How to Engage Authentically with Communities

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Advice for Nonprofit Organizations and Foundations Engaging with Communities

Earlier this month we released our field guide Sharing Power with Communities, a tool for nonprofits and foundations experiencing challenges or looking for new ways to authentically engage communities in furthering their mission. The guide includes principles, models, strategies, common pitfalls, and resources.

One of the models featured in the field guide highlights a community led research process with Child Care Aware of America, a national nonprofit focused on quality and affordable child care. The organization partnered with Community Wealth Partners to facilitate a Parent Listening Team of parent leaders representing a diverse spectrum of families across the nation while prioritizing the voices of those that had faced the greatest personal barriers to accessing affordable, quality child care in their communities.

In this interview, Walter Howell, Associate Director at Community Wealth Partners sat down with one of the parent and community leaders, Fay Pierce to discuss what it felt like to participate in the process and her 3 critical steps nonprofits and foundations should consider when working with communities.

Full Interview featuring Fay Pierce, Parent and Community Leader Interviewed by Walter Howell, Associate Director at Community Wealth Partners

Here is the full interview featuring Community Leader, Fay Pierce and Associate Director at Community Wealth Partners, Walter Howell.

Sharing Power with Communities: A Field Guide Conversation

Normalizing Rest on the Road to Recovery in the Social Sector

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The power and impact of workplace sabbaticals have become increasingly relevant following the Great Resignation and burn out of employees across sectors. Reported benefits of sabbaticals include improved wellbeing, increased focus and engagement, and reduced turnover. Despite these reports, sabbaticals remain a privilege offered by some 16% of employers.. A report by Givebutter finds that “1 in every 10 employees working for a nonprofit, a large portion of our nation’s workforce, are feeling overworked, under-resourced, and disengaged. Leaders (60%) report feeling “used up” at the end of the workday.”  

“Grind culture”, or the celebration of working long hours and being constantly connected to work, is a trait of white supremacy culture. Systemic inequities in funding Black, Indigenous, people of color led organizations result in leaders of color having to stretch themselves thin with limited resources to invest in rest and well-being for themselves and their teams. Organizations such as the BIPOC-ED Coalition and advocates like Tricia Hersey, Founder of  The Nap Ministry are lifting up the dangers of glorifying work without rest. These and other leaders are encouraging the social sector to create space for rest and restoration through sabbaticals at all levels. As the sector continues to raise awareness around the need for rest, foundations are funding sabbaticals for nonprofit leaders while centering leaders of color specifically. 

Community Wealth Partners has a sabbatical policy in place for staff who have worked at the firm for 10 years. We took time to reflect on rest through sabbatical at Community Wealth Partners in an intimate conversation with our CEO, Amy Celep, Associate Director, Rachel Hutt, and Senior Director, Amy Farley. The following audio clips were recorded with intention to reflect on their sabbatical experiences, challenge our thinking as a firm, and share what we are wrestling with in an effort to normalize conversations around rest in the sector.  

It is important to note that to date only 4 people have been beneficiaries of sabbaticals at our firm so far, all of which are white women. As we continue the discussion around rest, we are examining our own policies to determine what changes we might need to make to ensure our team members experience time away from work for rest and recovery.  

Below are some questions we are holding as it relates to the future of rest through sabbatical. We encourage you to reflect on these questions and continue the dialogue with your colleagues, friends, and family. 

How would our work be impacted if we normalized rest as fuel on the road to changemaking in the sector? 

What practices could we examine within our organization to normalize rest? 

What do our colleagues of color need to feel supported in taking time to rest? 

Parking Lot Conversations at Community Wealth Partners | Rest Through Sabbaticals

Amy Celep, CEO, Rachel Hutt, Associate Director, and Amy Farley, Senior Director share their reflections on sabbatical and the importance of rest on the road to equity.

What is the history and thought behind the sabbatical program at Community Wealth Partners?

Amy Celep, CEO

What did you do during your sabbatical? 

Amy Farley, Senior Director

What were your big “Ah-ha” moments during sabbatical?

Amy Farley, Senior Director

Rachel Hutt, Associate Director

Looking back, what did sabbatical give you?

Amy Farley, Senior Director

What are your observations of team members when they return from sabbatical?

Amy Celep, CEO

What role did your colleagues play during your sabbatical?

