1/22/2018 0 Comments
This piece originally appeared on The Chronicle of Philanthropy.
Good ideas come from people of all backgrounds, but the evidence suggests that the distribution of money to help nonprofits and social enterprises get going is very narrow.
Male-led social organizations raise twice as much as female-led groups in the crucial early growth stage, and the same is true for nonprofits led by white founders versus people of color. This is despite the fact that it is often people of color who have experienced the hardships that the organizations they’ve founded seek to address — and are arguably in a better position than others to tackle those problems.
These funding biases are reinforcing the very inequality that philanthropy is seeking to eliminate, and they are leaving a great deal of potential on the table. Organizations that don’t receive adequate startup money are much less likely to get off the ground.
A brief look at the makeup of foundations may explain the problem of bias.
Three-quarters of foundations’ full-time staffs are white. About 85 percent of foundation board members are white, according to a Council on Foundations study, while just 7 percent are African-American and 4 percent are Hispanic. This puts leaders of color at a strong disadvantage when powerful forces lead donors to naturally gravitate toward (and fund) people who are similar to them.
Funding is also skewed toward “sexier” nonprofits that describe themselves as in the business of “social entrepreneurship,” with leaders who are disproportionately Ivy League graduates who’ve learned to talk in trendy language about their “innovative,” “metrics-driven” work. These subtle language disparities present a bias against community-based leaders, often people of color, who may frame their work in terms of “activism” or “social justice.”
As Raj Jayadev, co-founder of Silicon Valley De-Bug — a community-organizing, advocacy, and multimedia storytelling nonprofit based in San Jose, Calif., — says, he didn’t even know what social entrepreneurship was when he started the organization in 2001. His funding mostly came from the community and a handful of foundations until he won the prestigious Ashoka Fellowship for social entrepreneurship. By framing his work in terms of an “innovation approach,” all of the sudden the organization had access to a whole new network of funders, even though very little had changed about their approach to the work.
Ivy League degrees not only give an advantage to people who package their pitches in certain terms, it also gives them access to networks of grant makers. That puts people without those credentials and networks at a double disadvantage in a system in which foundations require a personal connection or a special introduction to get a preliminary meeting.
These significant barriers can also feed on internal insecurities for those who may lack fundraising expertise and have discomfort about networking.
For example, Gemma Bulos, who founded the Global Women’s Water Initiative to train women in East Africa to provide clean water for their communities, told me that when she got started, as the daughter of immigrants, she often didn’t feel comfortable in rooms with wealthy, mostly white donors and instead focused on chasing $5,000 donations, which took much too much of her time and didn’t yield the funds she needed.
As a result, it took her much longer to gain confidence in her fundraising, and thus despite clear evidence of impact on the communities she was serving, it was years until she got the capital she needed to grow.
Fortunately, several foundations have pioneered ways of leveling the funding playing field. These include:
Diversifying the pool of advisers recommending worthy organizations. The Rosenberg Foundation focuses on funding emerging leaders of color through its Leading Edge Fund, and it solicits nominations by a highly diverse group of people, most of whom work at organizations that serve people of color. By tapping into dozens of community-based leaders and explicitly seeking to support young people of color, it has been able to identify and fund nonprofits that are not getting noticed by more traditional foundations.
Building the pipeline of leaders. We will not see a diverse corps of nonprofit leaders unless foundations take deliberate steps to cultivate the next generation of nonprofit leaders of color with mentoring, leadership training, and funding. Tipping Point Community, a grant maker that fights poverty in San Francisco, recently created an Emerging Leaders Fellowship, which is a nine-month program to support the training of emerging nonprofit leaders of color.
Rosenberg’s Leading Edge Fellowship also builds up new leaders of color who are tackling inequality in low-income communities by giving these executives an unrestricted grant of $225,000 over three years to support their work. More programs like this should exist.
Accept more meetings with women and people of color. Foundations can increase their potential to fund great ideas from leaders of color if they take the time to meet with them. Shannon Farley, co-founder of Fast Forward, an accelerator for tech nonprofits, suggested setting aside a certain amount of time every week to sit down with people you don’t hear about through your typical networks.
Take steps to avoid implicit bias. Subconsciously held stereotypes often taint decision making. Echoing Green, the largest provider of startup money to social entrepreneurs globally, counters this by conducting “blind” readings of the first round of its application process, with name, gender, education, and other markers concealed from the reviewers. It also provides training on how to avoid implicit bias to the people involved in the judging portion of its business-plan competition.
Provide applicants with expertise. Echoing Green also pairs applicants with past fellows to prepare them for the final round of selection. This allows candidates without strong networks to gain confidence and presentation skills.
Finance management training. Grant makers have many ways to build the capacity of organizations led by women and people of color. Accelerators are one. Camelback Ventures, New Profit, and Fast Forward all offer intensive boot-camp-style programs that not only provide skills training to entrepreneurs who are women or people of color but also open up access to funding networks. Foundations can also offer capacity-building internally. Emerson Collective, a social-enterprise founded by Laurene Powell Jobs to help remove barriers to opportunity and strengthen social-justice groups, builds leadership and management skills at the nonprofits it supports by offering fundraising and governance training in addition to hiring leadership coaches for many of its grantees.
The onus is on philanthropic leaders to do a better job of combating bias among grant makers and wealthy donors. The clock is ticking on pressing social problems like climate change and widespread poverty, and we need to be better at tapping the talents of leaders from all backgrounds to more effectively tackle these challenges.