Editors’ note: This article is from NPQ’s spring 2023 issue, “The Space Beyond: Building the Way.” In this conversation between Cyndi Suarez, NPQ’s president and editor in chief, and Isabelle Leighton, executive director of Donors of Color Network and former founding director of Equality Fund, the two leaders discuss how to move the philanthropic sector toward racial and social justice.

Cyndi Suarez: We are experiencing an increase in more explicit forms of racial injustice as racial equity gaps are actually widening along with the wealth gap, which overlap, as I’m sure you know. And I’ve been hearing, recently, from funders of color that our sector appears to be pulling away from funding justice work, especially racial justice, while there’s already a lot of inequity in funding along racial lines. So, in this context, Donors of Color Network comes out into the world and tries to move this mission of really moving the sector toward racial justice and social justice. I’m wondering, What’s your strategy for doing that, in that context?

Isabelle Leighton: I love that you’re starting with a nice and easy question, not like my favorite food or anything! So, this is a great question and something we get asked a lot. One of the things that we try to position and share and put out into the world is that people of color with wealth are an untapped power source. This is an experience that a lot of people who have been participating in philanthropy for decades are unaware of— the lived experiences of people of color with wealth and the type of philanthropy that they have contributed over decades. It looks different. It’s not institutional. It doesn’t fall within the same political ideological frameworks that are presented within a lot of the traditional philanthropy. And a lot of it is just not visible. I think a lot of times when we have the stories of what people of color with wealth, or BIPOC donors, focus on or what they care about, they’re not actually acknowledged and legitimized within institutional philanthropy. I’ll just share a couple of things. (And I did get a chance to peruse some of your articles, and I have so many questions about the work that you’ve been focusing on. Just very fascinating.) One of the topics that’s come up before and continues to be, I think, misleading is that people of color are not necessarily the most politically minded.

CS: Really? People think that?

“I would say this advocating—being a voice to hold mainstream [philanthropy] accountable—is a role that we play at Donors of Color Network and is really unique position that we take.”

IL: Yes. So, for example, this concept that Latinx donors might not necessarily be aligned with social justice values; or that Asian Americans just can’t pick a side—are nonpartisan. But actually, if you look at the history of the ways in which these donors have shown up in times of crisis, in times of investing long-term in communities, it may not be called “social justice” philanthropy but their actions and their investments demonstrate that they are focused on that work. And there are countless examples of this, and a lot of it is not recorded in what you would consider more “mainstream” philanthropy, or within (c)(3) giving or nonprofit giving. And that’s essentially what we’re focused on in our research, in our Portrait report: that philanthropy always sounds like someone else.1 And that there’s a sort of legitimacy question and visibility question around what kinds of contributions people of color have made.

So, I would say there are two angles to what you’re referring to here with the whole racial justice investment. One, How do we, as people of color with wealth, hold mainstream philanthropy accountable to what type of commitments they’re making? There’s been a lot of PR and showing up and standing up against anti-Black racism, for example, over the last two years, yet we don’t have as much data on how accountable we really have been in philanthropy toward giving in ways that are centered on what Black philanthropy wants to focus on. I know, we have a lot of new Black funds and a lot of organized philanthropy that is not considered the most . . . it’s not institutionalized; but at the same time, we have a lot of mainstream philanthropy that has not really shifted its giving to be focused on BIPOC communities. And one of the things that we’re able to do at Donors of Color Network is to hold that mainstream philanthropy accountable. And we’ve done that through our Climate Funder Justice Pledge2; and we’ve had requests from our members to really look at other spaces of giving for that, and to see if we can develop some partnerships for research and data. So, I would say this advocating—being a voice to hold mainstream [philanthropy] accountable—is a role that we play at Donors of Color Network and is a really unique position that we take.

