Leadership Development Programs Need an Upgrade: Five Ways to Advance Racial Equity

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This post first appeared on the Center for Effective Philanthropy blog. It is reposted here with permission.

As the nation grapples with “the great resignation” across a range of job industries since the start of the pandemic, employment challenges extend to the nonprofit sector as well. Nonprofits are experiencing high rates of burnout and turnover, and many are struggling to fill vacancies. At the same time, the work of nonprofits continues to be lifesaving for communities that lacked adequate resources before the pandemic and have become more vulnerable since. Supporting nonprofit leadership at all levels is as important as it has ever been.

Notions of leadership are evolving, particularly as the nonprofit and philanthropic sector considers what it takes for individuals, organizations, and communities to drive systemic change in pursuit of racial equity and more effective outcomes for all. Leadership is not static, and it doesn’t sit with one person. Instead, leadership is about building collective power to influence and change organizations and systems to operate in just and liberating ways that enable all individuals to thrive. Under this definition, anyone can be a leader, and leadership is expressed through the actions people take.

With support from the Barr Foundation, Community Wealth Partners spoke to Black, Indigenous, and other people of color (BIPOC) nonprofit leaders and leadership development program providers to help Barr understand how they and other foundations can support BIPOC leadership in the context of racial equity. With these lessons in mind, Barr has begun to integrate three priorities in its approach to leadership development, including in partnership with some of the organizations featured below.

Promoting, retaining, and supporting BIPOC leadership within nonprofits is critical for driving systemic change. From these interviews, we heard five actions that can have the biggest impact. Funders can consider how they might tailor and incorporate these into their own approaches to supporting leadership.

1. Support leaders to change systems.

While traditional leadership development programs focus primarily on individual skill building, many programs that center racial equity also focus on topics that are important for driving change within racialized systems, such as deepening self-awareness, understanding ways to shift and leverage power, and opportunities for connection and collaboration across organizations and movements. This work is emotionally draining, so leaders also need support for their well-being (see more on this below).

The Institute for Nonprofit Practice is launching its Black Leadership Institute to connect, inspire, and uplift Black leaders who are working on systemic issues that have significant outcome disparities for Black people, such as incarceration and recidivism, health and health care, environmental justice, poverty, and education. Programming will focus on critical topics that enable Black leaders to build power and greater influence in their communities, including resources to expand leadership practices, deepen self-awareness, develop relationships and networks, and cultivate joy and renewal.

2. Center relationships.

Relationships are the cornerstone to building collective power. Leaders need trusting relationships with colleagues and peers to access learning, support, and create opportunities for partnership. They also need strong relationships within the power structures so they can leverage those relationships to drive systemic change. Funders can support relationship building by leveraging their networks and convening power to connect leaders to peers and allies they may not yet know. Interviewees we spoke to lifted up the value of leadership programs that create space for relationship building. For example, when program officers at the Annie E. Casey Foundation hosted the Baltimore Leaders Program for leaders under thirty, they facilitated connections to people in their networks, helping leaders secure additional contacts and sources of funding.

Cohorts can be a way to help leaders build relationships with colleagues and peers. TSNE launched its Executive Directors of Color Capacity Support Pilot to provide BIPOC leaders with adaptive, flexible, and integrated support through a range of offerings, including peer support and networking, participatory training, facilitated discussion, one-on-one coaching, project-oriented technical assistance, and access to tools and resources. TSNE recently completed a pilot cohort with 22 BIPOC leaders from the Boston region and is learning from evaluation results to inform the design of future cohorts.

3. Prioritize BIPOC leaders’ well-being.

Leading and navigating organizations that have been built within a white dominant model while also working to dismantle those structures and systems is complex, emotional work. BIPOC leaders need offerings that create safe space and prioritize their well-being. This could include fellowship programs, retreats, sabbaticals, or supporting changes in job roles and structures that allow leaders to create the space they need to be able to work in ways that feel sustainable and tend to their wellbeing at work.

“BIPOC leaders are serving BIPOC communities that have been historically marginalized. They may identify with those experiences in the community and the racial trauma that exists,” said Vernée Wilkinson of School Facts Boston in an interview. “As I’m advocating for students and families I serve, I simultaneously need to tap into my own trauma from similar experiences. Doing work together to process and heal is important.”

One nonprofit that is prioritizing BIPOC leaders’ well-being and sustainable leadership is New Seneca Village, whose mission is to provide cis, trans, and non-binary Black, Indigenous, and women of color social justice leaders with residencies offering time and space, access to nature, restorative practices and community centered around collective visioning for a just future.

4. Give multiyear, unrestricted support.

Unrestricted support is critical capital that allows nonprofits’ ability to invest in innovation, learning, growth, and operations. It also can support an organizations’ ability to attract and retain staff. Interviewees shared that a key barrier to being able to attract, retain, and develop talent is lack of flexible resources to use for compensation, hiring, and talent development. According to the Race to Lead report by Building Movement Project, BIPOC leaders say increased philanthropic funding to BIPOC-led organizations would help organizations be able to attract and retain more racially diverse leadership.

