, and arrested for their pains.

Many of the rioters who stormed the Capitol in the dying days of Donald Trump's nightmarish presidency had tattoos linking them to White supremacist groups with their roots in some of the darkest — or perhaps whitest — chapters of U.S. history. Racism and its dreadful consequences are deeply engrained in our past and have never been fully resolved. Our present is tainted by the ongoing devaluation of those with Black and brown bodies: we can still hear their blood crying from the ground.

I truly believe that the struggle for justice for all will succeed one day, but not before we, as a nation, own the sin of racism. Its horrors cannot be negated; they must be examined honestly and repented, and the pernicious myth of race dismantled for good.

But rather than seek retaliation against those who are taken in by racist lies and madcap conspiracy theories, we should reach out to them. We should strive for reconciliation, for with God's blessings of forgiveness and grace, even the worst of us can be turned away from evil in repentance and redirected toward good. And if it proves beyond us to change the minds of these people, then we must hope to teach their children the true values of democracy. We must show them how to love those who don't look or sound like their parents, so that this hatred does not poison the hearts of another generation of Americans.

Sadly, the divisions we face today are wounds that go well beyond a few extremist groups; they permeate our society. President-elect Biden is now fighting to mend the soul of America. He cannot do it alone or quickly — a cure will take decades — but he can lead us all in taking bold steps toward healing.

Wounds must be allowed to breathe: first, we must talk openly to one another about our discontent and our anger, our fears and our hopes. And we must listen. This will require love, civility, and courage, but we should not rest until we find common ground. We may be surprised by how much unites us. We all have a soul. We all dream of a better future for ourselves and our children. We are all patriots. We all long for justice. We are all God's children.

Having acknowledged our shared humanity, the next step will be to repair our broken nation. Politicians, faith and community leaders, and educators all have their roles to play, but each of us has the capacity to offer our own unique solution: look into your heart and ask yourself, What can I do to make the world better? How can I overcome my suspicion of the "other" and truly attempt to engage with, understand, and even love someone whose ideology is utterly different from my own? How can I redirect our energies toward the common good?

If I could, I would sit down in a neutral space somewhere with that man who put his feet up on Speaker Pelosi's desk. I would ask him what he was hoping to achieve that day, what he was so angry about and why. I would try to really listen to his answers, however abhorrent I mighr find his beliefs. I suspect he would tell me he thought he was fighting to save democracy, because he saw it as the very soul of America, the source of all hope. That, surely, is one thing we would be able to agree on. And perhaps it would be a start...

Headshot_keith_mageeKeith Magee, author of the forthcoming Prophet Justice: Essays and Reflections on Race, Religion and Politics, is a theologian, public intellectual, and social justice scholar. He is also chair and professor of social justice at Newcastle University and a senior fellow in culture and justice at University College London.

How Social Issues Influenced Voting by Young Americans

November 24, 2020

VotingsizedThe research team I lead at Cause and Social Influence tracks the behaviors and motivations of young Americans (ages 18-30) with respect to social issues and movements. And while plenty of issues have drawn the attention of young Americans in 2020 — not least COVID-19 — our latest research finds that one issue In particular drove young Americans to vote in the recent U.S. presidential election: racial equity for Black Americans and people of color.

We surveyed young Americans in October and then again on November 4, the day after the election. Our results — published in two waves, Influencing Young Americans to Act — 2020 Election Research Reports, Wave 1 and Wave 2 — reveal that a consistent, overriding concern about racial inequality, discrimination, and social justice, particularly though not exclusively as it impacts Black Americans, was a key factor in young Americans’ decision to vote and choice of presidential candidate.

Based on our sample, here are a couple of things we learned about young Americans' participation in the 2020 presidential election:

1. Young Americans voted for a candidate, not against one. In our first wave of election research in October, the vast majority of survey respondents had already settled on their candidate, with 64 percent saying they planned to vote for Joe Biden and 28 percent planning to vote for Donald Trump. When asked to give a reason for their choice, 58 percent said they liked and supported their chosen candidate’s stance on issues important to them, while 25 percent said they neither liked nor supported the other candidate’s stance on issues important to them. In other words, a majority of young Americans responding to our survey said that support for, rather than opposition to, a candidate and his positions was a key motivating factor in their choice of candidate.

By the time Election Day (November 3) rolled around, nearly two-thirds (60 percent) of young Americans had already voted or planned to vote for Biden for president, while about a quarter (28 percent) had already voted or planned to vote for Donald Trump.