I think the other piece is that we don’t have very many vehicles for multiracial solidarity work—especially not within philanthropy, and especially not led by people of color in philanthropy. So, that is a space that we’re hoping to do some thinking, some collective action, on. We’ve started a little bit of this by creating a couple of collective giving pools since we were founded, in 2019. We created a Power Fund in 2020, where we gave to a variety of different BIPOC-led community groups across the country.3 And then, most recently, we just launched . . . it’s almost like a pilot fund. It’s called Solidarity Is Power, and it’s a fund for multiracial democracy. The idea is that we’re grounding ourselves in the desire to create infrastructure for multiracial democracy, so that people of color and voters of color are really centered and resourced over time. And what we heard again and again, in the last few months, while we were trying to figure out what our political strategy could look like, was communities of color saying that the funding dries up when we’re not in a cycle year, that there is no off-cycle year for communities of color, we’re dealing with issues that are not on the ballot, and we also don’t have leaders to choose from that reflect our communities. And so, there’s a lot of deeper work that needs to be done.

And those of us who have the lived experience of being people of color who now have financial resources are a very powerful ally for these community groups. We’re experimenting and trying to see what ways we can work together. We launched this [Solidarity Is Power] fund very recently, and we’re going to test it out, see how it goes, and try to get our members to give into a pooled fund and leverage their relationships to give to more of these groups. And a lot of the members have been political donors in the past but not necessarily aware of all the groups across the country that have this deep civic engagement work that’s really blossoming both on the (c)(3 )and the (c)(4) side.

CS: I saw your Portrait report, and it had very interesting findings. The one that really stood out to me was that almost every high-net-worth individual or donor of color you spoke with experienced racial and ethnic bias, and it influenced them to want to fund systemic change but they did not know how to effect the changes they wanted to see. And so, in an interview I read, you were talking about this. You said, “Unfortunately, many philanthropic leaders take a scarcity mindset and question BIPOC-led movements’ efficacy, including donors of color”4—which made me think of a conversation I had with Shanelle Matthews, who’s the communications director for the Movement for Black Lives. She has been a fellow at NPQ this year, and in an interview I did with her, she talks about this issue of class in the Black community. She says, “People want to be part of the change, but they also have these allegiances to the systems that allow for racism to exist. Undoubtedly, there is a tiny group of Black people with significant wealth who experience the world differently. And while they still face racism like the rest of us, the political outcomes of their unique experiences determine how they feel about these uprisings. So, we saw many Black people on different places on the socioeconomic spectrum participate. Still, wealthy Black people also have the privilege of surrounding themselves with people and experiences that might shrink their exposure to racial bias.”5 She talks about this as a real challenge for movement workers to get that funding from the people who want systemic change. So, I’m just wondering, How can those who are working for systemic change and the donors that want to see systemic change come together to actually advance this change and thereby be models of transformative philanthropy toward justice? I’m wondering how that comes up in the work that you do with these donors. Does it come up?

IL: Yes, it does.

CS: How does it close that gap?

IL: There are so many different angles to respond to with this. First of all, because of how philanthropy is organized, there’s a major access issue—not just to people of color with wealth but all people with wealth. So, people who are fundraisers—and I started my career as a fundraiser, so I’ve always been committed to leveraging resources, redistribution of resources, fundraising—really have to have a good analysis of class in order to walk in some of these spaces. A lot of the fundraising that’s happening with some of the biggest dollars come from people who already have money. Peers will fund each other, and they have this clear sense of shared knowledge and understanding. And often, when you start to introduce somebody who has a different type of background, there’s a lot of bias, and that person ends up having to do a lot of the education. And so, I think what you’re speaking to is very complex, because we want to try to simplify it and really focus on the race part, but a lot happens with class. And I think when you talk about fundraising and how to get access to financial resources, you’re already in a particularly oppressive system. And it’s no matter who you’re going to be asking.

CS: You’re saying that’s because of class?

IL: Yes, I would say because of how wealth is organized, right? Because wealth is so aligned with how power gets distributed. And so, in our last retreat—we have a membership retreat where we bring our members together to . . .

CS: How many do you have?

IL: We have 70 members. We have institutional and individual.

CS: They are US based?

IL: All US based. So, we’re really focused on organizing US-based philanthropy. Of course, because we’re people of color, there’s a lot of diasporic giving and relationships that are international. But in that conversation that we had, someone did bring this up—and it was one of the movement allies who was invited to join us and participate in our programming and to develop relationships and access.

CS: You invited someone to come to the retreat?