General operating support is a key component of the Barr Foundation’s Powering Cultural Futures initiative, which invests in 15 Massachusetts arts organizations playing vital roles in BIPOC communities. Grantees receive six years of unrestricted support along with technical assistance, network development, and support building capacity to achieve organizational priorities. The program’s goal is to support these organizations’ effectiveness and resilience so that they can contribute to an equitable arts sector in Massachusetts that uplifts cultural expression in BIPOC communities.

5. Invest in early- to mid-career-stage staff.

Increasingly, leadership development approaches are looking beyond the executive director role and taking collective approaches to strengthen teams, support staff retention, and build a stronger pipeline of talent. Investments at early- to mid-career stages, and focused on BIPOC leaders, are needed to maintain and expand the pipeline of talent in the sector who are ready to continue transformational work. The Center for Effective Philanthropy’s 2018 Strengthening Grantees survey found that nonprofit leaders cited staffing as one of the top challenges organizations face (second only to fundraising). As Rusty Stahl of Fund the People explained in the report, “Most nonprofits do not have the capital or the incentives to invest in their people. Most funders focus on the financial and program strengths and needs of grantees, not on the staffing strengths and needs. This dearth of investment can produce an unjust workplace, weak recruitment, poor work conditions, burnout and turnover, and unhealthy executive transitions.”

Our interviews found that those early in their career cite low pay as the greatest barrier for nonprofit employment. “When the lowest paid staff is earning one-third the amount of the highest-paid staff, that makes it hard for early career staff to feel like they are being valued as leaders,” said Kim Szeto of New England Foundation for the Arts.

Mid-career BIPOC staff named the importance of an equitable and inclusive culture for staff development and retention. One cultural aspect that mid-career employees cited as being discouraging was a focus on perfectionism as a barrier to advancement — something that is common in white dominant culture. “If the culture doesn’t embrace and support mistakes and failures, it will make it hard to cultivate good leadership and will create turnover,” said Melanie Gárate of Mystic River Watershed Association. “Leaders should model saying ‘I made a mistake. It’s ok to fail.’ This doesn’t happen very often.”

Getting Clear on What Matters Most

Recognizing that funders may not be able to incorporate all five recommendations into their leadership development support, here are some suggestions for how you might determine what to prioritize in your approach:

  • Be clear about who you are investing in and the change you want to see. When thinking about who, consider racial identity, career stage, etc. Also consider, what systemic changes are you hoping to see?
  • Get input from your grantees. What would make the biggest difference to them? Start there.
  • If the resources you have available are limited, consider giving unrestricted support instead of developing a leadership development program. Grantees we interviewed said a key challenge to being able to develop and retain leaders is lack of resources for competitive pay and professional development. Modest investments in leadership development from funders will have limited impact if this challenge is not addressed. As Caroline Saunders and Lucia Priselac of Grist shared, “In the context we’ve been working in, which has been high burn out and high turnover, there is no question having better pay has been huge to becoming a thriving community of people.”

Regardless of what steps you take as a funder, prioritizing talent development and retention is critical — perhaps more so now than ever. Nonprofit leaders are experiencing stress, burnout, and exhaustion. Recent research from Building Movement Project found that about half of the leaders they surveyed were considering departing their jobs or actively preparing to leave — and this data was collected before the pandemic started. To move the sector toward racial equity and justice, funders should sustain healthy leadership development within nonprofits that builds collective power to shift organizations and systems toward justice and liberation.

Making Capacity Building More Equitable

What does it look like to center equity in capacity building? This field guide offers questions to reflect on, decisions to make, and intentions to set with your capacity-building offerings. Explore the field guide.

In Conversation: Equitable Approaches to Capacity Building Webinar

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In this webinar, two funders — Caroline Altman-Smith of The Kresge Foundation and Jennifer Wei of The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation — joined our senior director Idalia Fernandez to share their experiences striving to make their capacity-building offerings more equitable. Building on the field guide, they share stories, frameworks, concrete tips, lessons learned, and questions they’re still grappling with as they’ve reconsidered their assumptions and approaches to capacity building. They talk about the ins and outs of their capacity-building programs, feedback they’ve received, how they navigate power dynamics with nonprofits, how they navigate internal organizational barriers, what still feels hard about centering equity, and more.

Watch the webinar here and below. Read the field guide here.

Community Foundations’ Steps Toward Equitable Funding Practices

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Community foundations play a vital role directing resources to areas of greatest community need — especially in times of crisis. In a year marked by dual crises of a global pandemic and a national reckoning on systemic racism, many community foundations have stepped into leadership roles that were entirely new to them. They have established COVID response funds that are distributing resources to support relief and recovery for their communities. Many — through grantmaking, donor education, convening, and advocacy — are playing an active role in helping their communities face histories of racism and oppression and shaping strategies to advance racial equity.