2. Racial equity was a key factor in the way young Americans voted. When asked in October to name the specific issues or causes driving their choice of candidate, 60 percent of respondents said Black Lives Matter (i.e., racial inequity, discrimination, and injustice related to Black Americans), while 39 percent mentioned civil rights/racial discrimination/social injustice related to groups other than Black Americans.

Respondents' reasons for supporting a candidate remained more or less unchanged for those who voted on November 3, with our second wave survey finding that nearly two-thirds (59 percent) of all respondents said the biggest factor in their choice of candidate was Black Lives Matter (racial inequity, discrimination, and injustice related to Black Americans), while 42 percent mentioned civil rights/racial discrimination/social injustice related to groups other than Black Americans.

The other top issues cited as reasons to back a certain candidate were COVID-19 (44 percent), the budget and economy (43 percent), and healthcare reform (38 percent).

3. Young Americans trust social movements and local government the most. Given the proliferation of false and misleading information in the months leading up to the 2020 election — New York Times' reporters tracked 1.1 million election-related "falsehoods" in September and October alone — we asked young Americans how much they trusted specific individuals and entities to do what was right to ensure a fair election. Social movements (65 percent) and local government (65 percent) scored highest, followed by Joe Biden (58 percent) and nonprofit organizations (5 percent).

The list of "I do not trust them at all" responses among our sample was topped by Donald Trump (42 percent), followed by Republican members of Congress (30 percent), Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (27 percent), corporations (26 percent), and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (25 percent).

Bright Spots

During what surely was one of the most divisive elections in my lifetime, one response stood out for me and actually made me hopeful. About half of our sample said their voting experience was good because, "I had a voice in the 2020 presidential election. I think my vote matters this year." Another hopeful response: 64 percent said the results of the election won’t affect their charitable giving plans.

Our research underscores the importance of social issues to young Americans — something we will talk more about in the coming weeks. At the same time, the high levels of activity and engagement surrounding the election speak directly to the opportunity nonprofits and for-profit companies have to promote greater civic engagement and participation among young Americans through the causes they themselves support. If anyone is looking for reasons to be hopeful as we try to get a handle on the coronavirus and keep ourselves and our families safe over the next few months, that seems like a good place to start.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Headshot_derrick_feldmann_2015Derrick Feldmann (@derrickfeldmann) is the founder of the Millennial Impact Project, lead researcher at Cause and Social Influence, and the author of the new book, The Corporate Social Mind. For more by Derrick, click here.

America is ready for a more equitable economy and society

October 12, 2020

Hands holdingThe social ferment we're seeing in Louisville, Kenosha, and many other parts of America is fueled by more than a legitimate revulsion over systemic racism as manifested in discriminatory policing. It has broader underpinnings, led by widespread frustrations with economic inequality.

We believe a substantial portion of Americans, and not just communities of color, support stronger government efforts to narrow these inequality gaps and create a world that works for everyone. And we have survey data to prove it.

For instance, we've found that most Americans support guaranteeing a job for those able and willing to work; suspending rent and mortgage payments (without requiring repayment) for the remainder of this pandemic-wracked year; expanding the Child Tax Credit to provide a refund for children in all low-income families; and mandating that employers follow fair hiring practices that remove barriers to employing people with a criminal history after they have served their sentences.

These are among the findings from a nationwide survey of a thousand adults, and an additional oversample of four hundred Black adults, conducted between August 28 and September 1 by Lake Research Partners. The survey was commissioned by the Othering & Belonging Institute at the University of California at Berkeley and Prosperity Now, and the over-sampling of Blacks was needed to obtain statistically reliable results for a group typically underrepresented in surveys.

The survey found substantial support for a range of possible reforms. The idea of increasing taxes on large corporations to provide grants to Black entrepreneurs was backed by 68 percent of Black respondents, 51 percent of Latinx respondents, and 43 percent of White respondents. In addition, 71 percent of Black respondents support providing payments to Black Americans as restitution for slavery and generations of discriminatory policies, while 24 percent of whites do.

The survey found widespread support, across all ethnic groups, for police reforms that might avert future atrocities such as the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. It showed that nearly three-fourths of Black Americans, two-thirds of Latinx respondents, and three-fifths of whites said they would place a high priority on "having community-resource professionals like social workers, paramedics, or mental-health workers respond alongside police officers in encounters involving homelessness, drug addiction, mental illness, or nonviolent offenses."