IL: Yes. We try to create a space where we can develop those relationships, but it did come up. Someone did say, “How do we get access? We don’t even know who these people are. We keep hearing about all these wealthy people of color—how do we develop these relationships?” And it’s challenging, because we are trying to create . . . our organization is intended to be a vehicle to distribute this wealth and distribute these financial resources. But as people of color with wealth, we have a lot of different conversations that we need to get aligned on. And there needs to be a lot of discussion around what our priorities are and how to better align around different issues.

CS: When you say we, you mean donors of color with each other, aligning on how they want to give?

IL: Yes. So . . . when you originally talked about the quote . . . it was actually quite a pattern. So many of those donors felt that they wanted to give to BIPOC-led work but didn’t necessarily have the tools to know where a lot of this work is. It’s not that there isn’t giving already happening; it’s just that the giving is happening outside of nonprofits. It’s happening in communities where there might not be a (c)(3) status. There may be families that people are trying to support, there may be local community groups they’re supporting that are not really institutionalized. Or maybe the issues that some of our members have been invested in don’t fit within the categories of what’s considered so-called “social justice,” right?

CS: Is there something wrong with that pattern of giving?

“There’s a very specific kind of analysis we have when we’re working in social justice, around what’s considered powerful giving or systemic change, that might look a little different when you start to have more of a conversation that’s grounded in the lived experience of people of color.”

IL: There’s nothing wrong with it. The purpose, the whole point, is to legitimize it—to be able to make it visible and put it in the context of the culture of giving and how that looks for people of color. Part of what we’re doing is trying to shine a light on what the experience of being donors of color is like. So, for example, we have members who talk about their need to support transnational work, or they have families that are in the diaspora who need support, and they’re struggling to figure out the best ways to give. And they’re not looking for a nonprofit grantmaking vehicle; they’re looking for ways to invest in, say, businesses that will sustain not only their immediate family but an entire community, because of threats that their families are facing—whether political threats or climate or economic issues. And so, a lot of the questions that people have are, like, “How do I balance what I understand are these movements that are happening and also the needs that I’ve always given to and the issues I’ve always focused on?” And what we’ve done is tried to bring together our members with groups that are leading a lot of this work, and tried to get them to have real conversations and learn from each other. And most of the donors that we have in our network will give directly when they meet these groups, and it’s really just a matter of trying to figure out what the best vehicle is for them to be connected. And there are a lot of ways. There are so many groups, and so many opportunities. Solidarity Is Power is partnering with a platform called Just Fund as a way to start establishing some infrastructure to do that matchmaking work.

I would say there’s a need to have more affirmative stories about people of color and their giving. There’s a need to have a more intersectional approach to thinking about giving. There’s a very specific kind of analysis we have when we’re working in social justice philanthropy, around what’s considered powerful giving or systemic change, that might look a little different when you start to have more of a conversation that’s grounded in the lived experience of people of color. And so—I’ve had this conversation—when you have very frank and direct conversations with people who are fundraising who say that it’s not that they don’t have politically minded members and they’re not willing to give to, for example, Georgia-based civic engagement groups—it’s just that they haven’t interacted with those groups, they don’t know how to get in the same rooms with them—that is a really big challenge. This was an anecdote that I heard from one of our movement allies— that they don’t have any, or very few, people-of-color donors in this Georgia-based group. And we’re like, How’s that even possible? And part of the role here is to say, “How do we connect the people that we’re trying to organize through our relationships and members we’re trying to recruit?” We don’t have any members in Georgia right now, but we’re hoping to develop a base there. And say, “What does the relationship-building process look like? What does the donor-education process look like here?” There’s a lot of local philanthropy in Georgia, but it’s not connected to the national spaces in which a lot of us are circulating.

CS: That says a lot. So, can you tell me a little bit more about Donors of Color Network itself?

IL: It was sort of unintentionally founded, in a lot of ways. The founders created this report, this research, where we interviewed—I think it was—140 people of color with wealth, and 113 of the interviews made it into the report that you read. And after the interviews, or as we were doing the interviews, there was this desire to convene these individuals, because they all felt so isolated. And we brought this group together in 2019.

CS: What kinds of people were in this group? “Of color” means what?

IL: So, these are people who have self-identified as people of color and have become a donor or who are intending to give, and so this would be inclusive of younger-generation or next-generation philanthropists who have resources. We were generally saying, a million dollars or above of liquid assets—or this would roughly translate to the ability to give $50,000 a year.