As community foundations stretch in new ways to respond to community needs, many are thinking differently about their role, their value proposition to donors, and how they assess impact.

Recognizing that many community foundations are already playing this role, we wanted to learn more about how they are doing so. Community Wealth Partners interviewed staff members from 13 community foundations, representing a range of geographies and asset sizes. In addition, we reached out to four philanthropic intermediary organizations that are structured differently from community foundations and have an emphasis on funding social justice organizations, grassroots organizations, and/or organizations led by people of color. These interviews yielded insight into how community foundations might think differently about their role and practices they could consider to deepen engagement with communities and donors.

Interestingly, most of the community foundations we spoke with had, in the past few years, adapted their mission statements to name a commitment to advancing racial equity in their community. This affects how these foundations identify organizations to fund through their discretionary grantmaking, the conversations they have with donors, and how they think about their impact. It also affects who has access to the foundation’s resources — both on the discretionary grantmaking side and from donor-advised gifts.

View the full report here. Findings from our research focus on three themes:

  • How and why more community foundations are forming a point of view on racial equity — and how that affects how they work with donors
  • Ways community foundations are fostering connections between donors and nonprofits
  • Evolving thinking about assessing impact

If you are connected to a community foundation, we’d love to hear how these themes resonate with your experience. How is your local community foundation showing leadership in your community? What questions is your community foundation grappling with? Send us a note on Twitter @WeDreamForward or email Lori Bartczak at lbartczak@communitywealth.com.


⇒ Read the Report


Special Opportunity: Community foundation cohort

Community Wealth Partners is planning a peer learning cohort for community foundations interested in finding new ways to foster connections between donors and nonprofits, starting in January 2021. If you are connected to a community foundation that is looking to adopt new practices to help connect donors with grassroots organizations, nonprofits serving communities of color, and/or organizations led by people of color, this cohort might be of interest to you. Contact Lori Bartczak to learn more.

Wealthy Donors Need to Go Outside Their Bubbles and Support Local Organizations Driving Social Change

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Reposted with permission of the Chronicle of Philanthropy

By Erinn Andrews , Lori Bartczak, Rebecca Shamash, and Piyush Tantia

During the past few months, many foundation leaders have called on philanthropic organizations to change their practices in pursuit of racial equity, including directing more resources to Black-led organizations. But these important efforts leave out a critical funding source for nonprofits: major individual donors.

Research released Monday by our organizations found that wealthy donors are in a unique position to provide reliable and flexible funding for community-based organizations but are frequently stymied by ingrained philanthropic practices that lead them away from giving to these groups.

The good news is that these donors often provide exactly the type of support that could benefit community-based nonprofits: multiyear, unrestricted funding with minimal administrative burden. But our interviews with 34 major donors, whose annual giving ranged from $13,000 to $5 million (with a median value of $100,000), found that they typically rely on personal experience and networks to identify which groups to support. As a result, a vital funding opportunity is lost for organizations that aren’t already plugged into wealthy donor networks.

Most of the donors we spoke with reported spending little time researching organizations to give to and instead relied on personal connections and recommendations of family and friends. In order to make a larger gift, donors said they needed to have a belief in the organization’s mission, a relatively longstanding relationship with an entity, some type of personal connection with the mission or the organization itself, confidence that the nonprofit was well run, and trust in its leadership.

Why Causes Get Left Out

While these approaches are convenient and comfortable for donors, they are also problematic. From a behavioral-science perspective, using trust in leadership as a criterion for giving carries the risk of implicit bias. Most people judge traits like competence within microseconds based on factors such as ethnicity and socioeconomic status. We typically like people simply because they are similar to us or are familiar in some way. Using emotional criteria such as trust or likeability to make decisions about giving can create barriers to building relationships with nonprofit leaders of different races or backgrounds at organizations not already supported by major donors or high-profile foundations.

The result is that community-based organizations whose work falls outside of donors’ personal networks or experiences have less opportunity to cultivate relationships that lead to significant donor support. Multiple studies from organizations such as Echoing Green, the Bridgespan Group, Open Impact, and Building Movement Project have found that community-based nonprofits whose missions are focused on social change lack the networks and resources to engage deeply with donors, which affects the amount of funding they receive. The problem is particularly acute for organizations led by people of color.

While our research uncovered areas in significant need of improvement among major donors, we also found encouraging practices. Most notably, major donors tend to give unrestricted funding to nonprofits, allowing them the flexibility to use the money as they see fit, including on overhead.

We had hypothesized that donors would prefer to see their money go directly to programs and services and might be reluctant to support operating costs, but our interviews with eight nonprofit leaders revealed the opposite. All reported they had little trouble raising unrestricted funding from individual donors. In turn, the donors we spoke with largely recognized that nonprofits need strong operations to deliver quality programs and consequently often gave unrestricted funding.

