Fund Racial Justice Strategies, Not Just Diversity

Rinku Sen is the president and executive director of the Applied Research Center and publisher of ColorLines. Her latest book, The Accidental American: Immigration and Citizenship in the Age of Globalization (Berrett-Koehler, was released in September, 2008. She is a member of the PRE advisory board.

The Applied Research Center (ARC) has studied philanthropy in relation to communities of color through our report, Short-Changed: Foundation Giving and Communities of Color, and through a racial equity assessment tool that we have tested with two foundations. In each case, our findings revealed that although the total philanthropic dollars going to communities of color is dismal in itself, we have to go beyond counting diversity data to ensure that such philanthropy is generating racial justice.

It is difficult to count the distribution of philanthropic dollars by race – not all foundations keep such data, and there is no public mandate requiring it. Even with having to qualify some of the data, however, Short-Changed found that although people of color make up nearly one-third of the general U.S. population, grants explicitly targeted to benefit them constituted only 7 percent of foundation giving in 2001. Grants to African American organizations in 2000 and 2001 constituted only 1.4 percent of total foundation grants, dropping from a high of 3.8 percent in 1999. The average size of grants to organizations that supported African Americans shrank by nearly 20 percent in that time. Grants to other communities of color showed similar patterns.


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