CS: Self-identifying is definitely a criterion, because a lot of people of color don’t identify that way even though others might identify them that way. So, how did you find them? Through research or through knowing people?

IL: Through the networks of the founders of Donors of Color Network. They have very seasoned practitioners in philanthropy. We have one person who worked in the giving-circle work through Asian American networks and a lot of women’s giving spaces; and we have one person who’s been really focused on political donors and understanding what those networks look like, and also on women-focused spaces. And then we had one person who was focused on LGBTQ giving and had a lot of relationships in that. And so, through their combined networks, and also asking for recommendations of others who would want to be interviewed. That was how we found them. And the research continues.

We just published this report, but we’d like to figure out ways to do additional reports. We’re doing one that’s based on Bay Area members and donors, because there’s a long history of philanthropy and people of color with wealth in that area. We will probably have other geographic-focused research, as well. But they were based on relationships, and we were very aware of the fact that this was a very small sample size based on who we were able to find. Through the research and looking at census data, we were able to identify that there are over a million people of color with assets over a million dollars. So, it’s quite a small sample size, but it’s actually bigger than any other study.

“We like to say our values are joy, power, and community. And we also say that love is our competitive advantage. It’s really about the dignity and humanity of people.”

CS: Interesting. These numbers are so fascinating, just to put some contour to this.

IL: Yes. And, of course, we do acknowledge the gaps. It’s pretty challenging to find certain members and donors who may not hold official or formal positions in certain groups. We leveraged our relationships through institutional philanthropy and through donor networks where people have actually signed on to be part of them. Some business-community giving groups. There are plenty of people who give just through their own personal donor-advised funds, or just through their businesses, who we haven’t reached yet. And so, there’s a whole world of people to recruit.

Going back to your question about what it is that we do and how we are functioning—from the founding, it was just like serendipity, right? Bringing people together, and this desire to say, “Is there a need to have a network?” And it was a resounding “Yes!” It was about 100 people coming together, and we wanted to create a space where the values of the donors were really acknowledged. We like to say our values are joy, power, and community. And we also say that love is our competitive advantage. It’s really about the dignity and humanity of people, and really understanding that when you’re talking about supporting people-of-color- and BIPOC- led movements, that a lot of the work that these groups are doing, and that we individually have experienced, is quite traumatic. And a lot of times, the struggle and the pain are what get put front and center in philanthropy without acknowledging how powerful and joyful and resilient our communities are. I think things have shifted a lot in the last few years.

CS: Can you give me an example of what you mean by traumatic? So, you’re saying that when they were looking at what gets funded, they focus on traumatic events? I’m just trying to understand what you mean by traumatic in this case.

IL: So, this is more like taking a solutions and affirmative approach to the stories of our communities. I’ll just share from my own personal experience. I went to a Muslim foundation philanthropy event in Dearborn, recently. And before I attended the event, I decided: I’m going to go check out the Charles H. Wright Museum, the African American Museum and permanent exhibit in Detroit—because I had never been, and I don’t know Detroit very well. And what I really loved about that permanent exhibit was that it started from this land of abundance in Africa—the history, and really understanding the full resources of the continent, and the political history—and then put in full context what the forced migration looked like, and how colonization and manufacturing really just put slavery and our history in the United States into hyperdrive. What we focus on in our history is the pain and the suffering of what forced migration and that history look like and what that legacy looks like, but we do not talk about the ways in which political power was gained afterward, post-Reconstruction. We do not talk about the educational leaders and the type of legacy of civil rights and legal expertise that’s within the African American community. We do not talk about how entrepreneurial these communities were, even though they were enslaved—whether it was going to the markets on Sundays to sell goods that they had access to or negotiating with the slave owners to be able to have those days off to spend time together. And the music and the art and just the lived experience of that—that is not centered in the histories when we talk about slavery.

“This is not to say that donors of color are not, or at least our members are not, facing and grounded in our lived experience of the trauma. It’s more that when philanthropy—mainstream philanthropy—talks about needs and injustice, they focus on the problems.”

CS: Is that a point of tension between donors of color and movements? I mean, of course, movements have a lot of vision, but there is a lot of dealing with trauma.