Wealthy donors have the potential to be key allies to local organizations meeting critical needs and driving racial-equity movements. But these donors need to intentionally take steps to reach beyond their comfortable giving bubbles. Here’s what they should do to get started:

Look beyond personal networks to find and fund organizations that directly serve people of color. Seek out introductions to nonprofit leaders working on issues related to racial equity. Build relationships with those organizations by attending online events (or in person when allowed again) or by doing volunteer work.

Build relationships with people of different backgrounds and identities. Join social or professional groups with diverse memberships or take part in professional development opportunities that draw a diverse crowd.

Listen and learn from community leaders and activists of color. They are closest to the issues and are in the best position to define the problem, identify opportunities, and shape solutions. Follow them on social media; take part in conferences or events where they are speaking; follow the outlets that are amplifying their voices.

Consider supporting a philanthropy organization that connects donors and nonprofits. Examples include the Groundswell Fund, Solidaire Network, and Headwaters Foundation for Justice, all of which use donated funds to make grants to organizations working on racial equity. These organizations, often referred to as intermediaries, can also connect donors to community organizations in need of funding and provide guidance on the amount to give.

Continue giving unrestricted funding and making multiyear pledges. These gifts are the most valuable to nonprofits because these donations can be invested where organizations see fit and provide a source of predictable revenue.

Educate other donors about the importance of giving to community-based organizations. Donors who are passionate about a particular nonprofit led by a person of color should share that passion with other donors in their network and encourage them to support the organization as well.

Donors who want to support racial justice need to recognize how their own unconscious behavior may influence their decisions about which organizations they trust to do this work. They need to reach beyond their networks, seek diverse voices to inform their philanthropy, and give more to community-based organizations serving people of color. Now is the time for individual major donors to do things differently.

Erinn Andrews is director of research and education at the Effective Philanthropy Learning Initiative at Stanford’s Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society, where Rebecca Shamash is a research fellow. Lori Bartczak is senior director of knowledge and content at Community Wealth Partners and Piyush Tantia is chief innovation officer at ideas42. Their research was supported by the Fidelity Charitable Trustees’ Initiative.

Read the original post on here on the Chronicle of Philanthropy’s website.

Stories of Earned Revenue

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Funding is top of mind right now. As nonprofits consider their long-term financial sustainability, some organizations are weighing the pros and cons of pursuing an earned-revenue strategy.

For organizations in need of immediate cash, now might not be the time to explore earned revenue. But organizations that are looking to the long term and have flexibility to do early planning and research now can lay the groundwork for an earned-revenue strategy in the future. In the right circumstances, an earned-revenue strategy can help some organizations advance their mission, resource their efforts, access unrestricted funds, and find greater stability.

We hosted a conversation about earned revenue where the nonprofit Per Scholas talked about their experience and help nonprofits answer the questions: 1) Is an earned-revenue strategy the right approach for my organization right now? And 2) What might the process look like to develop and test an earned-revenue strategy?

Watch that conversation below or at this link


We also published a field guide on this topic with frameworks and guiding questions. Stories can bring ideas and frameworks to life, so we wanted to tell a few organizations’ stories of what developing an earned-revenue strategy looked like in practice. In the field guide, we wrote four case studies about nonprofits’ experiences creating and implementing earned-revenue strategies: Center for Children’s Law and Policy, Communities In Schools, Food & Friends, and Per Scholas.

Read the field guide and case studies

If you have questions about earned revenue or would like some free thought partnership from our team, please reach out to Lori Bartczak at lbartczak@communitywealth.com.


What Foundations Are Learning About Supporting DEI Capacity

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For the past three years, Community Wealth Partners has worked with the Kresge Foundation to help design and deliver a capacity-building program focused on supporting nonprofit talent and leadership development through an equity lens.

The Fostering Urban Equitable Leadership (FUEL) program gives approximately 125 nominated Kresge grantees an opportunity to select talent and leadership development programs and resources from a cadre of service providers. The programs focus on a range of areas including racial equity and succession planning, managing for more equitable outcomes, and embedding equity into organizational processes and structures. This work has yielded rich learning among participating service providers, grantees, the foundation, and our team about “what works” in efforts to build racial equity capacity.

The FUEL program is one of many approaches that funders across the country are taking to build diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) capacity among grantees. In December 2019, Kresge hosted a funder convening to facilitate learning across these various approaches. Over 20 funders gathered to share their experiences and explore questions and challenges together. Community Wealth Partners facilitated the convening and developed a report that highlights takeaways from the two days.