Smaller majorities of these groups also supported an alternative version in which community-resource professionals would respond to such calls instead of police officers. Roughly two-thirds of Americans, across all racial lines, would require police officers to live in the cities or towns where they work.

Clearly, our nation's racial and economic divides won't be resolved overnight. But the survey's findings are encouraging, and it's no time to let politics steer us away from feasible, even-if-partial, progress.

In short, the survey identifies common ground with respect to real solutions, as a majority of people across the United States of different racial and ethnic backgrounds support broad economic programs to help close the racial wealth divide. This includes policies designed to guarantee jobs or ensure people's ability to pay for basic necessities such as housing.

Even where there's disagreement, there is space for us to talk with each other. These are complicated issues, and even in these extraordinary times, it's encouraging to see people grappling with them and making good-faith efforts to find a way forward. In fact, rather than stymying progress it seems that the dual crisis of social unrest and COVID-19 is giving our nation an opportunity to create a new economy that serves all Americans.

A holistic approach to building an inclusive economy would require balancing solutions to the most immediate financial needs of the most vulnerable households — in particular, households of color — and the creation of and advocacy for longer-term solutions. The survey's findings suggest the need for proactive efforts to create broader consensus around longer-term policy mechanisms as well as targeted policies to address the specific realities of the most vulnerable groups.

As this presidential campaign enters the final stretch, let's not be distracted by political name-calling but instead seize on the nation's appetite for a fairer, more equitable society.

Powell_cunninghamjohn a. powell is a professor of law and the director of the Othering & Belonging Institute at UC Berkeley. Gary L. Cunningham is the president and CEO of Prosperity Now, a D.C.-based nonprofit focused on financial security for all Americans.

What we can learn from the Sierra Club's moment of self-reckoning

August 31, 2020

Sierra_club_history-edward-t-parsonsThe Sierra Club, that paragon of environmental activism, just did something unusual: it admitted it has a problem. In July, the nearly hundred-and-thirty-year-old organization released a statement in which it acknowledged the racial prejudices of its founder, environmental icon John Muir, as well as the harm it has caused Black, Indigenous, and people of color over the decades. 

The nationwide protests that followed George Floyd's killing in May have reenergized conversations around our collective need to grapple with the long history of racism in America. The Sierra Club's acknowledgement of its problematic origins and its sincere commitment to make amends should serve as a model for how other organizations and institutions can reckon with their own checkered pasts while not invalidating the positive work they have done over the years. Problems can only be fixed when they have been identified and named; others should take note. 

The Sierra Club is one of the nation's largest and most influential environmental organizations. Since its founding in 1892, the club has worked to preserve and create new public parks, lobbied for the protection of clean water and the adoption of renewable energy, campaigned against the continued use of coal, and promoted youth environmental education. It's co-founder and first president, John Muir, inspired many with his writings and was instrumental in creating the movement that led to the establishment of the National Park System, earning him the sobriquet "Father of the National Parks." 

Notwithstanding its achievements over the decades, the organization recently issued a public apology for Muir's harmful writings and beliefs in which it noted that his characterizations of Black and Indigenous people often played on racist stereotypes. "As the most iconic figure in Sierra Club history," the statement read in part, "Muir's words and actions carry an especially heavy weight. They continue to hurt and alienate Indigenous people and people of color."  

In its early days, the organization screened out potential members based on race, limiting the environmental engagement of people of color. Sadly, Muir's views and statements were emblematic of many of the early conservation movement's failings — most obviously the fact that the very lands being protected were expropriated by white settlers from Indigenous populations. Muir's ideal state seemed to be "the lone white man at one with nature." This exclusionary view has had long-lasting impacts, including the disproportionately low number of people of color who visit national parks today. 

A founding father who inspired a movement spanning generations but who considered the land on which it was based "free" only after its Indigenous inhabitants had been removed. A visionary whose prejudices ran counter to his overarching message — a message he and his peers couldn't and, frankly, had no desire to uphold. An iconic figure who helped move the country in a positive direction while ignoring and damaging communities of color. It's an all-too-familiar story. 

With its recent acknowledgement of Muir's failures, the Sierra Club has taken a bigger step forward than many others in the United States. Indeed, a recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll shows that while 59 percent of Americans believe Black people face discrimination, only 44 percent believe it is systemic and perpetuated by policy and institutions — in effect putting the burden of systemic racism on a few "bad apples." 

