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If Not Now, Then When? Fueling Impact Beyond the Headlines

Taylor Toynes, left, For Oak Cliff executive director, and Xavier Henderson, director of strategy, took visitors onto the roof of the former Moorland YMCA in South Oak Cliff. Photo credit: Juan Figueroa, The Dallas Morning News

Last year, we urged funders in the first of five strategies to take direct action against racial injustice by investing significantly and quickly in the Black leaders and Black-led organizations operating on the frontlines of multiple crises. Many institutions, from foundations to corporations, have made improvements in how they engage with racial justice over this past year, but we have much work to do to build the supportive ecosystems needed to drive transformative change. Namely, ensuring the proximate Black leaders fighting for structural change and dismantling racist systems worldwide are resourced to propel their work forward.

Have institutions implemented meaningful and measurable actions to support racial justice, signaled in their statements one year ago? What will we do to equitably and sustainably resource racial justice work for the long haul?

Despite deploying a record-breaking amount in funds after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, philanthropic funds failed to reach the communities of color most affected by the pandemic and its impacts at a crucial time. An updated report from the Center for Disaster Philanthropy (CDP) and Candid found that only 23 percent of dollars distributed in 2020 were explicitly designated for persons and communities of color globally. This number drops down to 13 percent when looking specifically at institutional philanthropy (corporations, foundations, and public charities). Similarly, though American corporations pledged $50 billion toward racial equity after the murder of Mr. George Floyd last May, only $250 million has actually been spent or committed to date. In the private sector, Black business owners in the U.S. are more likely to cease the operations of their business due to insufficient sales or lack of financing than other racial groups. These findings suggest that changes in funding behavior and capital flows are happening much too slowly. Given the stark disparities in funding for Black-led organizations before the pandemic, addressing this at its root is urgent for their survival and the impact they have in their communities.

For many Black, Indigenous, and people of color-led organizations worldwide, their proximity to their communities and pre-existing relationships served as assets, allowing these organizations to pivot to address needs within their communities while the pandemic exacerbated inequities and the racial justice movement surged in the public sphere. Echoing Green Fellows Taylor Toynes and Xavier Henderson collectively distributed more than one million pounds of food to their community during this past year; Kennedy Odede and SHOFCO developed a COVID-19 rumor tracking system to protect members of Kenya’s urban slums from life-threatening misinformation; and Muzalema Mwanza distributed over 10,000 PPE materials for frontline health workers in Zambia so that 50,000 pregnant women were able to give birth in safe conditions during the pandemic. It has been more than one year of this devastating crisis. We must seize this critical opportunity to challenge and reform philanthropy’s old ways of working and ensure that organizations like these endure and thrive. Essential to this effort will be supporting Black proximate leaders and organizations closest to the solutions long after the media headlines subside.

The urgency is still here—it’s time for funders to accelerate the pace and volume of giving.

Over this year, institutions worldwide publicly denounced racism and expressed a commitment to racial justice work in order to meet the moment. And yet, rhetoric is outpacing impact. Despite being on the frontlines of crisis response and charting new paths for systemic change, 46 percent of Black-led nonprofits saw a decline in their grant funding as a consequence of the pandemic. We know that transforming philanthropic structures and practices will take time. But there are still strategies that can be employed now to ensure we are showing up as a force for good against structural racism and a driver of transformational social change.

  • Seek out and follow the lead of Black-led organizations and movements
    The Groundswell Fund Open Letter to Philanthropy authored by people of color-led public foundations asserts that “we will not get to a different destination by working in the same way.” In order to create seismic shifts of power toward the Black leaders and organizations defending Black lives, it is essential to be proactive, listen instead of lead, and forge equitable, not extractive, relationships. In addition to investing in the Black-led work building political, economic, and cultural power of Black communities, funders must also invest in community self-determination — to trust that communities directly impacted by structures of oppression hold the most transformative solutions. With trust at the forefront of funding relationships directly with communities, intermediary organizations like Echoing Green, or other sourcing pools, funders can fuel long-term transformational impact and strengthen the community-driven infrastructure needed to foresee, respond to, and mitigate harm from challenges.
  • Think long term as you fund those closest to the solutions
    Deep-rooted systemic issues cannot be solved in three to five years. The flow of capital must continue through unrestricted grants that allow organizations the resources to self-determine how to do their work and move beyond “survival mode.” Funding proximate Black leaders over the long haul is essential to an equitable recovery and future resilience. These visionary leaders were hard at work in their communities long before the pandemic and will continue to fight for the well-being of their communities long after.

From forging authentic relationships to supporting the bold ideas of Black organizers and innovators, there are plenty of ways to embrace this global disruption, practice accountability, and accelerate impact further and faster. Despite decades of inequitable funding practices, Black leaders have created and cultivated spaces of joy, possibility, and affirmation alongside resistance. Imagine the legacy they can dream and create with an abundance of resources at their side? Collectively, we have the chance to do everything we can to disrupt the life-cycle of systemic racism and injustice to build a new legacy—a just, equitable, and sustainable future for generations to come.

About this series

One year ago, we called on those who care about progress and positive social change to implement five strategies as we move forward together. In a series of blog posts over the course of the summer, we will reflect on these five strategies; what has changed, what remains the same, and what we need to remember now more than ever as the work continues.

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