In conversations before and during the convening, many funders acknowledged that they are in the early stages of learning and practice when it comes to supporting nonprofits’ DEI capacity and noted that current levels of investment in DEI capacity are not sufficient to meet nonprofits’ needs. At the same time, their experiences and perspectives surfaced some common themes. For example, one recommendation that came up early and often was that foundations who wish to support nonprofits’ DEI capacity must also pay attention to their own DEI capacity in order to lead with authenticity. Other key takeaways are as follows:

In Work with Grantees

  • Right-size outcome expectations to be commensurate with the amount and duration of support provided. Advancing equity inside organizations is complex, ongoing work. Set reasonable expectations for what an organization might accomplish in a grant cycle, and help grantees set reasonable expectations for themselves.
  • Create space for sharing and learning about what’s working and what’s not. Funders can use their convening power to facilitate learning among grantees, service providers, and other funders to help deepen understanding of promising practices and helpful tools.
  • Trust that grantees know best what support they need and what difference it is making. As with any capacity-building support, grantees should have a voice in deciding what they need, what changes they hope to see as a result, and how they will know if the work is having the desired effect.
  • Share openly and honestly with grantees about internal equity work. This is critical for building trust and credibility with grantees. Funders should show humility and vulnerability if they expect the same of their grantees.


In Internal Work

  • Continue making the case for greater investment in building DEI capacity. Some funders described current levels of investment in grantees’ DEI capacity as “a drop in the bucket” and called for more case-making from white allies as well as a stronger voice from foundation leadership. They cautioned against preaching to the choir about the importance of this support and recommended reaching out to those who are not yet bought in to the importance of investing in DEI capacity.
  • Consider who is receiving support and who is not. Funders encouraged reflecting on who foundations fund and what they hope to accomplish. Is the foundation working to advance equity among current grantees, regardless of who they are? Does the foundation want to correct for historical inequities by giving resources to those who have previously not had a seat at the table? Or are both approaches required to achieve the foundation’s goals?

Opportunities like this convening help funders learn from one another. We hope this report will spread that learning across the field and spark conversations in your organization. We would love to hear how the themes from this convening resonate with other funders and nonprofits. What do you see as good practice when it comes to supporting DEI capacity for nonprofits? What do you wish funders did more? What should funders stop doing? We’d love to hear from you. Comment below or reach out to Wes Gifford at WGifford@communitywealth.com.

4 Emerging Practices to Build a Strong Capacity-Building Program Ecosystem

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Efforts to invest in strengthening leaders and organizations have merit: Research has shown that capacity building of all types can produce positive, long-term financial results for nonprofits.

Yet nonprofits often say that finding the right provider can be difficult and costly, particularly when it comes to racial equity capacity building. Providers say they rarely have opportunities to build their own capacity or collaborate, which leads to a system in which each provider uses different language, tools, and frameworks and their work rarely builds on that of one another. And funders say they struggle to support nonprofits’ capacity in the way that is most meaningful to them and has the greatest impact.

What would it look like to have a healthy capacity-building program ecosystem? How would our approach to capacity building be different?

Imagine if nonprofits seeking racial equity capacity-building services had a variety of options, a clear understanding of those options, ample time to vet providers, and enough resources to hire them. Imagine if providers were regularly building their own capacity, too, and working together to align services so nonprofits received tailored, relevant, complementary training from everyone. Imagine if funders were true, responsive partners to nonprofits and providers in deepening their impact.

The Kresge Foundation’s Fostering Urban and Equitable Leadership (FUEL) program – made up of a group of courageous capacity builders and nonprofits (see the full list of providers here) – is beginning to work toward an ecosystem like this. Since race greatly impacts outcomes in every social issue, racial equity is embedded throughout the program.

The FUEL program gives about 120 Kresge grantees access to talent and leadership development services that incorporate a lens of racial equity to build stronger senior teams, stronger mid-level talent, more diverse talent, and more equitable practices in organizations.

We explored this vision for a better capacity-building ecosystem at the 2019 Upswell conference with Caroline Altman Smith from The Kresge Foundation, Jessica Vazquez Torres from Crossroads Antiracism Organizing and Training, Mikaela Seligman from AchieveMission, and Monisha Kapila from ProInspire. The group discussed opportunities and challenges of building an ecosystem like this and shared emerging practices that demonstrate what’s possible when power is shared and everyone involved listens to and respects one another.