IL: Yes. This is not to say that donors of color are not, or at least our members are not, facing and grounded in our lived experience of the trauma. It’s more that when philanthropy—mainstream philanthropy—talks about needs and injustice, they focus on the problems. And they focus on the struggles without really giving access to solutions that are grounded in people who actually had those direct experiences. And so, that idea that people who have suffered the most have the closest access to what the solution should be, is what we are talking about here.

CS: That’s what movement leaders say, too, so I guess they agree on that.

IL: Oh, yes. We’re quite aligned with movement leaders. The tension is not with movement leaders. The tension is with organized philanthropy. The tension is with: How does organized philanthropy decide that they have to distribute what little funding goes to BIPOC communities? That’s the tension.

CS: Systemic change that they want to see that they feel like they don’t necessarily know how to address is with the established philanthropy?

IL: Yes. So, there are a couple of things. One is the story with our Climate Funders Justice Pledge. We were able to recruit 29 foundations to sign on to this pledge to increase their funding to at least 30 percent to BIPOC-led environmental justice movements. But in those conversations, the organizing to get to recruiting these foundations involved a lot of our advocacy. We had to tell the stories of what movement solutions look like, and how they’re very sophisticated, and how it’s about time to give to—to fully fund—communities of color, because the previous ways of funding are not working. And the kinds of questions that we were asked were things like, “How do you know they’re going to work?” And we have to give multiple examples. And so, we realized that part of our role is to be able to amplify some of these stories and to really be a resource for mainstream philanthropy—to say, “When you’re questioning where you should find BIPOC-led environmental justice groups, here’s a list right here. And here’s a whole bunch of funders who’ve already signed on; you can also talk to them about who they’re giving to.” And so, that’s an example.

CS: So, that’s the kind of work that you do.

IL: Yes, that’s one area. You can think of it two ways, right? One is advocating within philanthropy to center philanthropy on racial equity and justice and to center BIPOC-led work. So, that’s one piece of the work.

CS: And are you hearing the same thing that I’m hearing? Are people more hesitant to fund racial justice now than they were maybe two years ago?

IL: I don’t know if they’re more hesitant; I just don’t know if they were ever really committed. And I think the problem with philanthropy is, it’s very short-term. So, I think sometimes the funding may have come in full force from a few funders—a handful, maybe—and then everybody else. It was sort of like a marketing budget. And I don’t mean to be harsh when I say that—but basically, a lot of foundations didn’t have the pool organized. They just sort of said, “Well, where can we get this money to give out?” And, “Well, this is a rapid need. This is marketing. We’re feeling the need to raise awareness within our”—let’s say—“corporation” or “foundation. Gotta find the money somewhere.” And it came out of a line that wasn’t already organized, wasn’t already identified. And foundations have budgets, too. That’s a thing that people always forget, right? It’s like, Okay, I don’t agree with how the resources are allocated within organized philanthropy or foundations. . . I don’t know how many of these foundations dug deep past their 5 percent distribution . . . I mean, I know there are a few who have. But, in these moments, it was compounded by a pandemic, and we saw people losing their revenue or having to pull back. There were definitely foundations that said, “Oh, we have to pull back on our budgets completely, not just for racial-justice-focused work.” And some foundations never even had a racial justice budget or portfolio. And so, I don’t know if they’ve done the work to try to organize. There are definitely many foundations that have. But you know, that work doesn’t happen overnight. It takes a long time.

So, going back to the issues of organizing. One is advocacy. Advocating within mainstream philanthropy. The other is our own collective work. What does our own collective action look like? And so, that is where I would say we take more of an organizing approach. So, just taking the principles of community organizing and applying them to donor organizing. Our base is people of color with wealth. We have to do the base-building work to recruit, to build alignment. Building alignment is through conversations, relationship building, education. Education is through shared learning, peer-to-peer learning: What are you giving to? This is my understanding of this problem and analysis. This is my lived experience of this problem. And it’s also introducing our members to movement groups, to say, “Hey, here’s a really great group working on reparations. Have you ever wondered how you can give in this area?” “I never gave in this area. Wow, I’m so glad I met these people. Six months later, I made a donation because I signed up for the newsletter and followed up with the executive director.” That kind of thing. Doing that sort of alignment and base building and education.

