March 14, 2019
From the President

Diversity is a Number, Inclusion is an Outcome

Hilary Pearson

In my February blog post, I made a case for why it matters to a foundation to consider issues of diversity and inclusion if it wants to fund more effectively. I shared some of the research data that we collected from PFC members, which reveals that our members are governed and staffed by people who are for the most part undiversified. This is not a problem in itself. But it does create a need, especially among funders who want to work on challenges facing marginalized communities, for ways to reach out for more diverse perspectives and to be more mindful about their funding processes. Even if a foundation’s purpose is not connected directly to reducing poverty or inequality, the value of engaging diverse points of view in decision-making is incontestable.

We have been sharing the results of our initial survey on diversity and inclusion within the PFC membership. This has led to some fascinating conversations. These conversations have circled around the questions of purpose, trust and risk.

What do I mean by this? Purpose, trust and risk come up in almost all discussions of philanthropy or funder-grantee relations. With the focusing lens of inclusion, we can see the importance in these conversations of creating trust through better communication and taking risks to overcome differences in power and resources that shape interactions between more privileged funders and less privileged communities. We can’t really talk about more effective philanthropy without talking about inclusion. More diverse people included at the table will make for better and more informed approaches and decisions.

Purpose specifically matters because funders whose purpose is to alleviate poverty, improve life outcomes, create greater access or reduce inequality are going to be confronted, almost by definition, by questions of inclusion (who is included? How are they included? etc). Trust and risk are both inherent in more inclusive funder-grantee relationships. Trust between different people is created through greater familiarity. Risk is what needs to be taken for a funder to compensate for the differences in power, or to get through the discomfort of difference.

Of course, this isn’t original thinking on my part. Some interesting perspectives on diversity in funder-grantee relations, and the importance of purpose, trust and risk, are found in recent pieces by Vu Le, the outspoken nonprofit executive and blogger, and by Brittany Boettcher and Kathleen Kelly Janus in the SSIR. These writers raise issues around diversity and inclusion in funder-grantee relations and suggest some specific strategies for funders. Interestingly, these strategies were echoed in the conversations that we are having in Canada.

So what are some of these strategies to use inclusion for more effective philanthropy?

  • Re-think your grant application: Do you need all that information? Is it inclusive to groups who don’t have the means (language, skill, staff, cultural practice) to respond with the details you ask for in project design, impact measures, or expected impact? What can you drop? Could a one-page application be sufficient (backed up by your own due diligence)? Could you take grant applications by video?
  • Remove conditions. Consider more open-ended, multi-year grants. Do you need a new application every year from a community organization trying to get a $5000 or even $10,000 grant? What if the community could do more with a three-year commitment? Think about broadening eligibility. Can a group apply without ticking all the boxes?
  • Talk more. Invite people for coffee. Convene people to “no agenda” meetings to talk about an issue you and they are working on. Let anyone come, including more junior staff and board members. Make it clear that you are listening, not advocating a specific approach. Hold meetings in the community, not in your office or a hotel.
  • Put money into people. Fund a fellowship or internship to help place more diverse people in community organizations. Take a risk on opening it to people with no or little experience: younger people, immigrants, other identities etc. Or support more shared back office functions among a group of less well-resources organizations (a strategy pursued by Vu Le with the help of the Gates Foundation). He mentions both the fellowship and shared functions strategies in his post.

All of these strategies depend on and are supported by purpose, trust and risk-taking. Building more inclusive philanthropic practice and supporting more inclusive communities can only be done with these in mind and in action.

Note: we still need more data on diversity and inclusion in philanthropic practice in Canada. As we pursue our research, we need to collect more data on how many philanthropic dollars are going to organizations led by diverse people. In the US, data suggest that just 4 percent of grants and contributions go to diverse-led organizations. Would we find a similar situation in Canada? And if so, what does it mean for the allocation of philanthropic funds?

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  • 2017: The Year We Talk About Listening and Belonging?
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  • Gordon D. Tucker

    Hi! I’ve recently written and published a children’s book about diversity and inclusion, and I am looking for that special someone with a big heart to help me get this important message out to the children in our world. I’d love an opportunity to speak to someone about how we can work together to do our part to make a change for the greater good. Thank you. Respectfully, Gordon.

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