February 12, 2021
Guest Blog

Reflections on Funding Fairness for Black Communities

Orville Wallace, Director of Programs and Strategic Initiatives, Laidlaw Foundation

When we think about the places in which power and resources are located within Philanthropy, one should not be surprised that Black organizations continue to struggle to survive to keep their doors open. There are many Black-led Grassroots organizations that are operating from within the dining rooms of their family home, yet have a reach that spans far in terms of providing services to some of the most multi-barriered people within our communities. Many of the Black-led organizations are often delivering services in locations where most staff in mainstream organizations do not have the reach or are equipped and experienced in providing these services. This is just one example of the ways in which many Grassroots Black-led organizations deliver programming, while also navigating the struggle of being under-resourced and “unfunded.”

Recently, I attended PFC’s webinar entitled: Closing the Gap, seeking funding fairness for Black Communities. The webinar was moderated by Liban Abokar from the Foundation for Black Communities and included four other panellists. The panellists included were Jacqueline Copeland of Black Philanthropy Month and Wise Fund, Sadia Zaman of the Inspirit Foundation, Fabrice Vil of Pour 3 points and Rebecca Darwent of the Foundation for Black Communities. Each panellist shared their unique experience and insights from working with Funders. The conversation made reference to a report that was released in December of 2020 called “Unfunded.” This report brings to life the disturbing reality in terms of how Black-led Organizations have been underfunded over the years in comparison to other Community organizations representing different backgrounds. One of the many key stats from this report mentions that: “For every $100 the top 15 Community Foundations disbursed only 0.07 cents went to Black-led organizations and only 0.70 cents went to Black-serving organizations.”

For the past 8 years, I have been working within the Philanthropic sector and I have seen first-hand the challenges Black organizations face when navigating the Funding landscape. Many of these challenges stem from hundreds of years ago and relate back to legacies of Colonialism, Slavery, Patriarchy, Capitalism and other processes or occurrences which have established the location of wealth, power, resources and status. Consequently, when we look at the Philanthropic sector today, the influence from many of these legacies remain alive and active within many of the Foundations in Canada. Based on a quick scan of Foundations in Canada, the vast majority of Board members and Senior Leadership identify as being white, and in many cases white men are still a dominant voice in the make-up of many Boards. This lack of diversity makes for a lack of innovation in thought, lack of connection/relation to people who are coming from a different social location, leading to a culture that carries a similar way of thinking in terms of who should be in receipt of funding. This results in a mindset from within our Senior Leaders that the Philanthropic sector is neutral and functions as if there is no Anti-Black racism. Hence, when it comes to granting decision-making, we’ve left it up to the people in charge within these Foundations to make decisions on funding applications while also including their own internal ideas of the Black community within the process. This creates the process for allowing one’s individual discretion to assess and respond to the issues or needs expressed through funding applications creating a negative outcome for many Black communities. These biases and stereotypes exist with volunteer Granting teams as well. The lack of Black, Indigenous and racialized people within Boards, Executive and Senior positions, as well a Volunteer Grant Review Committees play a significant role in the current funding gap within Black communities.

Here are some reflections from the dialogue:

  1. Philanthropy itself cannot solve a social issue. For example, with Anti-Black racism, the issue here is that society is failing Black communities as a whole. The “Unfunded” report provides an evidence base to what the Black community has been saying for decades. There is a lack of Black people in decision-making positions. Board members and senior leaders should be working to increase the diversity of grant decision-makers and strengthen the trust between funders and the Black community. Having a Funding system that oppresses Black people and limits the funding to Black communities is not a problem for Black people to fix, it’s for the gatekeepers of the system.
  2. Lack of access to social capital. The panel agreed that there is no justice until all people have equal access to social capital.  Findings from the Unfunded report further support this. The report indicates that: “The top 10 foundations, representing over $10 billion in assets, disbursed 0.03 percent of funds to Black-led organizations in the 2017 and 2018 fiscal years, and 0.13 percent of funds to Black-serving organizations in the same timeframe.” Access is also about building relationships to obtain that social capital. This involves making an intentional effort to include Black people in the conversations that result in funding strategies, as well as being more intentional in the hiring and sharing of information directly with Black communities.
  3. Black organizations often have to frame their projects in a way that is colour-blind. Black organizations have spent years conforming to the culture within the Philanthropic sector.  This involves not saying who their target audience is when writing grant applications to be considered for funding. One panellist shared that they had to frame an organization that wasn’t Black-led to conform to the system. More recently, we are starting to see a few calls for applications actually asking organizations to self-identify and indicate who their target audience is. However, there is still work that needs to be done to prioritize funding towards Black organizations.
  4. Black organizations are assumed to be small and are not supported in an intentional way to expand. There is an imposition that a Black organization can be big, but not be too big” as the assumption is that most Funders see Black organizations as being small organizations. Black organizations have traditionally not been supported in a way to expand due to the paradigm of funding that they are experiencing. Foundations need to first acknowledge that Anti-Black racism exists and that the Philanthropic sector is not neutral. We need to first see where the inequities exist and acknowledge them, then move towards creating a strategy that addresses the inequities faced by many Black-led organizations.
  5. Trust-Based Grant-Making involves true participatory grant-making within Foundations. The time is now for Grantmakers to truly assess their grantmaking systems and make adjustments to reduce bias, disparities and become more inclusive. Reducing bias begins with making equity a key part of the Foundation’s culture and strategy. The responsibility remains within Foundations to strengthen trust between themselves and the Black community. This involves overcoming bias in hiring and promotion processes and being intentional as per creating space for Black staff within leadership and grant decision-making roles.
  6. What are some of the goals for the Foundation for Black Communities to accomplish? The plan is for this Foundation to:
  • Prioritize giving funds to Black communities using a model of “community philanthropy”, a model that provides “autonomy for Black communities to choose how, when, and where the money is spent.”
  • Be an active partner to the Philanthropic sector collaborating on initiatives that advance the cause for Black communities.
  • Advance policy to ensure Black communities will be on the funding landscape.
  • Support more Black organizations to remain active within this ecosystem.

In conclusion, as Jacqueline Copeland said during this discussion: “If you can’t name it, you can’t fix it.” For philanthropy to advance the equity for the Black community, it must first understand the demographics of the organizations being funded and the ones being declined. It’s impossible to change inequity in grant making if we turn a blind eye towards where the inequities lie. Foundations need to be intentional as per building in a long-term commitment to invest in the Black community, rather than just spend money on time-limited supports for the Black community. I believe the Foundation for Black Communities is essential and needs to be resourced in a way that can truly be responsive to the needs of Black organizations across Canada. However, the work shouldn’t just end there! In order to better serve the Black community through Philanthropy, we all must pause, reflect, examine the disaggregated data, and take action towards identifying the key issues of reform that would allow for genuine change.

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