Amy Celep, CEO

Rachel Hutt, Associate Director

What are your observations around sabbaticals in the field?

Rachel Hutt, Associate Director

Amy Celep, CEO

Amy Farley, Senior Director

Historically, white women have been the beneficiaries of sabbaticals at CWP. What are your thoughts around that and what changes might you consider moving forward?

Amy Celep, CEO

Announcing our 2022 Community Foundation Cohort: Increasing Support to BIPOC Communities

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Research shows that individual donors for the most part are not providing significant support to Black, Indigenous, and other people of color (BIPOC)-led, community-based organizations. Community foundations have an opportunity to help foster connections between individual donors and local organizations providing critical services. Our 2020 report shows the ways in which community foundations played this role during COVID emergency response.

To help more community foundations consider the role they can play in channeling more resources to BIPOC-led and BIPOC-serving organizations, Community Wealth Partners and ideas42 are forming a peer learning cohort for community foundation staff. The objectives of the cohort are:

  • Learn from peer community foundations, ways in which they are strengthening relationships with BIPOC-led organizations in their community and connecting donors to these organizations, what’s working well and what is challenging.
  • Support participants in adopting new practices that help channel more resources to community-based, BIPOC-led organizations, through donor-advised giving and/or discretionary grantmaking

 Our pilot cohort in 2021 included 12 community foundations of various sizes and at different stages in their racial equity work from across the United States. At the end of our seven months together, these foundations reported multiple outcomes including changing the foundation’s mission to center racial equity, educating donors about where inequities exist in communities, establishing a partnership to set up and administer a fund targeted at racial justice and healing, and piloting an equity donor champions program, among others.

Apply for the cohort by July 6.


 Ideal Participants

Is your community foundation looking for ways to shift power and resources in your community?

 Does your foundation want to find ways to strengthen relationships with BIPOC-led and BIPOC-serving organizations in your community?

 Do you want to convey a stronger point of view about racial equity with your donors?

 Are you looking for practices to help connect donors with BIPOC-led and BIPOC-serving organizations?

 Are you ready to try new or evolve existing approaches and practices with your communities and donors?

 Are you interested in learning alongside other community foundation peers?

If you answered yes to some or all of these questions, this cohort could be helpful to you. We are looking to engage a group of community foundations ready to try new things within the next year, reflect, and iterate in pursuit of their goals. This is for organizations ready to move beyond discussion to action. If you answered no or not yet, this might not be the right time or opportunity for you.

To best support organizational learning and behavior change, we encourage participation from teams of 2-3 staff, representing donor services, programs or community impact, and/or senior leadership.

What This Is NOT

This cohort is not racial equity training or a general exploration of racial equity within organizations. This cohort is specifically focused on helping community foundations channel resources to BIPOC-led, community-based organizations (e.g., through donor-advised giving and/or discretionary grantmaking). It’s also not a space focused solely on discussion or passive learning; it’s a hands-on, action-oriented space where participants will create their own action plans and get support in implementing them. While there is value in all of these types of spaces, we want you to know what to expect in this one.

Cohort Design

The cohort will run from August 2022 – February 2023 and will include the following

  • 6 virtual sessions of the full cohort. These 2-hour sessions will include:
    • presentation of new content, frameworks, and tools;
    • guest speakers with experience on topics of interest;
    • time for peer sharing and facilitated peer support;
    • time in small groups matched with colleagues with similar roles; and
    • guidance for determining next steps and action planning.

Topics covered in virtual sessions will include moving from talk to action in advancing racial equity, steps to improve community engagement, and sharing your point of view with donors. Each virtual session will end with recommended next steps teams can take to continue to make progress toward adopting new practices. Teams will be invited to share what they’ve tried and what they’ve learned with their peers during virtual sessions. We have tentatively scheduled the virtual sessions for the following dates and times:

  • Tuesday, August 16, 2022, 1-3 pm Eastern
  • Tuesday, September 13, 2022, 1-3 pm Eastern
  • Tuesday, October 25, 2022, 1-3 pm Eastern
  • Wednesday, November 16, 2022, 1-3 pm Eastern
  • Tuesday, January 17, 2023, 1-3 pm Eastern
  • Tuesday, February 21, 2023, 1-3 pm Eastern
  • 5 hours of team coaching support. Each participating foundation will also be able to schedule up to five hours of coaching calls with Community Wealth Partners and ideas42 at a time, length, and frequency that is most helpful to them. We will use this time to check in on progress made toward adopting new practices, work through challenges the team may be facing, and support the team in continuing to make progress toward its goals. We can also use this time to engage additional team members as needed to continue to make progress.
  • Connection to additional tools, resources, and perspectives. We will share tools and resources and connect participants to other colleagues as needed to help uncover new ideas and offer support in navigating challenges.