And while the poll also found that a slight majority of Americans, 51 percent, support the removal of Confederate statues from public spaces, an ABC/Washington Post poll that asked the same question found that only 43 percent of Americans supported the removal of such statues and only 42 percent supported the renaming of military bases named after Confederate generals. Polling discrepancies aside, the message is clear: at least nearly half of Americans believe we should continue to honor men who fought to protect and preserve chattel slavery in the United States. 

Admitting that you have a problem is the first step to recovery. Admitting that the United States has a racist past and has long ignored structures and systems that are inherently racist is not the same as saying that Americans are rotten to the core, incapable of doing good, or  irredeemable; it is, instead, an acknowledgement that we have harmed ourselves and those to whom we have a moral responsibility. Sometimes the only way to address a problem is through an intervention, but even interventions are futile without fundamental acceptance of the basic problem. The Sierra Club has begun to do the work needed to heal the damage and move forward; the rest of us should follow its lead.

(Photograph by Edward T. Parsons, "Group on Summit of Mount Brewer," 1902)

Headshot_garret_zink_PhilanTopic

Garrett Zink (@GarrettZink) is a corporate social responsibility specialist based in Washington, DC.

5 Questions for...Rajasvini Bhansali, Executive Director, Solidaire Network

August 14, 2020

Launched in 2013, Solidaire Network is a collective of donors and foundations committed to ending the legacy of racism and anti-Blackness. Through programs such as Movement R&D, Rapid Response, and the newly launched Black Liberation Pooled Fund, network members have moved nearly $18 million since 2013 in support of the Movement for Black Lives and the Black-led organizing ecosystem.

Rajasvini Bhansali, the network's leader since 2018, previously served as executive director of Thousand Currents, where she helped launch a climate justice fund and an impact investment fund and led that collaborative's efforts to expand partnerships with grassroots groups and movements led by women, youth, and Indigenous peoples in the Global South. At Solidaire, she has overseen an evaluation process that resulted in the development of a three-pronged strategy — donor activism, resource mobilization, and driving a paradigm shift — aimed at moving $1 billion over ten years to social change movements.

PND spoke with Bhansali about Solidaire's activist-centered model, the meaning and implications of the reenergized movement for racial justice, and the organization's latest fund.

Headshot_Rajasvini Bhansali_solidaire_networkPhilanthropy News Digest: What kind of donors and foundations decide to become members of Solidaire? And has your membership grown in the wake of the protests that followed the killing of George Floyd?

Rajasvini Bhansali: We have over a hundred and eighty members in the Solidaire community, ranging from individuals and families with generational or new wealth to those who have established their own family or private foundation. And what's unique about our donors is that they act as "donor organizers" — working quickly to mobilize others to move critical resources to people and organizations on the front lines — and, in the process, transforming their relationship to power and wealth. Our network isn't about charity or paternalism. The only people we wish to "save" are ourselves, by doing our part to make amends for the generations of oppression and theft upon which current systems have been built.

Supporting Black-led movements and Black liberation has always been at the core of our values and grantmaking strategy. And from the start of the recent protests, our goal wasn't to grow our membership; it was to double down on those efforts. Since June, Solidaire members have committed more than $10 million to the Black-led organizing ecosystem, including the Movement for Black Lives, the Southern Power Fund, and Reparations Summer.

PND: Your Aligned Giving Strategy, which was launched in response to calls for philanthropy to fund the Movement for Black Lives, requires no reports or applications and is based instead on trust and relationships between your members and the frontline groups organizing Black communities. What does that trust-building process look like?

RB: Our goal always is to trust in the wisdom and leadership of grassroots organizers. These leaders know what their communities need and have been telling funders what they need for years, but we haven't been listening. At Solidaire, we don't want movement leaders to have to prove something to us; instead, our job is to get them the resources they need to win now and over the long term. Traditional philanthropy often takes a top-down approach that can replicate unjust power structures. We don't want our process to be another barrier. Our approach is to listen directly to the people most impacted by injustice, understand their lived experience and how current systems have failed them, and share our power and resources to help change those systems.

Our staff are critical to the process. They have a deep understanding of this space, have movement backgrounds, and bring with them relationships and a sense of curiosity about how we can do better to support movements and communities. Our donor members also have a deep interest in organizing their own families and networks to respond to movement funding needs and bring time-sensitive funding opportunities to their peers within the network.