And, ultimately, I think we’ll be putting together a different collective action, right? It could be that the Solidarity Is Power giving platform is a way for us to test and see how many of our members will give when we create this vehicle. And what are the questions that come up for them when they do make that giving? How much are they going to give? Is this something that we can extend and amplify and use as a recruitment tool? Those are all things that we will be testing. I mean, we’re only three years old. We were founded in 2019—first year of operation was 2020. So, there’s a lot of building to be done. But yeah, that would be, I would say, the way that we’re working. And we’re both a (c)(3) and a (c)(4), so we have a lot of flexibility to do political work. For the most part, our political work has been around aligned giving; so, sharing opportunities with our members and letting them direct their giving to different organizations. And we have had some pooled giving, as well.

CS: Do you have any questions for me?

IL: I think the biggest question I have is, from your vantage point, what is the impact that a group like ours could have in philanthropy? I feel like this is one of those moments when we’re very aware from where we sit— but I know you’ve done a lot of deep thinking. I love what I’ve read so far, especially the things that are a little bit adjacent, like the hierarchy article that you wrote.6 I thought that was very interesting and very present right now. But yeah, what kind of impact would you like to see a group like us have?

“I’m thinking of the kind of space we’re in now, where there is a higher level of everything, intersectionality across all these different groups. And what leaders of color were telling us is that they need to have knowledge-creation space. So, knowledge creation is something that everyone was asking for. Movement leaders were asking for it. Nonprofit leaders were asking for it. Funders were asking for it.”

CS: Well, it’s really interesting, because NPQ is, I think, the only media organization in civil society that’s not focused exclusively on philanthropy. And it’s really interesting to me how much philanthropy still wants from us. So, we’ve been really looking into it. I noticed over the past year and a half since I’ve been the editor in chief that the writing has really changed. I think people of color want to speak to philanthropy. I have a lot of philanthropists calling me and saying, “Can you create a program so that I can meet the leaders that you are profiling?” So, for us as an organization, we’re bringing some leaders in philanthropy to the board, because I’m really trying to understand how to do that. 

I think what keeps me so hopeful is all the work that’s being done—there’s so much amazing work being done. If I didn’t know about it, I would probably be as discouraged as many people seem to be. But there’s just so much that’s happening, and I’ve been in this work for almost 30 years, and the sophistication! I’ve been in philanthropy. I’ve been in nonprofits. I’ve been a consultant. I was a consultant for movements, and it’s just been really developing. So, I’m thinking of the kind of space we’re in now, where there is a higher level of everything, intersectionality across all these different groups. And what leaders of color were telling us is that they need to have knowledge-creation space. So, knowledge creation is something that everyone was asking for. Movement leaders were asking for it. Nonprofit leaders were asking for it. Funders were asking for it. They were telling us, “We need access to the knowledge that we need to do this work well.” So, we shifted at NPQ to really look at, What is the knowledge that is needed right now to bring about the society that we want? And so, finding that knowledge and highlighting it is kind of different than the work that we did before. There’s a lot more that we have to do. For example, we have a VoiceLab program in response to leaders of color asking us to help them develop their voice.7 And many leaders, including funders, are asking us for space to develop their voice, because they’ve never been able to do that, to have an authentic voice in their work. That was a yearlong project, where people dug deep into themselves. It was really intense to hear how much people give up to become a leader. So, I think there’s a lot of work around knowledge creation that’s really necessary. 

As I listen to you talk, it makes me think that if you were open to it, I would love to do a series. So many people want to get their stories out there. And when they see us doing that, we get even more calls from people who have more stories. I feel that’s really useful to the field. It’s amazing to track all this, to be a space where everyone’s coming at you and you’re convening people who don’t usually talk. I recently met with four philanthropy officers from India and China, who asked, “How do you create an NPQ?” 

I think of it as knowledge that’s usable. And that tends to be not just new knowledge but also ancient wisdoms that people want to tap back into. I think that that’s really important. I think people now who are in these positions, especially leaders of color, are just really open to new ways to move forward, and want direction, and know that people have direction to give. And I just think that there’s something to some level of the infrastructure that’s higher than maybe what we were used to seeing around knowledge.

