As head of the largest association of nonprofits in the region, I urge you this year to focus your end-of-year giving on organizations with a demonstrated and authentic commitment to racial justice. By intentionally applying a racial equity lens to your giving, you are not only supporting organizations that are advancing critical work, but you are also sending a powerful message to other groups to follow through on their responsibility if they want to earn your charitable dollars and trust into the future.
Some of you already do this — long before George Floyd’s killing in May, long before the Black Lives Matter movement was founded in 2013. For those who are Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC), this may be second nature.
For the staff and board of the Center for Nonprofit Advancement, the past year has meant not only examining our own dedication to being an anti-racist organization at every level (board, policies, operations, program, culture) but also launching a Center for Race, Equity, Justice and Inclusion to address disparities, entrenched inequities and unequal funding within the nonprofit sector. Though the center aims to model anti-racist practices to nonprofits throughout the region, we also see our role as holding the sector accountable — and ask that you do the same. The best way is through giving.
Last spring, countless local organizations and businesses issued statements condemning Floyd’s brutal killing, proclaiming that Black Lives Matter and declaring their commitment to engage in diversity, equity, accessibility and inclusion efforts. A month later, many of those newly “woke” organizations gave their employees the day off for Juneteenth.
What have they done since then? If, in their public proclamations, they committed to action steps (few did), have they achieved any of their short-term goals? Do they have a race equity plan in place for 2021? An informal scan of local nonprofit websites reveals it’s rare to find a stated commitment to racial justice work. How, then, as potential donors, do you determine which organizations are centering their work around race equity?
Start by supporting BIPOC-led organizations. A 2019 report by the Washington Regional Association of Grantmakers found that less than 3 percent of overall giving in the area went to organizations led by people of color. More recent, a study commissioned by the Center for Nonprofit Advancement revealed that the impact of the coronavirus is being felt unevenly among nonprofits, with long-standing Black-led nonprofits significantly more likely to have to furlough staff than their White-led counterparts. These same organizations are at greater risk of closing altogether.
What is the makeup of the board of trustees at nonprofits you are supporting? If the board is predominantly White, are members willing to give up their seats to make room at the table for people from underrepresented groups, including people with lived expertise? For instance, if the organization addresses homelessness, does it include board members who have experienced homelessness?
Consider giving unrestricted funds to community-based organizations that may need those dollars for their overhead expenses. Give restricted donations to White-led groups to address any inequities at the organization. You could support professional development for staff or diversity, equity, accessibility and inclusion training for the board.
Involve younger relatives in discussions about giving, not only to create a family tradition of philanthropy but also because we have much to learn from our children, nieces and nephews. Keep an open mind when they suggest funneling support to people most affected by inequity and injustice. Listen when they recommend organizations leading racial justice movements, mutual aid societies or BIPOC-led organizations built on collective power and decentralized organizational structures.
If you are new to supporting nonprofits through a race equity lens — and that includes most people — view your 2020 end-of-year giving as a first step. Push the organizations you historically support to do better while continuing to do your research. Make a 12-month giving plan for 2021 and donate each month to a new group that is committed to racial justice. Be engaged with those organizations. Many groups continue to offer safe ways to volunteer, such as delivering groceries to isolated older adults. Share your philanthropic journey with your friends, challenging them to give through a racial justice lens. In fact, use the topic as a starting point to talk about broader issues of race and class.
Philanthropy plays many roles in our lives. It makes us feel good. It allows us to take a charitable tax deduction. It gives us an opportunity to support causes that are near and dear to us, have an impact and create social change. For some, it alleviates guilt. In the coming year, take time to examine why you give and how you can put community needs rather than your own at the center of that giving.
If there’s one lesson we take into 2021, let it be that our charitable dollars can move this country forward in ways that are not only meaningful but necessary, too. Whether you are able to give $5 or $5 million, or simply give your time, let’s all do our part. Our community depends on it. Our future depends on it.