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Racial Equity in Grantmaking: Community Foundations Must Lead the Way


November 4, 2021

Recently, I had the opportunity to be part of a panel at Grantmakers for Education’s national conference focused on internal and external strategies to pursue race equity in grantmaking. The panelists included colleagues from the William + Flora Hewlett Foundation, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and Community Foundation of Greater Chattanooga. We discussed what it means to walk the talk regarding shifting resources and practices toward racially equitable outcomes in our local and national communities.

Our conversation was part of a larger series of profiles, captured on Refuse to Lose, about how funders contend with their own power and privilege in relationship to community partnerships. Themes that emerged from the provocative conversation included that the efforts to sustain DEI practices must include integrating equity across everything we do, both internally and externally,  and a collective agreement that if we are doing our best work, we will most definitely have to break some rules to put resources in places and people where they have been historically denied. 

I was just a few weeks into my new position as The Denver Foundation’s Senior Director of Policy, Partnership, and Learning when this conversation took place. I realized I bring a unique, fresh perspective to the Foundation’s new Strategic Framework, which centers racial equity in grantmaking, fundraising, and business operations. How does a nearly 100-year-old community foundation, with an already established track record of focusing on racial inequities, lean even further into this promise to the community?

I have the opportunity to see with fresh eyes a critical question — which is not “How does your staff or board know you are making an impact?” — but, “How does the community know we are making an impact on our commitments to racial equity?” What will the community see, feel, and experience when they work in partnership with The Denver Foundation? 

As I have had many discussions with my new TDF colleagues to discuss the way forward, this is what I have consistently heard.

The community will know we are making an impact when:

  • More BIPOC-led organizations are being funded, supported, and sustained because of our work.
  • We continue to build a more racially diverse staff and board with lived experiences connected to the issues we want to impact.
  • People view the Foundation as a learning organization, willing to be part of tough conversations, and open to being shaped by community leaders who run constituent-led and constituent-inspired organizations.
  • We are developing a policy and advocacy platform to make our voice more visible as a result of community feedback, and we are using our position and influence to shift policy levers to drive changes the community wants to see.
  • New donor and restricted funds (local and national) come to the Foundation as a result of shared values on racial justice.
  • Current donors are exposed to new organizations and or deepen their commitments to current organizations with a focus on racial equity.
  • We are transparent about the racial equity lens that guides our internal processes. Donors, grantees, and community partners understand how we make decisions.

The dialogue with my Denver Foundation colleagues, and with my national partners on what actionable steps we must take, give me inspiration that philanthropy can and must do better to operationalize philosophical commitments to racial equity. We have much room to improve on more equitable funder-community relationships, and so much to gain in terms of our impact. With an eye to my future at The Denver Foundation, I look forward to that challenge.

Dr. Janet Lopez is the Senior Director of Policy, Partnership and Learning at The Denver Foundation and can be reached at jlopez@denverfoundation.org