Funders have a role in creating a healthy capacity-building ecosystem by striving for certain elements in their capacity-building programs:

  1. Nonprofits have voice and choice. Nonprofits often understand their own needs best. In a healthy ecosystem, they have power to voice their needs and design the focus of capacity-building programs. Funders should allow nonprofits to decide how much time and investment they want to put in. For some organizations, a day-long training may be ideal while for others, a six-month program could be a better option. Funders might address this by offering various formats, from peer learning to coaching to consulting. Funders should also ensure nonprofits can choose the provider they want, perhaps from a menu of options. They can do this by aggregating a network of high-quality providers and helping to match nonprofits to their top provider choices. This puts nonprofits at the center of the work, meeting them where they are. In the FUEL program, nonprofits had voice and choice in how the program was designed and gave feedback throughout their experience in the program. For situations in which nonprofits don’t know what they need – which is especially common in racial equity capacity building – funders can connect nonprofits to providers and other grantees to offer guidance.
  2. Funders invest in providers’ capacity. In a healthy ecosystem, providers are strong so they can effectively support nonprofits, and their work is rooted in racial equity practices. Funders can bolster the field of capacity builders by investing in their internal operating capacities, racial equity capacity, and program work. In the FUEL program, providers received operating grants from Kresge that allowed them to do things like invest in their own diversity, equity, and inclusion training; strengthen their marketing and communications functions; and collaborate with each other to co-develop racial equity programs that were then offered to nonprofits.
  3. Providers collaborate with each other. In a healthy ecosystem, capacity builders have time and space to come together, learn from one another, and align their work. Funders can support this by convening providers and connecting them to each other. For example, the FUEL program intentionally created opportunities for providers to connect with each other through program calls and in-person convenings. As a result of these connections, some providers underwent other providers’ racial equity trainings. This not only helped deepen organizations’ learning and racial equity competencies, but as they saw each other’s work, they also began to see opportunities to collaborate, build racial equity-focused programs together, and partner in delivering existing services. For example, Change Elemental, ProInspire, and Crossroads Antiracism collaborated to develop the Learning Community to Operationalize Equity, a 10-month cohort that seeks to deepen participating organizations’ capacity to center racial equity and navigate power dynamics. AchieveMission and Crossroads Antiracism collaborated to co-design a cohort program focused on succession planning with race and gender at the center. These collaborations are ultimately strengthening each organization’s delivery of services and the field overall.
  4. Everyone involved focuses on building relationships through listening. A healthy ecosystem is grounded in relationships, which are developed in part through deep listening. Listening builds trust, creates opportunities for learning, and leads to better practices. For example, in the FUEL program, listening to the providers helped us at Community Wealth Partners realize ways we were perpetuating white dominant culture and led us to change practices, like relaxing program timelines so providers had more time to develop materials and nonprofits had more time to assess provider options. We also saw how other providers in the program deepened relationships with each other, which led them to create this vision for a stronger, more equitable capacity-building ecosystem.

Everyone in the capacity-building program ecosystem plays a critical role, and funders have great power to shape that ecosystem and, ultimately, effect lasting change. As you think about how to foster a healthy capacity-building ecosystem, consider these questions:

  • What is your vision for a racially equitable community? What do you hope will result from your capacity-building work?
  • Who are the players in the capacity-building ecosystem? Who’s not engaged in the system that should be?
  • How might you interact with those players to contribute to a stronger capacity-building ecosystem? Where do you see opportunities to shift power?

Building Capacity for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion: Lessons from Two Years of Organizational Effectiveness Grants

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This post was originally published on hewlett.org and is republished with permission. It was written by Jasmine Sudarkasa, Program Fellow, and Jennifer Wei, Organizational Effectiveness Officer, of the Hewlett Foundation Effective Philanthropy Group. Read the original post here.

How can nonprofits build stronger muscles around diversity, equity and inclusion? This is a challenging question that many peer funders and the nonprofits that we support are currently grappling with. While there are no easy answers, a new assessment following two years of capacity-building grants offers some lessons.

First, a bit of background: Since 2004, the Hewlett Foundation has supported existing grantees with organizational effectiveness grants to help strengthen the internal capacity of nonprofit organizations to become high-performing organizations that are healthy, sustainable, and successful. The grants have typically supported organizational priorities like leadership transitions, financial planning and board development. In 2018, the foundation set aside $2 million for the launch of a grantmaking fund specifically focused on organizational effectiveness related to diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI).

The decision to focus on this type of capacity-building for grantee organizations came amid several years of staff-intensive work inside the foundation, which included articulating a commitment to DEI across our operations, culture and grantmaking as one of the foundation’s guiding principles. We knew that we had – and still have – much to learn. We wanted to support our grantees who were motivated to undertake this work, and learn alongside them.

Two years in and 186 grants later, we commissioned an assessment of early lessons from these efforts. We hired an external evaluator, Community Wealth Partners (CWP), to help us understand how grantee organizations used the organizational effectiveness DEI funds, what they are learning, and how our program officers and staff are supporting our grantees. We hoped to use these findings to inform our Organizational Effectiveness work and strengthen our support for grantees.

From the outset, we were excited to see the creativity and rigor with which many grantees were attempting to take on equity concerns in their organizations. We developed a taxonomy of over 40 distinct project types, ranging from staff training to compensation benchmarking. We saw organizations reckon with the challenges of building an internal culture to match their outward-facing equity lens. We saw organizations eager to reflect the regions and populations that they serve. We saw organizations make themselves vulnerable, leadership and staff alike, in order to better serve their staff and the needs of their communities.