By the end of the cohort, we hope participants will have created their own plans for fostering new connections between donors and nonprofits in the community and begun to test the approaches they identified.

Costs and Expectations for Participation

Thanks to funding from Fidelity Charitable Trustees Initiative, Community Wealth Partners and ideas42 are able to offer this pilot program at a reduced rate of $7,000 per foundation. If you are interested in participating and the fee seems prohibitive, please contact Lori Bartczak to discuss possible options.

Because this is a peer cohort, success will depend largely on active participation from the group. We will expect foundation teams to be fully present in all virtual sessions and coaching calls and to be committed to making changes in practice related to the cohort’s objectives during the time we are together.

 How to Apply

To apply, please fill out this online application form by Wednesday, July 6. We will accept up to 12 foundation teams for the cohort. We will let applicants know whether they are accepted into the cohort by mid-July. If you have questions or need support with your application, contact Lori Bartczak.  

Apply for the cohort by July 6.

Sharing Power With Community Members: Perspectives from Rochester-Area Funders, Nonprofits, and Parents

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Engaging people with lived experiences can strengthen nonprofits’ and foundations’ work and build community power, but it also can cause harm and deepen mistrust if not done well. As foundations and nonprofits strive to center community members and look to them as experts, many struggle to engage with them in meaningful ways.

In Rochester, New York, there is a growing movement to center parents’ knowledge and perspective in programs and services that support the health and well-being of children. For more than two decades, the National Parent Leadership Institute (NPLI) has worked with parents across the country to help them build skills and knowledge to advocate for their children and families and have a voice at decision-making tables.

When the Greater Rochester Health Foundation wanted to engage parents in updating its Healthy Futures grantmaking strategy, the foundation partnered with NPLI to bring parents into the work. At the same time, the foundation worked with NPLI to help a small group of nonprofit grantees learn how they could center parent voice in their organizations. Since those initial steps, the foundation has worked to center community voice in all areas of its work, and supported a growing number of grantees in doing the same.

The following videos share the perspectives of staff members of Greater Rochester Health Foundation, NPLI, and University of Rochester Medical Center (a grantee) as well as Rochester-area parents who have received training from NPLI and work in partnership with the foundation and University of Rochester. In these clips you will hear why sharing power with community matters, the difference it makes to programs and strategies, and advice for funders, nonprofit leaders, and community members.

What Does Parent Leadership Look Like in Action?

Carolyn Lee-Davis of NPLI and parent leader facilitators Toyin Anderson and Maria Dalmau describe NPLI’s approach and how it contributes to stronger organizations, stronger communities, and better solutions.

What is NPLI and a parent leader facilitator?

Why is empowering parents important?

What should organizations who want to engage parents consider?

What steps can parents take to become advocates for their children and communities?

How Can Nonprofits Authentically Partner with Parents? What Difference Does It Make?

Linda Alpert-Gillis, ph.D., of University of Rochester Medical Center and parents Toyin Anderson, Maria Dalmau, and Jason McDonald discuss how they have worked together to help the Pediatric Behavioral Health & Wellness department better meet the needs of patients and their families.

Why is it important for organizations to engage parents?

What qualities are important to be a parent advocate?

What are the barriers to authentic engagement?

How does authentic engagement impact nonprofit leaders and organizations?

How does authentic engagement impact parents and families?

How Can Funders Authentically Partner with Parents? What Difference Does It Make?

Parent leader Toyin Anderson and Greater Rochester Health Foundation staff Danette Campbell-Bell, Anita Black, and Matthew Kuhlenbeck reflect on lessons they’ve learned through partnering together and advice they’d offer funders interested in engaging community in similar ways.

What have you learned through the experience of creating a closer partnership between parents and the foundation?

How did you rethink processes and roles?

What impact have you seen result from authentically engaging parents?