PND: AGS gives donors a choice of four focus areas to invest in: providing direct general support to 501(c)(3) and (c)(4) groups; investing in activist-led efforts to build shared movement infrastructure; helping organizations diversify their revenue streams and achieve financial sustainability; and supporting the efforts of movement groups to translate their cultural influence into policy change and actual legislation. Are you seeing donors gravitate to one area more than others, and if so, why might that be?

RB: We try to show our donors that these issue areas are all interrelated and therefore equally deserving of their attention. What we have seen with COVID-19 is that it has laid bare longstanding inequities caused by systems and policies robbing our communities of the resources they needed to be healthy and resilient — even during less challenging times than these. While some philanthropists and foundations have increased their giving to meet the needs of the moment, many of those initiatives do not address the root causes of how we got here in the first place.

We are heartened to see how deeply our members are committed to working together to eliminate racist attitudes, practices, and policies that harm working people and communities of color. We are also moved to see our donor members working internally and externally — and with humility and courage — with communities on the front lines of social change to provide the long-term, sustained support those communities need to liberate themselves — and all of us.

PND: Launched with the goal of raising $5 million by the end of August to strengthen the Black Lives Matter ecosystem, the Black Liberation Pooled Fund just received a $20 million commitment from the Packard Foundation. How does that commitment affect your plans for the fund, if at all, and what has been the response to date from other funders?

RB: Solidaire has been committed since its inception to supporting Black liberation work by cultivating authentic, just, and right relationships with Black-led organizations and community leaders. Packard's $20 million commitment to the Black Liberation Pooled Fund over the next five years is part of the foundation's five-year, $100 million commitment to improve its grantmaking in support of justice and equity. Solidaire will pool that money with other resources to support the ecosystem of Black-led social change organizations nationally, including groups working to strengthen multiracial alliances, innovate grassroots climate justice solutions, advance the decarceration and decriminalization of Black bodies, build regenerative economic models and community wealth strategies, nurture the leadership and capacity needs of movement organizations, and imagine and create a more democratic, pluralistic, feminist future.

The response to the fund clearly has exceeded our initial goal, but movement leaders are not slowing down, and neither are we. Much more remains to be done, and seven years in, our work is only just beginning. We will continue to push forward while remaining grounded in both the immediate and longer-term infrastructure-building needs of the movement.

PND: Solidaire believes that Black-led social change is not just about justice for Black communities but about broad and deep societal transformation for all. Can you elaborate on that idea?

RB: We have to remember that the exploitation of Black and Indigenous labor, lives, and wealth has gone on in this country for five hundred years. We are way overdue for an end to the fundamental inequities on which all institutions and systems in the United States are based. We also must remember that today's movement activists and leaders are just the newest link in a long chain of freedom lovers, liberation fighters, movement builders, and believers in humanity and a shared future. We are incredibly proud to be building on the work of all those who came before us. Supporting Black- and Indigenous-led social change advances racial and social justice for all people. The Black freedom struggle in the twentieth century resulted in advances for women, people with disabilities, LGBTQIA+ folks, immigrants, and workers of all colors. Today, the work of visionary Black organizers and advocates is making broad systemic change — from defunding the police, to police-free schools, to the call for reparations and reinvestment in community well-being — not only possible but also imminent.

Fourteen years ago, I had the opportunity to serve as a management advisor for a network of polytechnics, acting as a capacity builder with a network of youth-training institutions in rural Kenya. I witnessed first-hand the institutional barriers faced by farmers, teachers, and youth workers, all of whom exhibited tremendous moral leadership, as well as the condescension and harmful top-down interventions of well-intentioned philanthropists who inserted unequal power dynamics into local community processes. I saw how the wisdom, brilliance, stick-with-it-ness, and sustainable strategies of ordinary people working to transform local conditions were rarely acknowledged, let alone honored. And as a result of that experience, I resolved to use my position of privilege to exert greater influence on philanthropic behaviors and attitudes and to truly work in service of the communities that are organizing to change their circumstances. All of that continues to inform my work today with Solidaire.