IL: Knowledge—yes, that’s a really interesting point. I’ve been thinking about that. We’re about to launch into strategic planning and looking at different roles. And we were founded on research and trying to create more data on people of color with wealth and donors of color, so that really resonates as a role. And I absolutely would love to talk through a partnership. We could find a way to follow up on this, but one of our members wants to talk about the funding that they’re doing in Puerto Rico for reproductive health.

CS: It’s so interesting that you’re saying that, because we’re trying to figure out how to cover Puerto Rico more, too.

IL: Yes, I read your article.8 I thought that was so interesting.

CS: That was so fascinating, how the media organization there is so critical to everything functioning.

IL: Yes, and it makes sense! The Latinx community has done a lot of media work in general, and it has a lot of leadership right now in media infrastructure across the country. But yes, Puerto Rico in particular. We have a member who’s doing this and speaking of things that people don’t pay attention to, right? They were so frustrated.

CS: I’m from Puerto Rico, so I’ve been paying attention.

IL: That’s good. This is a perfect example. After the Dobbs decision, there’s been a lot of reproductive and abortion focus on the states but completely ignoring how this might impact Americans who are in Puerto Rico, and how Puerto Rico was really a sanctuary place for people seeking healthcare and reproductive healthcare. And so, one of our members is going to be talking about that imminently.

And then on the Asian American side, we have one of our board members, a founding member, who has been very active in the affirmative-action case with SCOTUS, representing the Harvard Asian American Alumni Association. And, really, part of the thinking there is that we do need to think more about solidarity. And that’s a very complex set of arguments that, if you’re not in it, you might not understand where a lot of Asian Americans stand on the topic. And I think there’s a certain type of narrative that’s being put out there about Asian Americans and our positions on this. And of course, the opposition has a very specific strategy on how to frame it around race neutrality, which is very fascinating. I think, for those of us who are trying to track how racial equity and justice work is shifting, we’re trying to bring in this colorblind racism, this race neutrality or postracial idea, when really the numbers show it’s not [postracial]. That is a very nuanced argument that—if you’re not really tracking or you’re not grounded in the history and the data—could get very murky. And then, just in general, the concept of having a partnership, I think that’s great. I love the type of research and articles [from NPQ] that our team shared with me. You’re getting into some of the issues that I think are really relevant for our members.

CS: Well, thank you so much. I’m so glad we connected.

IL: Nice to meet you. Thanks, Cyndi




  1. Hali Lee, Urvashi Vaid, and Ashindi Maxton, Philanthropy Always Sounds Like Someone Else: A Portrait of High Net Wealth Donors of Color (Redan, GA: Donors of Color Network, 2022).
  2. “Climate Funders Justice Pledge,” Donors of Color Network, accessed March 14, 2023, climate.donorsofcolor.org/.
  3. “Power Fund,” Donors of Color Action, accessed March 29, 2023, donorsofcoloraction.org/power-fund/.
  4. “Isabelle Leighton, Interim Executive Director, Donors of Color Network: Shifting the center of gravity toward racial and economic justice,” Philanthropy News Digest, March 17, 2022, philanthropynewsdigest.org/features/newsmakers/isabelle-leighton-interim-executive-director-donors-of-color-network-shifting-the-center-of-gravity-toward-racial-and-economic-justice.
  5. Cyndi Suarez and Shanelle Matthews, “Pro-Blackness Is Aspirational: A Conversation with Cyndi Suarez and Shanelle Matthews,” Nonprofit Quarterly Magazine 29, no.1 (Spring 2022): 102–111.
  6. Cyndi Suarez, “Hierarchy and Justice,” NPQ, September 27, 2022, nonprofitquarterly.org/hierarchy-and-justice/.
  7. See “One of the most powerful things you can do as a leader is articulate things that are not yet clear,” The VoiceLab, accessed March 7, 2023, edgeleadership.org/.
  8. Cyndi Suarez, “Puerto Rico: The Critical Role of Information and the Nonprofit Sector in Disaster Living,” NPQ, November 3, 2022, nonprofitquarterly.org/puerto-rico-the-critical-role-of-information-and-the-nonprofit-sector-in-disaster-living/.