This vulnerability was a major lesson for us. Diversity, equity and inclusion require a level of trust between funders and the organizations that they support: This is hard work, it tends to air out deep organizational culture issues, and it always feels “high stakes.” As funders, we need to be aware of how power dynamics implicit in our relationships affect these conversations with grantees, and we need to meet grantees where they are to show our support and trust.

Advancing equity also requires work at multiple layers – personal, interpersonal, organizational and structural; in practice, that means starting with the individual and building outwards. Many grantees start by trying to build diversity, equity and inclusion into their internal culture, and then extend those practices outwards to programs and services. Sometimes this resulted in delayed outcomes and feelings of frustration, as organizational cultures were disassembled and questioned. We learned that, in these moments, it is our role as funders to offer flexibility to grantees as a key first step toward organizational change.

Organizational effectiveness grants are, after all, a first step: We think of them as “booster shots” for organizational health, and this assessment asked us to consider what else we might be prescribing in inviting organizations to take on complex change, and talk with us about it. How are we signaling DEI’s importance, and our commitment to it, as a large funder? Overall, the feedback that we received was positive – grantees expressed appreciation for the funding because it helped to validate their work and created space for organizations to focus on DEI concerns.

Grantees also highlighted the signal this funding represented, and used it to leverage support from board members and staff who might be otherwise less inclined. This encourages us to keep thinking about how organizational effectiveness grants can act as leverage in signaling the importance of diversity, equity and inclusion to the sector.

In the spirit of learning together, we offer one last, unexpected lesson learned: Complex questions require complex answers, and it will take more time and money than we anticipate to make progress. We knew to expect this in our grantmaking, but discovered through the assessment that we could do more to apply this method to our own assessment process.

For example, in our qualitative analysis, we asked our consultants to conduct a 360-degree analysis, interviewing staff from grantee organizations, program staff from the foundation, and DEI consultants who worked with the grantees. We thought, initially, that by bringing everyone to the table, we would have a more equitable assessment process and get a full picture of the scope and reach of this funding. We soon learned, however, that we had underestimated the significance of asking grantees to tell their DEI stories.

Multiple staff wanted to participate in the interviews. They wanted to paint a true and complex narrative of organizational change. We learned, through our grantees’ and consultants’ candor, that opening a conversation about capacity building for diversity, equity and inclusion is often an invitation for something much larger. It can and will consider structural inequity right alongside interpersonal challenges and organizational woes. As funders, we must be equipped to have that conversation.

As such, we are committed to continuing to learn in this realm. This assessment left us with as many questions as we have answers and, as such, we offer a few open questions to consider:

  1. Capacity building for equity requires a measure of power-shifting and sharing; what are creative ways that institutional philanthropy is thinking about power-shifting and sharing, in support of its larger effort to foster diversity, equity and inclusion?
  2. Many grantees requested sustained funding for this work and highlighted it in their feedback to us; why aren’t more funders supporting capacity building for equity?
  3. In support of our foundation-wide effort to support the true cost of nonprofit work: What does the true cost of capacity building for equity look like? How can we better support program teams to consider complex issues of equity in funding the true, operating costs of grantee organizations?

We are grateful to our grantee partners, California Shakespeare Theater, University of Chicago Consortium on School Research, and The Wilderness Society, for their participation in this effort. Our internal efforts will revolve around our ongoing learning community, and we invite grantees to keep in touch with us about their equity journey and expectations of us as funders.

Download the Hewlett Foundation OE-DEI Grants Report (pdf)


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March Must-Reads

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This month, we came across a report that sparked conversations about funders’ unintended impact on movements. We also were drawn to articles about equitably engaging communities, a practical guide to building strong leadership development programs, and a report drawing a clear correlation between housing costs and health.

What caught your attention this month?

1. How “movement capture” shaped the fight for civil rights

SYSTEMS CHANGE | Vox | 7-minute read

When social movements get investments from foundations, that’s a good thing – right? A new paper by Megan Ming Francis at the University of Washington suggests there might be unintended consequences to funders’ good intentions. Francis uses the NAACP as an example: The organization initially focused on anti-black violence, but when the Garland Fund expressed interest in funding education, the organization shifted its priorities, ultimately leading to the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case but delaying anti-lynching laws. To avoid “movement capture,” Francis argues, funders must “consciously prioritize the voices of people on the ground” and “be more willing to make grants that may not immediately produce an obvious, palatable win they can present to their board.” If you’re a more auditory learner, listen to this Tiny Spark podcast interview with Francis about the topic.