What advice would you offer funders looking to engage community more authentically?

Building a Culture of Equity and Inclusion in Collaboration

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Culture can make or break collaboration. Culture guides how members of a collaborative will work together and impacts what the group is able to achieve together. When the goal of collaboration is to address inequities in a system or community, it is critical to build a culture that centers equity and inclusion. Without this intentionality, collaborations, just like organizations, will default to behaviors of white dominant culture—behaviors that can stand in the way of the authentic inclusion and long-term, systemic thinking needed to achieve equitable outcomes.

Since March 2020, we have worked with a community of practice of more than 35 nonprofit organizations focused on healthy food access and consumption. The goal of this community is to increase access to and consumption of healthy foods—particularly in Black, Latinx, Indigenous, elderly, and rural communities. The funder of the community, Walmart Foundation, has been intentional about fully ceding power to participants and us, as the backbone of the collaborative, in deciding how to build this community.

From our work with this group, we have seen firsthand the importance of intentionally building a culture that prioritizes equity and inclusion. As designers and facilitators of this community, we have reflected on mistakes we’ve made and celebrated small wins that have happened along the way. As we reflect on our experiences with this community and other collaboratives we’ve been part of, we see three aspects of white supremacy culture, as described by Tema Okun, that can be common—urgency, quantity over quality, and paternalism.* By sharing our experiences, we hope to help other collaborative efforts find ways to actively work against harmful aspects of white supremacy culture.

Right-sizing the sense of urgency

A false sense of urgency can crowd out space for thinking about the long term, recognizing where you have gaps in perspective or in knowledge, or building an inclusive space where all voices are welcome and heard. Sometimes collaboratives move too quickly to action because of external pressures such as funding timelines or in response to the urgency of the issue they seek to address.

When we started our work with the Healthy Food Community of Practice, we recognized early on that we did not have full representation of the communities we wanted to serve among the participants we were bringing to the table. We knew we needed to start somewhere, and at the time it made sense to start with the organizations who raised this idea in the first place, which happened to be mostly large, national organizations. In hindsight, we should have paused to ask ourselves some questions: What is the implication of building the community around these organizations? How might that help us or not help us achieve the goal of creating healthy food access and consumption for historically marginalized folks? Taking the time to dig into those questions would have led to a more intentional, and probably more inclusive, design process.

At the same time, a common challenge we’ve seen with collaboratives that do not have some urgency is they can become groups that are all talk and no action, and this can be a waste of time and resources. Some balance is needed between an unnecessarily heightened sense of urgency and lack of urgency that can also feel like lack of accountability to the community you say you want to help. Collaboratives can resist white dominant culture by creating regular space for reflection and self-awareness about how urgency is showing up in the work, centering the people affected by the collaborative in the reflection. If you are feeling urgency, what is driving it? If there doesn’t seem to be any urgency, what is the cost of that? How might adjusting where or how you place urgency bring you into closer alignment with your values and how you want to work together?

Countering paternalism through shared power

Without clarity at the outset about how decisions will be made, it can be easy to default to patterns where decision making is clear to those with power and unclear to those without power. Lack of clarity and intentionality about decision making can also result in people affected by the decisions not being involved in making them. This can become more complicated in large collaboratives with many participants, when someone is playing a backbone role, and/or by funding relationships.

Nearly all these dynamics are at play in the Healthy Food Community of Practice. The participants represent organizations of various sizes and hold a range of roles within their organizations. It’s not practical (or desired by the group) to engage the full community in every decision. For the decisions where we do engage the full community, there can be power dynamics at play among participants. As facilitators of the community, we recognize that every decision we make is a form of wielding power.

One way we have tried to mitigate these dynamics is by forming an advisory council, a group of seven to 10 participants that we engage periodically to advise the program design. We offer a stipend to help compensate for the extra time participation requires, and when members join, they are signing on for a period of five months. At the end of their term, new members can join the advisory council so that the power that comes with this role is shared broadly across the community over time. The advisory council has added an important voice to the design of the community, helping to ensure the topics we elevate for discussion and thought leadership bring maximum value and relevancy to the community.

