From our Director of Development, Kel McConaughey:
Anti-racism requires we embrace equity and inclusion, even when it’s inconvenient. We have to look beyond the standard discussions held by organizations’ staff and consider the power dynamics in partnerships, specifically those that involve funding. Nonprofit organizations rely on foundation donations as well as donors who give at a multitude of levels. What is the exact origin of the wealth that provides such essential financial support? How do ideas of scarcity and competition fuel how nonprofit organizations make their decisions or compromise their values and convictions around the work?
Money enters and exits the complex structure of the nonprofit industry in a myriad of ways. Within that structure resides an echo of colonialism as a continued extraction of labor from Black, Indigenous, people of color, and working-class people, which has produced corporate profits by underpaying a workforce that must subsist on wages that haven’t kept up with corporate earnings. Nonprofits can provide a path for companies that increasingly want to be publicly seen as leaders on various issues. Still, their giving tends to vary based on unreliable market factors. But the vast majority of charitable giving comes from individuals who provide 69% of all charitable gifts each year, in many small increments. However, it is the largest benefactors that often dictate how to allocate their donations and whom they should benefit.
In Edgar Villanuava’s Decolonizing Wealth: Indigenous Wisdom to Heal Divides and Restore Balance, he provides a view into the world of philanthropy via an Indigenous lens. He offers a direct response and compelling alternatives to the dynamics of colonialization in the social finance sectors. Villanuava suggests we explore our personal connection to money, refuse to subscribe to the mainstream, dominant way of thinking, and reach outside of our networks to learn from those with different experiences.
We must look at how we are addressing symptoms without affecting the structures and systems that produce inequity. Ford Foundation President Darren Walker, in his book From Generosity to Justice: A New Gospel of Wealth, suggests that philanthropy exerts too much power on behalf of the rich and the privileged. It has a role to play, but in a democracy, only the people can fix, at scale, the significant challenges of our day. He proposes that one of the side effects of privilege and wealth is their belief that they can provide the solution to things around which they have no expertise, lived experience, or real knowledge. When we treat only the symptoms – inaccessible and unaffordable health care, mass incarceration, economic inequality, housing issues, and an underfunded education system – we will not produce a society of shared prosperity.
We need to have honest and challenging conversations about how nonprofits access various types of funding if we want to root out the vestiges of white supremacy. Across the industry, all nonprofits must prioritize equity or remain complicit in accepting unjust power dynamics. Nonprofits must have honest conversations with funders about their need for unrestricted support that can better respond to emergent and ever-evolving community needs. Challenging donors, whether they invest $25 or $25,000, to support the most critical projects, is essential in creating sustainable organizations that work for everyone and build social equity. We must invite donors to reflect on values that show a commitment to racial equity.
We can no longer downplay differences in identity and experience but, instead, point them out and actively work to prevent any further harm.