Preparing the Organization to Address Social Justice and Racial Equity
The data are consistent: increasing racial equity and strengthening social justice remain challenges to our society. To close gaps or disparities in racial equity, philanthropic organizations must step up to the plate. Yet few are ready to take this on, and few are prepared to do the heavy lifting required to make a difference.
Barriers to progress include:
- The problems of injustice or inequity may be invisible or not believed by the organization’s leadership. The organization may be too isolated from parts of the community experiencing the disparities.
- While some on the staff or board of the organization might be ready to engage with issues of injustice or inequity, too many might not. Without a local crisis, personal epiphany, or ah-ha moment, addressing issues of justice or equity is seldom No. 1 on the list of things to do.
- The organization may think engagement of these issues doesn’t fit its mission, or that change will result in loss of donors.
- Much of one’s learning in the arena of injustice and inequity requires facing long-held personal assumptions of what’s just and what’s fair, territory that’s not easily visited.
- It’s not always easy to step back and take a different look at framing one’s work to have greater value.
Benchmark Practices. Progress is made when philanthropic organizations get good at these benchmark practices:
Examining how one’s philanthropic interests are affected by issues of unfairness, injustice, and their root causes.
Tracking local indicators of the community’s well-being, looking at all segments of the community, can yield fresh or surprising views of the health and ill-health of your community. For all your philanthropic interests, there are data showing very uneven signs of progress, due mostly to the complexity of how things really work. Helping your organization learn where your philanthropic interests are hindered by the presence of unequal playing fields keep many groups unable to fully benefit.
Becoming more familiar with how things really work in areas your philanthropy is interested in – whether education, health, arts, housing, or family well-being — will help your philanthropy imagine steps that make a difference, that help level the playing field. The systems and markets that govern how well things turn out for people – how they benefit — need to be understood if we’re to make sure benefits flow fairly to all.
Taking next steps in your inquiry of how to do philanthropy better requires, well, that you decide to take next steps. This might seem obvious, and it is, but it’s amazing how much organizational movement just plain stops because there’s no decision and follow through to keep things going, with accountability and reward.
Becoming more of a learning organization, to better align practice with values.
Stepping back as an organization to catch one’s breath, so to speak, scanning the horizon, and exchanging perspectives with others can give it a new view of how the world is changing and the world it wants to help.
Putting issues of justice and fairness on the agenda for discussion by staff, board, and partners lets them reflect on tough issues, develop collegiality, look for new opportunities for philanthropy to produce more benefits for all, and advance a search for promising solutions
Helping your organization become a place where people can more easily talk about tough issues gives people the “safe space” needed to come out with their best stuff without fearing repercussion.
Getting training and coaching for oneself, staff and board to gain a better understanding of the dynamics of culture, context, and root causes of disparities and injustice can give them the “cultural competence” needed to work across cultures and context – skills needed for philanthropy to play a more helpful role and advance its own mission.
Asking questions and getting advice from different folks and new sources will help revitalize your knowledge base. Advisors, friends, or staff can arrange visits to new and different organizations active in your areas of interests, perhaps visiting parts of the region they might not otherwise go.
Upgrading its ability to incorporate themes of justice and equity into its practice.
Allowing your organization to step back, open the windows, breathe deeply and examine the way it works invites the possibility of positive change and updated effectiveness. Is talk allowed? Is innovation? Is learning from one’s experience? Is being accountable to principles justice and fairness?
Re-examining your organization’s ability to do a good job can’t hurt. Even reflecting on what “doing a good job” means is bound to lead to new insights. The art of capacity-building has advanced considerably. There are tools – scorecards, self-assessment protocols, discussion groups on-line, benchmarks, pathways to progress – and, of course, consultants who can help. .
Going deeper, there is specialized training on cultural competency, anti-racism, structural racism analysis – each appealing to different mindsets and stages of organizational readiness. Exploring these tools for integrating social justice into one’s organization-building skill set can help bring the theoretical into practical reach.
Adding diversity of perspective, talent, and experience into positions of influence on staff and board helps position your organization to become more effective. Becoming more inter-connected with diverse communities will give you legitimacy, cover, authority, credibility, a good time, and better ideas – it’s who you know that counts.