2. Empower, Change, Transform: A guide to building a successful leadership development program

LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT PROGRAMS | Schusterman Family Foundation and Rockwood Leadership Institute | 33-minute read

There are many leadership development programs out there, but there’s little evaluation data about them. After the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation and Rockwood Leadership Institute independently worked with the research firm Learning For Action to evaluate their leadership development programs, they realized they could learn from each other’s data and experiences. In this guide, the organizations share stories and five evaluation findings that might help others managing similar programs:

  • Set the stage for vulnerability
  • Focus on emotional intelligence
  • Be intentional about relationship building
  • Design the right coaching experience
  • Encourage sector and cross-sector collaboration

3. Equitable Big Bets for Marginalized Communities

EQUITY | Stanford Social Innovation Review | 8-minute read

The idea of making “big bets,” or large investments, has been around for years, yet that funding tends to go to white-led organizations. To truly change systems, philanthropy must make big bets in organizations led by the communities most affected by injustice, argue the authors, David Bley of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Vu Le of Rainier Valley Corps and NonprofitAF.com. In this article, they share one example of how this can be done: the Gates Foundation’s investment in Rainier Valley Corps. They walk through how they partnered to understand risk, build trust, experiment, and practice transparency with each other. The case study ends with six recommendations to foundations ready to invest in equity:

  • Provide significant multiyear investment
  • Focus on relationships
  • Constantly communicate
  • Be flexible on timelines and milestones
  • Take risks, accept failure
  • Capture lessons learned

4. The healthiest communities in the U.S. are the ones where people can afford homes

HEALTH | Fast Company | 5-minute read

There is a clear correlation between the prevalence of housing cost burdens and negative health outcomes, according to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s 2019 County Health Rankings. The counties where the highest percentage of households struggle with housing costs also show higher rates of child poverty, food insecurity, and poor overall health among adults. In addition to emphasizing the importance of good and affordable housing, this article highlights some housing-focused initiatives that have resulted in better health outcomes for communities, including the Missouri-based alliance 24:1 and Kaiser Permanente’s investment in affordable housing.

5. Community Mapping — Building Power and Agency with Data

COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT | Urban Institute | 5-minute read

Communities hold tremendous knowledge and expertise. How can you directly involve them in generating and processing data? One model is community mapping, in which community members collect spatial data on their neighborhood or city – data like vacant or blighted housing, sidewalk or roadway conditions, or flood damage. The DC Preservation Network, a project co-sponsored by the Coalition of Non-Profit Housing and Economic Development and the Urban Institute, shares how they pair on-the-ground expertise with other types of data to learn things they wouldn’t otherwise and position communities to tell their own stories.

Building Advocacy Capacity, Catalyzing Collaboration

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What does it take for foundations to be strong capacity-building partners to nonprofits? Over the past few months, we worked with GrantCraft to publish a series of case studies that provide an in-depth look at five foundations’ different approaches to supporting nonprofit capacity. The final two case studies in the series explore how foundations are building capacity to advocate effectively and innovate together. Take a look.

Public policy influences every issue that nonprofits seek to address, from education to food access. To more effectively achieve impact and transform communities, nonprofits can work to make sure that policies are helping, rather than hurting, their mission.

To help nonprofits do just that, the Annie E. Casey Foundation has been working with a network of grantees to build their advocacy capacity. That network, KIDS COUNT, was created by the foundation and is made up of 53 state-based child advocacy organizations dedicated to ensuring that all children—regardless of race, class, and country of origin—have economic security, supportive communities, and stable families.

The foundation’s capacity building approach for the KIDS COUNT network includes three key components: an assessment that organizations can use to gauge their capacity in various areas, an online resource hub, and targeted technical assistance. Grantees seek to improve not only their advocacy capacity but also other capacities that affect their ability to make policy change, such as leadership. This approach is making a measurable difference in network members’ ability to influence public policy and reach kids and families.

Continue reading this case study.

How does a foundation spend down a $1.3 billion endowment in 20 years in a way that leaves communities stronger after the funding stops?

While there can be many approaches to spending down, for the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation, investing in the capacity of nonprofits to better equip them to innovate and collaborate around complex social issues is a key strategy for lasting impact.

The Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation was founded in 2014 through the bequest of its namesake, the late long-time owner of the Buffalo Bills football team. Before his death, Wilson handpicked four lifetime trustees and set a 20-year lifespan for the foundation.

The trustees decided to focus the foundation’s philanthropy on two regions that mattered most to Wilson—Western New York, the home of the Bills, and Southeast Michigan, where Wilson lived. With support from Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors—a firm providing philanthropic advising, strategy and consulting services—the trustees chose four core areas for grantmaking—children and youth, young adults and working families, caregivers, and livable communities. The trustees prioritized capacity building as a key strategy for supporting livable communities.

“Initially the trustees were thinking about capacity building in terms of increasing efficiencies, drawing from their experiences in private equity and venture capital,” said David Egner, president of the foundation. “Over time they came to understand that efficiency is the wrong metric in the nonprofit sector, and it’s really about impact and giving organizations what they need to be able to innovate.”

Continue reading this case study.