— Kyoko Uchida

[Review] The Merit Myth: How Our Colleges Favor the Rich and Divide America

August 06, 2020

The merit myth_coverDespite the frequently repeated claim that higher education in the United States is a meritocractic system, college is not the great equalizer it’s touted to be. Indeed, long-standing inequities in the United States are often reflected in and perpetuated by our institutions of higher education. Drawing on insights from sociology, education, economics, and history, The Merit Myth: How Our Colleges Favor the Rich and Divide America explores the roots of these practices and policies and shows how they continue to play out today.

The book’s three authors have all spent decades researching and writing about education policy. Anthony Carnevale is the director of the Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University, a nonprofit research and policy institute focused on the relationship between education, career qualifications, and current workforce demands. Jeff Strohl is the center’s director of research and spends much of his time examining how education impacts career opportunities. And Peter Schmidt, an award-winning journalist and author of Color and Money: How Rich White Kids Are Winning the War Over College Affirmative Action, serves as a deputy editor at the Chronicle of Higher Education and previously covered education policy and access at Education Week.

To understand higher education in the United States, they write, we must first look at the factors that contribute to the success of certain individuals and groups as they navigate the education system and then enter the workforce — as well as the lack of success experienced by others. When we do, it becomes obvious that characterizations of higher education in the U.S. as a meritocracy makes it easy for too many to blame individuals for their lack of success while ignoring the fact that the system as designed creates inequality at every level.

In support of that argument, the authors spend the first few chapters offering an analysis of the interlocking mechanisms — social, political, cultural, economic — that perpetuate disparities in access to higher education. Along the way, they pose several key questions: What is the role of higher education in American life? How do, and should, we define success? And who is deserving of the limited resources available to the system? Such questions are meant, among other things, to prod the reader to think about familiar admissions practices — a reliance on standardized tests, in-person interviews, an emphasis on extracurricular activities — that historically were rooted in an unabashed elitism and have been shown to have little value in predicting student success.

The authors further note that the increase in higher education enrollment has been driven to a large degree by the growth of public universities, which today enroll roughly three-quarters of college students in the U.S. White students from wealthy backgrounds, on the other hand, are the majority at many of the most selective colleges and universities in the country, and those colleges and universities receive a far greater share of the private dollars and resources dedicated to higher education, enabling them to invest far more than less-well-resourced schools in the success of the students they enroll — and reinforce the all-too-familiar "separate and unequal" dynamic that has characterized American education over the last hundred and fifty years.

Because the most selective private colleges and universities typically have the largest endowments, they also are able to compete vigorously for applicants with the best grades or test scores and most interesting extracurricular accomplishments, leading to a largely class-based stratification of schools into tiers — most selective, selective, and so on — that has become more pronounced in recent decades and increasingly difficult to overcome. For Carnevale, Schmidt, and Strohl, the solution to the problem is obvious: if we want to raise graduation and retention rates and start to narrow inequality in America, we need to devote more of our limited resources to middle-tier schools.

Unfortunately, the immense pressures from competing interests that higher education must deal with makes that unlikely to happen any time soon. Carnevale, Schmidt, and Strohl argue compellingly that all these factors— from inequitable admission practices, to universities operating like for-profit businesses and/or subsidizing education for the wealthy, to first-generation and underresourced students being deterred by the increasingly complicated admissions process — have created a system that is anything but a meritocracy and is teetering on the verge of collapse.

But there's hope. The last chapter of The Merit Myth offers a number of proposals for how the system can be improved and made more equitable. They include calls for building a leadership pipeline in higher education that more closely reflects the diversity of the U.S. population, ending reliance on standardized tests scores and legacy admissions, redirecting resources to schools where those resources would have the greatest impact, and making fourteen years of education the new "normal." While many of these reforms require changes at the university and legislative levels, they also require that we think carefully and redefine our collective goals for higher education in America.

In providing a historical context for current debates about higher education and in considering all the many factors involved in making education policy, the authors provide a well-rounded picture of our current system. If the prose gets a bit dense at times, it is merely testament to just how complicated the challenge and potential solutions are. Ultimately, Carnevale, Schmidt, and Strohl have provided a great service by reframing how we should think about the challenge and giving readers hope that real change is possible.

Amelia Becker, an intern with the Communications department at Candid, currently is a junior at Tufts University studying sociology and economics.

Washington mascot change is a reminder why you should learn about Native communities

July 31, 2020

Mockup-3942f2f1_largeRecently, the NFL team in Washington announced that it is retiring the R*dsk*ns name and logo. We are encouraged by the announcement and remain cautiously optimistic as we wait for the the franchise to select a new permanent name and logo devoid of any Native branding or imagery.