Benchmark Signs of Progress
Philanthropy gets high marks for progress achieved on this pathway when you can see signs that…
- The challenge of addressing issues of justice or equity is rising on your organization’s priority list.
- You’re better at seeing, understanding, and talking about problems of injustice.
- You see a more constructive role for our philanthropy and are taking “next steps.”
- Your organization is better connected to key segments of the community.
- Other, good organizations are more willing to work with yours on these issues, and you’ve gained more support from others than you’ve lost.
- There’s more organizational development going on inside to prepare and position the organization to play a more useful role.
- There’s a changed approach in the use of your assets, incorporating more of a commitment to address signs of equity and justice.
Examples of Good Practice
Jacksonville Community Council, Inc. has conducted multiyear studies to learn how issues of racial inequity affect quality of life in its community. A hallmark of its approach: drawing on a wide range of perspectives in gathering and interpreting data.
The Boston Indicators Project tracks trends, accomplishments, and challenges in ten key areas of civic life, enabling the community to set goals and monitor progress.
Members of the board of the Foundation for Midsouth , with support from a large private foundation, traveled well outside its usual territory – to South Africa, Brazil, Chicago – to better see the dynamics of racism. * On a smaller scale, a good function of staff is to arrange for board, colleagues, and donors to visit other organizations that are active in this arena, perhaps visiting parts of town they might not otherwise go.
Community Foundations of Canada , a national network, offers a program for its members that facilitates discussions around social justice in all foundation proceedings. It produced a “Poverty Toolkit: A Poverty Scanning Tool for Community Foundations,” which helps create self-guided discussions for staff and board on local issues of poverty, and on ways they can move closer to these issues. And its Vital Signs Project is part of a growing nation-wide initiative to measure quality of life and take action to improve it.
The Diversity in Philanthropy Project , a voluntary effort of leading foundation trustees, senior staff and executives committed to increasing field-wide diversity through open dialogue and strategic action, believes that “diversifying perspectives, talent and experience can help ensure philanthropy’s continued leadership in a rapidly changing society.
The Jessie Ball duPont Fund went to court to get its bylaws changed so that, among other things, it could more easily diversify its board, and better “walk its talk.”
Rainbow Research, Inc. reviewed its operations budget and then worked to include more diverse vendors of everything from paper clips and travel agents to investment advice.
And of course, we like to think this website provides tools for preparing philanthropic organizations to address issues of social justice and racial equity.
Good to Great and the Social Sectors, by Jim Collins. A Monograph to Accompany Good to Great. 2005, http://www.jimcollins.com. Key quote: “It doesn’t really matter whether you can quantify your results. What matters is that you rigorously assemble evidence – quantitative or qualitative – to track your progress.” See also our complementary paper, Thinking Differently About Evaluation , on this site.
Becoming A Catalyst For Social Justice: A Tool For Aligning Internal Operations To Produce Progress. Produced by Betty Emarita for this project, 2006, available on this site under Resources.
Cultural Competency in Nonprofit Capacity Building (Pt 2). Produced by Brigette Rouson for the Cultural Competency Initiative of the Alliance for Nonprofit Management. http://www.paradigmpartners.us/contact.htm
African American Perspectives / Forty Films on Race in America. Available from California Newsreel (www.newsreel.org).
Race Matters. A tool kit available from Annie E. Casey Foundation. http://www.aecf.org/knowledgecenter/publicationsseries/racematters.aspx
Organizational Development & Capacity in Cultural Competence: Building Knowledge and Practice. A monograph series produced by CompassPoint Nonprofit Services & supported by The California Endowment
Resources of the Diversity in Philanthropy project (http://www.diversityinphilanthropy.com) of the Council on Foundations (www.cof.org)
Listen, Learn, Lead: Grantmaker Practices that support Nonprofit Results. A report of Grantmakers for Effective Organizations Change Agent Project, 2006.
Providing Culturally Appropriate Technical Assistance , produced by Betty Emarita for this project, available on this site under Resources
Improving Race Relations and Undoing Racism: Roles and Strategies for Community Foundations, Rainbow Research, Inc., 2001
Assessing your Readiness for a Stronger Anti-Poverty Role, part of a “toolkit on poverty for community foundations” produced by the Community Foundations of Canada, 2006. http://www.cfc-fcc.ca/poverty/assessing-readiness-e.cfm