When we had extra funds available for the community (due to the shift from in-person to virtual meetings in 2020 and 2021), we worked with participants to design a participatory grantmaking process. As a result, the community awarded grants to three collaborative efforts happening among participating organizations. This was a step towards countering paternalism, however, we recognize that we could move further along the power-sharing spectrum. Ultimately, it is the communities that are most impacted by the issue of nutrition insecurity that should be deciding how funds are allocated. We continue to learn and evolve to move further along this spectrum.

Flipping the “quantity over quality” default

In general, there is an over-reliance on quantifiable outputs and metrics as a way to gauge effectiveness in the nonprofit sector. This is driven in large part by funders and the “what gets measured gets funded” refrain that is so common. This way of thinking crowds out space for developing thoughtful processes, building relationships, clarifying values for working together, and prioritizing long-term, systemic change over short-term gains. While it is always important to respond to immediate needs, we also need nonprofits to have the resources and time to work upstream to change the systems that are causing the immediate needs.

To flip the “quantity over quality” mentality, collaboratives can first ask, “why are we coming together?” and “how do we want to work together?” before getting too far in figuring out “what do we want to do together?” Our theory of change for the Healthy Food Community of Practice centered relationship building as a foundational step in forming the community, recognizing that this was a critical first step for the group to move toward learning, action, and field-building. The community began by establishing some shared goals and norms for working together. These have evolved over time as the group has deepened relationships and dug into the work together. As more BIPOC leaders have joined the community and we have been having tougher conversations about the intersection of race equity in food systems, the norms and behaviors that guide the community’s conversations have needed to evolve. While we recognize it is not possible to prevent all harm, we also believe it is our role as the backbone to establish conditions that prevent as much harm as possible and equip people in the community of practice to repair harm when it happens. We continue to learn how best to do that.

We have also found it helpful to create opportunities for “small wins” as a way to help deepen relationships and help the group find common purpose. The Healthy Food Community of Practice has formed small work groups, which they call “innovation pods,” to work on discrete topics, such as developing a revised theory of change for nutrition education that is more culturally competent and conducting research to understand how the pandemic impacted benefits enrollment processes and form recommendations moving forward. These small wins help participants build relationships with one another, help the group take steps toward their broader goal, and help build momentum for larger actions the group can take in the future.

Once the work is underway, collaboratives can rethink how they measure success beyond outputs and outcomes. Interaction Institute for Social Change’s Results-Process-Relationship Triangle offers a helpful frame for reflecting on what’s working well within a collaborative and areas for improvement.

Building a culture that prioritizes equity and inclusion

Culture builds within a collaboration whether you are intentional about it or not, and collaboratives that don’t focus on building a culture that prioritizes equity and inclusion are likely to default to the white dominant norms that are deeply engrained in our ways of working. We know this because we’ve been there many times. While we’ve learned there are many ways white dominant culture could show up in harmful ways in collaboratives and many ways collaboratives could buck against it, here are three possible places to start:

  • Right-sizing the sense of urgency: Create space for regular reflection on whether and how the group is feeling urgency. If you are feeling urgency, what is driving it? If there doesn’t seem to be any urgency, what is the cost of that? Where might a different level of urgency bring you into closer alignment with your values and how you want to work together?
  • Countering paternalism: Be transparent about how decisions are being made. Work toward sharing decision-making power. Ensure you are involving people that will be affected by the decision.
  • Prioritizing quality, not quantity: Prioritize strong relationships and thoughtful, inclusive processes as equally important as achieving measurable results. Hold space to reflect on process and relationships in addition to results.


* If this statement is raising feelings of defensiveness for you, consider the words of Tema Okun: “The invitation for this and every characteristic is to investigate how each and all characteristics and qualities lead to disconnection (from each other, ourselves, and all living things) and how the antidotes can support us to reconnect. If you read these characteristics and qualities as blaming or shaming, perhaps they are particularly alive for you. If you find yourself becoming defensive as you read them, lean into the gift of defensiveness and ask yourself what you are defending. The description of these characteristics are meant to help us see our culture so that we can transgress and transform and build culture that truly supports us individually and collectively.” We are sharing our reflections in the spirit of contributing to a collective culture of equity and inclusion in nonprofit collaborations. 