Many have pointed out that the announcement is due to the financial pressure exerted by retailers pulling team merch from their shops and by the team's financial partners publicly calling on it to change its name and branding. That's only half the story.

In the wake of the senseless deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and countless others, the country finds itself in the middle of a political and social uprising. The Black Lives Matter movement has catalyzed a reexamination of the many ways we've allowed racism and white supremacy to permeate every aspect of modern life.

The retirement of the Washington football team's blatantly racist logo sends a message that the dehumanization of any group of people will no longer be tolerated. The momentum created by the Black Lives Matter movement carried us over the goal line, but we cannot ignore the decades of work by Indigenous activists, researchers, and organizations to address head-on the issue of Native American mascots.

For funders, the conversations happening across the country about the retirement of the mascot represent a crucial opportunity to learn about Native communities. As the research shows, one of the harmful effects of Native-specific sports mascots is the misunderstanding they create about Native communities and cultures among non-Native people. When the diversity of hundreds of distinct Native Nations and cultures are reduced to a handful of team names and logos, it undermines our efforts to educate philanthropy and the broader public about who we really are.

Philanthropy can provide an important education and learning platform for others to push back on these harmful stereotypes. We encourage you to visit Investing in Native Communities, a joint project of Native Americans in Philanthropy and Candid. The "Native 101" section of the site provides several tools intended to deepen your understanding about Indigenous peoples, their history, and their resiliency. It also provides case studies detailing good practices in investing in Indigenous-led initiatives and programs.

It's not enough to simply retire a mascot and a team name. Sharing the truth about Native American history and contemporary cultures is critical to any advocacy on behalf of Native communities. Yes, the most egregious of these mascots has been relegated to the dustbin of history, but it still leaves hundreds of professional, university, and high school teams and institutions with logos based on Native American stereotypes. As the nation continues down the path of racial reckoning, conversations and the sharing of learnings with those outside our communities is what will turn action into systemic, long-term change.

______

This post originally was published on the Native Americans in Philanthropy website and is reprinted here with the permission of NAP. 

Uplifting the LGBTQ+ community in the nonprofit sector

June 30, 2020

Pexels-photo-4658052The LGBTQ+ community has had a lot to celebrate during Pride Month. On June 15, in a 6-3 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the 1964 Civil Rights Act protects gay, lesbian, and transgender employees from job discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or transgender status.

According to the Chronicle of Philanthropy, nearly one in five nonprofit employees who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or "queer" report that their sexual orientation has had at least a "slightly negative" impact on their career. Thanks to the court's ruling, however, the future looks brighter.

Pride Month is a celebration of LGBTQ+ equality and achievement, but this year, especially, we are reminded that social progress is driven by the passion, commitment, and hard work of thousands upon thousands of ordinary people over time. As our month-long celebration comes to a close, let's remember the actions and courage of the activists who laid the groundwork for the recent Supreme Court decision — and for those who even now are peacefully demanding an end to systemic racism and police brutality against Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) — and show our support for LGBTQ+ equality, racial and gender justice, and an America where all people, regardless of skin color or sexual orientation, can realize their full potential.

Not sure how to start? Here a few ideas:

Strive to incorporate the values of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) into your nonprofit's operations, and commit to adopting diverse and equitable hiring practices. Obviously, this will be more of a challenge if you aren't a member of the leadership team at your organization or working in a human resources (HR) capacity, but you can and should raise the issue of DEI with your nonprofit's HR department if you feel the organization isn't paying sufficient attention to it. Because LGBTQ+ people have long faced barriers to advancement in the nonprofit sector (as well as other industries), investments in DEI also represent an investment in LGBTQ+ people. And while it's important that nonprofits invest in more equitable and inclusive hiring practices, they should also mandate unconscious bias training for all employees, current and future. Such training helps people identify the implicit biases they may have and act on in their own lives and better position them to address those biases. For example, hiring managers should be encouraged to look for potential candidates outside of their usual networks and can use diversity job boards to do so. For additional DEI tips and advice, Candid's GrantSpace portal is a great place to start and is also an excellent source for LGBTQ+ specific resources.

