“The philanthropic sector’s growing urgency to tackle inequities…offers strong motivation to take stock,” notes the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP) in its new publication, “Power Moves: Your essential philanthropy assessment guide for equity and justice.” There are, of course, many positive examples of philanthropic action to address inequality. NCRP highlights a few of these, including:
- In Washington DC, the Hill-Snowdon Foundation “makes grants to organizations that use multi-generational approaches to address issues facing low-income youth of color and other marginalized youth, and multi-issue organizing that promotes family-supporting and community-strengthening jobs.” This includes creating both a fund and funder’s network to support Black-led organizing.
- In California, the California Civic Participation Funders has brought together foundations and grantees in a common network which, since 2012, has led to $4 million in funding that has helped strengthen local organizations and networks “to mobilize and engage underrepresented voters more effectively” in four Southern California counties.
- In Pennsylvania, in January of this year, the Pittsburgh Community Foundation, for the first time in its history, filed an amicus brief in a state supreme court case that ended up throwing out the state’s congressional district map and instating a new one that allows for more competitive elections.
The examples are inspiring, but they are also far less common than they should be. “Power Moves” aims to help change that by providing a toolkit that can help guide foundations through a process of self-assessment, planning, and action. Additional support materials are available online. Developed by a team led by Lisa Ranghelli and Jennifer Choi, the toolkit is predicated on the idea that “taking time out for self-assessment and learning is an important part of the organizational cycle of planning, action, and reflection.”
The toolkit is also grounded in the notion that seeking to achieve equity without addressing power and privilege directly is a fool’s errand, and the failure of some in philanthropy (and nonprofits too) to understand this can be dangerous. In their report, Ranghelli and Choi observe that because “power is not often discussed openly and directly, it tends to grow in unintentional ways that mirror and exacerbate dominant power structures.”
The toolkit builds on at least a decade of work by NCRP on these issues, and in particular its Philamplify project, which assesses “the effectiveness of foundations by interviewing and surveying grantees and stakeholders and examining documents,” as NPQ once described it. Over the years, Philamplify has provided equity assessments of a number of leading foundations and the lessons learned over the years have helped inform NCRP’s latest work.
One feature that is notable about the toolkit is that NCRP decided to focus not on philanthropy as a whole, but rather on those foundations which have already signed on to an equity agenda. In other words, the toolkit is designed to be used by foundations that have made a commitment to targeting grants to under-resourced communities and that have already made explicit commitments to promoting community engagement, diversity, equity, and inclusion.
The toolkit authors have gone so far as to include a “readiness assessment” checklist. And, if your foundation is not ready? In that case, the authors advise focusing on education and training of staff and trustees first. After that, maybe talk to “some of the funders highlighted in this toolkit to find out how they got started on the path to building, sharing and wielding power for equity.”
But for those foundations who signed on the dotted line, the idea is to get real—and dig deep. As Ranghelli and Choi write in the report’s first sentence, “To make the world a better place, communities need to build power; funders need to share their power with these communities; and they both need to wield their power to influence relevant audiences and decision-makers.”
This, to say the least, is no small or easy task. After all, as Ranghelli and Choi point out, “Organized philanthropy represents institutions of the wealthy, and giving across the board is increasingly skewed toward the rich.” Moreover,