Learning from Community Foundations’ Response to Crisis

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This blog post originally appeared on Center for Effective Philanthropy website. View the original post here


Amid the dual crises of a global pandemic and a national reckoning with systemic racism, the U.S. philanthropic sector faces tremendous challenges and opportunities. CEP’s Foundations Respond to Crisis study found that many foundations are making new efforts to support communities of color and other communities disproportionately impacted by the public health and economic consequences of COVID-19. Unfortunately, CEP’s data also suggest that while foundations are thinking about operating differently, they are slow to act. (For example, in interviews, foundation leaders more frequently described reflecting and learning when asked how they are making changes to their internal policies and practices; less than half of interviewees reported doing something differently internally.)

As private and family foundations continue to make meaning of this current moment and philanthropy’s response in it, they should look to community foundations for guidance. Community foundations can play a powerful role in directing resources to organizations meeting the greatest needs in communities. Among the philanthropic sector, they have perhaps experienced the challenges and opportunities of the past year most acutely as they deploy COVID-response funds to meet the most pressing needs in their respective communities.

To better understand how community foundations are responding to their respective communities’ needs, Community Wealth Partners interviewed staff members from 13 community foundations representing a range of geographies and asset sizes. Our research found that many community foundations are moving from talk to action when it comes to 1) adopting more equitable practices and 2) communicating a point of view about racial justice in their communities with donors and other stakeholders.

Moving from Talk to Action

For some community foundations, the COVID-19 crisis pushed them to move from planning for new ways of working to trying new ways of working.

“The pandemic required that we go from zero to 100 in terms of developing and deploying a plan as a response to the pandemic,” said Norma Fuentes of the Seattle Foundation. The Seattle Foundation had been developing a logic model to inform actions the Foundation would take to address growing inequities in its region, but the need to respond to COVID-19 pushed the Foundation to move forward on working in new ways.

Similarly, the Central Indiana Community Foundation (CICF) was in the process of developing an equity framework for its grantmaking when the effects of the pandemic created a heightened sense of urgency. CICF’s COVID-19 response fund provided an opportunity for the Foundation to build new relationships, fund new organizations and projects, and reassess its grantmaking practices with a racial equity lens.

“We leaned on residents to understand the greatest needs and who was positioned to meet them,” said CICF Director of Effective Philanthropy Robin Elmerick. “We made grants to grassroots organizations, including several who did not have 501(c)(3) status, and we helped some organizations find fiscal agents where needed. It was a total shift for us.”

Community foundations are also thinking about how to ensure that changes they are making in their pandemic response become embedded in their day-to-day practices moving forward.

“With our COVID response grants, we are reaching out beyond the organizations we usually support and trying to find creative ideas in the community that are addressing inequities,” said Katie Kling of the Charlottesville Area Community Foundation (CACF). “This helps us think about how we foster those relationships and stay connected to those who are filling critical needs in our community.”

CACF continues to foster those relationships by staying in regular contact with organizations and community leaders that work in close proximity to community needs. In response to requests for non-monetary support in addition to funding, the Foundation is offering Catchafire subscriptions to qualified local organizations so they can augment their capacity with skilled volunteer support.

Communicating a Point of View

The national conversation on systemic racism also pushed many community foundations to take a stronger point of view about racial equity — and to communicate that point of view directly with their respective donors and other stakeholders.

“Community foundations are not neutral,” said Kirsten Kilchenstein of the Oregon Community Foundation. “We frame our work in our core values and embrace our role as a bridge builder, bringing communities and resources together where they’re needed most.” (CEP’s research also found that community foundations are having different types of conversations with donors.)

Like many of the community foundations we spoke with, the San Francisco Foundation is thinking about how a focus on racial equity shifts the way it works with donors, nonprofits, and other partners in the community.

“This is a moment to redefine what it means to be a donor of the San Francisco Foundation,” said the Foundation’s chief of philanthropy, Ruben Orduña. “With the COVID pandemic, civil unrest happening across the country, and increasing criticism of donor-advised funds, we are having conversations with donors we’ve never had before. They are asking questions like, ‘What does it mean to defund the police?’ ‘What does it mean to center Blackness?’ If we can get donors to move dollars into the issues we’re prioritizing, that’s a win.”

While some may be reluctant to raise these types of conversations out of fear of losing donors, the community foundations we spoke with agreed that the benefits outweigh the risks. Most foundations reported losing few or no donors in response to them taking a stand on racial equity; not only that, they also attracted new donors.

