Reflections from the Inside: Philanthropic Leaders on Racial Justice and Grantmaking

Rick Cohen is the national correspondent of the Nonprofit Quarterly magazine, (NPQ).

Editors’ Note: This retrospective look at the past two decades of philanthropy’s approaches to race was primarily based on interviews with 21 racial justice and equity leaders in the field. This article shares their stories, experiences and reflections on how the sector has changed and evolved in addressing race over the past 20 years and into the present. In some cases, they found themselves responding to factors outside of their institutions – incidents and dynamics in which nuances of race beyond the easily observable manifestations of racial animus propelled them to sharpen or deepen their understandings. In others, the impetus came internally, from the intersection of the quality and composition of foundation leadership with the foundations’ social justice missions. This led to grantmaking that wasn’t simply “designated” for specific racial or ethnic groups, but aimed at addressing and rectifying racial disparities that result from complex dynamics.

We offer this mix of reflections recognizing that there was progress made in earlier stages of the field that can easily be forgotten and yet still holds lessons – in spite of being too soon lost in the collective discourse, or buried in reports on foundation shelves. We know it is not comprehensive, and many key moments and actors are still missing, but we believe it helps share a slice of the path of this work.

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