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December 16, 2007


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"The level of giving to diverse communities has remained stagnant at levels far below proportionality."

I don't see this in the data you link to. And how would the Foundation Center know which of my foundation's grants go to diverse communities? How can the Foundation Center determine this when it would be extremely difficult and costly for my own foundation to determine this?

I guess I'm also skeptical of the argument that hiring more middle class professionals of color to decision making roles in foundations will make any perceivable difference in the lives of the poor. You don't change the lives of the poor by substituting one set of self-important assholes for another, present company excluded of course (any friend of Albert's is a friend of mine).


I suppose 'democratizing philanthropy' is just a less appalling way of referring to philanthropizing democracy.

Albert Ruesga

As one commenter put it, "The revolution will not be funded." (Was that one of yours, sa'luk?) Isn't this ultimately an empirical question—namely, do CEOs of color tend to do better by the poor than their white counterparts? And if they do, is it enough of a difference to make a difference?

A philanthropized democracy is something for the teratologists to consider. It'll be something for us to worry about after we introduce democracy to this country.

Chris Cardona

Unfortunately, the historical data on giving to populations of color is not available on the Foundation Center's website, but the document to consult is Foundation Giving Trends. Check out WorldCat (http://worldcat.org/search?q=Foundation+Giving+Trends&qt=owc_search) for its location at a library near you. The Foundation Center's methodology is, according to the document linked to in the post, "Based on a sample of 1,263 larger foundations...Figures include only grants awarded to recipient organizations that could be identified as serving specific populations or grants whose descriptions specified a benefit for a specific population." It appears that they go through their grants database for their sample of larger foundations and code based on the name of the organization and the subject matter of the grant. Applied Research Center (http://www.arc.org/content/view/271/48/) and Greenlining Institute (http://www.grantmakingschool.org/Content/Documents/1108143229-GIInvestDemocracy.pdf) have tried to go more in depth, and neither paints a particularly rosy picture, to say the least.

Tidy Sum

It is been said here several times that institutions reflect the status quo of the larger society.

Suppose we had aimed one of those pocket Diversitron organizational scanning devices that they sell at Brookstone and aimed it at our venerable fields of healthcare, education, and politics, for example, would the Impact Calibrated Equitometer read much differently?

Heck, I just ran a Gendergram on mine for the entire field of philanthropy in my tri-state area and it found that while there are tons of women in the field, 67% of foundations are currently doing their grantmaking for women's programs as if they were still in 1973.

Addressing equity is a much tougher issue than playing the hiring by color game.

Chris Cardona

Agreed, Tidy Sum. I think we need to know more about how those connections between representation and outcomes really operate (or don't), and why (or why not). With the figures you cite, one question is, are those women in decision-making roles? But it's a much broader issue, one that has to do with the internal culture of individual foundations. To see real change in the outcomes of giving to underserved communities, representation has to be part of a larger strategy. Which is why I like the connection to equity and democracy, because it situates diversity in a larger context and points beyond the numbers game to decision-making and organizational culture.


One of the major stumbling blocks in these discussions is vagueness about what people mean when they talk about philanthropy and diversity. A quick look at the Foundation Center link isn't particularly illuminating. Almost 60% of grant dollars go to benefit an unspecified "public." They also point out that nearly half of foundation dollars go to health and education, which presumably includes both large grants to major hospitals and universities as well as to community health clinics and inner city charter schools.

The result is that I, for one, have a hard time picturing what the ideal, diverse funding picture is. I agree that there ought to be more diversity, but where exactly the disjuncture is and what it would look like fixed is undefined. Would it mean diverting dollars from big universities to community organizations? Would it mean diverting it from community organizations serving the general public to those serving a particular ethnic minority? Less funding for education and more for civic organizations? How do we account for differences in costs between types of work (providing services tends to cost more than advocating for government provision of them)?

I think this discussion needs (along with better data) a much more precise definition of what "diversity" and "equity" of giving would actually constitute.

Tidy Sum

Do we really need another study to convince us that philanthropy disproportionately supports upper and middle class interests over the interests of the working poor?

The bloghorrea on WCT regularly howls in harmonious agony about how foundations artfully dodge the big issues related to poverty, race, and class.

I think that the endless stream of reports, predictable "we gotta do better" editorials, and podium thumping keynote speeches that document that organizations led by people of color are underfunded and ignored do a fair job of highlighting dozens of scenarios that support a more equitable allocation of resources.

Chris is on to something when he says we gotta dig deep into our bone closet and talk about power, organizational culture, structures of decision-making, intergroup relations, internalized oppression, and class priveledge.


I'm just frustrated by how language about equity and diversity in philanthropy obscures rather than clarifies the discussion and points of action. Almost nobody is against "diversity" or "equity" in the abstract.

If what "lack of diversity" means is the failure of philanthropic money to flow to organizations led by people of color, then insist on that as the focus of the discussion. "Diverse sector" in the main post seems to be about both the funding of nonprofit projects led by people of color, the funding of nonprofits in underserved communities, and racial, ethnic and class make-up of foundation staffs. They're related. But when we use the same term to talk about all of them, we end up talking about different things at the same time.

The result is that, as I understand most posters, a "diverse sector" in terms of foundation staff that does not fund organizations led by people of color is not a "diverse sector."


I share your frustrations, TS and Emily. They might be your frustrations too, Chris. The discussion of diversity is framed for us well in advance. We’ll be polite—most likely because that’s the way we were raised. The most radical step we take will be to commission another study. And our discussions will never, ever bring us to the issues suggested by Tidy Sum.

We (correctly) intuit that honesty about these issues is a “career-limiting move.” So we knowingly but remorsefully perpetuate the oppression, saying to ourselves, ‘I’ll play along for now. But things will be different when I call the shots.’

Emily hungers for clarity and action. TS for a kind of piercing honesty. I share these desires and hunger as well for a shaking of the frame. I suspect that at bottom we hunger for the same thing.


Merry Christmas, Albert, et al. It's a pleasure to know you...

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