Support nonprofits already working in the LGBTQ+ space. Even if you're not working at a nonprofit that directly supports the LGBTQ+ community, it doesn't mean you can't have an impact. The end of another Pride Month is the ideal time to step up and support organizations working to promote and uphold LGBTQ+ equality and rights. Know, too, that there isn't one, right way to stand with the LGBTQ+ community. Instead, feel free to participate in virtual Pride events, sign petitions, advocate for LGBTQ+ equality, and donate what you can to charities that champion LGBTQ+ causes. And while you're at it, do what you can to support one of the many nonprofits working to advance the Black Lives Matter movement.

Actively seek out and engage with your professional LGTBG+ peers. Reaching out to and engaging with your LGTBQ+ colleagues can be more helpful than you might imagine, and, besides, it's just a good inclusive practice. The LGBTQ+ community has a long history of trauma and feeling invisible, and as a result LGBTQ+ people (as well as other members of traditionally underrepresented communities) often lack the confidence to publicly express their opinions or feel excluded from important conversations. One way to ensure that all voices in your organization are heard is to actively seek out those voices and include them — and that's especially important if you're in a position of privilege or power. You can do this by individually connecting with different colleagues, and, if you often have the spotlight in meetings, by inviting colleagues who may be reluctant to have their voices heard to contribute their thoughts.

Actively use preferred pronouns in the workplace. Using pronouns (i.e., "she/her/hers," "he/him/his," and "they/them/theirs") that people have chosen for themselves is a sign of respect and an important acknowledgement that you see them for who they are. You and your organization can also encourage their use by including them in email signatures, bios, and name tags. If your organization doesn't already do this, raise the practice with your HR department. It may also be helpful for HR to conduct a training for staff before rolling out a new pronoun policy so that staff understands the rationale for the policy and how pronouns should be used.

Create special interest groups that make it easier for LGBTQ+ people in your organization to connect with one another. At Candid, we have various virtual spaces where staff members belonging to different communities can connect. I personally love the fact that there are different outlets where I and others can express our true, authentic selves. It can be difficult for members of the LGBTQ+ community (and other marginalized groups) to feel comfortable enough to bring their authentic selves into their place of work, so employers should do what they can to make it easier for them to do so and create safe spaces for different communities within their organizations.

Learn, and keep learning. Educate yourself about different aspects of the LGBTQ+ community, including the history of Pride Month and milestones in the fight for LGBTQ+ rights. In light of the Black Lives Matter protests, I also urge you to learn about what's happening with the Black LGBTQ+ community. As one activist highlighted in a recent USA Today article that looked at how members of the LGBTQ+ community in Kentucky have stepped up as leaders of the Black Lives Matter movement says: "Pride isn't canceled. It's evolved." It's a statement that rings true for me for two reasons. First, the feel of this year's Pride Month has been different because of COVID-19, with many in-person events cancelled or transitioned to an online format. And two, the focus of many Pride events has shifted to the struggle for racial justice and equity. It's been a huge epiphany for the LGBTQ+ community and Pride, as some of us learn for the first time (and others remember) just how important the civil rights movement and Black activists have been to the struggles of LGBTQ+ community. Pride Month would never have come about without Black LGBTQ+ activists such as Bayard Rustin, Stormé DeLarverie, Audre Lorde, and Marsha P. Johnson. Now it's your turn: here are a few ways you can be an active ally to the Black LGBTQ+ community in the months and years to come.

I do believe our sector has made commendable strides in advancing DEI, but there's still progress to be made with respect to the LGBTQ+ community (and other underrepresented groups). Before I sign off, I want to highlight two groups doing great work in this space. Recent research by the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP) makes a strong case that foundations need to increase their funding for marginalized communities, as well as social, racial, and economic justice work. And in terms of the LGBTQ+ community specifically, Funders for LGBTQ Issues works to increase the scope and impact of philanthropic resources benefiting the LGBTQ+ community. I encourage LGBTQ+ nonprofit professionals to check out the group's website, which includes a lot of LGBTQ+ focused research, jobs, and funding opportunities.

As we bring down the curtain on another Pride Month, remember: No one is really and truly free until everyone is free, and the impact of Pride shouldn't be restricted to just one month. You should strive to uplift the voices of the LGBTQ+ community, and of other marginalized groups, throughout the year.

VVoPham HeadshotViet "Vee" VoPham (he/him/his) is the marketing specialist for the Networks division at Candid. You can follow him on Twitter at @VVoPham.

Quote of the Week

  • "[L]et me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is...fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance...."


    — Franklin D. Roosevelt, 32nd president of the United States

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