“If we lose a few donors, the trade-off is we get loyal donors in return,” said Cecilia Clarke of the Brooklyn Community Foundation. “When they come to work with us, knowing our point of view, that means they’re in.”

Learning from Community Foundations

As the pandemic enters another season and a new presidential administration sparks potential for significant policy change, foundations need to decide how they want to show up in this moment. Based on what many community foundations have done in the past year, here are two recommendations that can apply to all types of funders:

  1. Less talk, more action. The events of 2020 forced many foundations to move from planning and strategizing to acting. It is past time for foundations to change their practices to advance racial equity, and there are a host of resources available to support them. (For starters, look to groups like NCRPEquity in the Center, and Change Philanthropy for guidance.)
  1. Leverage your relationships to advocate for racial justice. Foundations should use their privilege and social and relational capital to champion racial justice. Make it a priority to educate and influence your board members, peer foundations, partners, and key decision-makers in your community. (For more resources on intentional influence, read these blog posts.)

While COVID-19 took the world by surprise almost a year ago, we are now in a stage of the crisis where there’s no excuse to be caught off guard. As we approach a second year of significant struggle in our communities, foundations need to take more decisive and deliberate action and use their privilege and position to champion racial equity.

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


⇒ 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.

Conversations with the Arizona Community Foundation

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The Arizona Community Foundation has been on a journey to redefine how they measured impact and respond amid the pandemic. In this series of one-minute videos, you can hear some quick takes from Steve Seleznow (President and CEO of the Arizona Community Foundation) on community foundations’ value proposition, impact measurement, their role during times of crisis, and equitable grantmaking amid COVID-19. Watch the videos here and below, and read a more in-depth Q&A with Steve on these topics here.

How might community foundations think about their value proposition?

“[Donors] choose to work with us because they want that relationship and they believe there’s value in the relationship we have and there’s value in our ability to share our community knowledge to help them achieve what they want in the community.”

How might community foundations think about measuring impact?

“There are certain things I think I can measure from our grantmaking, … and there are many things that I know to my heart are really great work and are having some level of impact that I don’t think I can measure.”

What role should community foundations play during times of crisis?

“At the heart of a community foundation is the middle name: community. So when our community is in distress, as one of our core values requires us to do, we have to be nimble. We have to respond to what the community tells us.”

How can COVID-19 rapid response funds lead to more equitable grantmaking?

“Through this process, many new nonprofits that typically weren’t on our radar and probably never got a grant from us in the past now got on our radar.”

Read the full conversation here.

Supporting Leaders of Color

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Particularly amid the dual pandemics — COVID-19 and systemic racism — organizations need strong leaders who bring lived experiences and can support, reflect, and understand the concerns and needs of the communities that are disproportionately impacted. Some of these organizations are responding by shifting practices including hiring leaders of color. “This practice is necessary but not sufficient,” said Angela Romans of AchieveMission.

Following the Nonprofit Quarterly article “Failure Is Not an Option: How Nonprofit Boards Can Support Leaders of Color,” the podcast Nonprofit SnapCast interviewed Angela Romans, Idalia Fernandez of Community Wealth Partners, and Monisha Kapila of ProInspire about their work coaching and supporting nonprofit leaders of color and some key patterns they see emerging as many historically white-led organizations appoint leaders of color for the first time. Listen to the episode here.

Here are some highlights:

  • Organizations and boards looking to hire leaders of color need to look inward: “What is the context we’re bringing someone into? To what extent are we prepared to tackle the inequities we’re propagating within our own organization? How will we tackle those as a board and as an organization so that we can truly create the kind of ecosystem that embraces the vision and leadership of a new leader of color and also helps them grow?” — Idalia Fernandez
  • Boards play a critical role in supporting the vision of CEOs of color: “Boards can encourage and support the change by aligning to the CEO’s vision. It’s the board’s job to identify the CEO, but then the CEO sets that vision and the ways the organization needs to change to achieve it. The board has to be on board with supporting that leadership and not second-guessing it.” — Monisha Kapila
  • Organizations and boards need to identify and plan for the challenges a new leader of color might face: “Every organization has strengths as well as growth edges or gaps. So if there’s a big financial mess [at the organization], does the [new] leader of color have strong financial chops and training? If they do, great. If they don’t, develop a professional development plan and staff or consultant support to help that leader face those organizational gaps. You can’t be ready for every challenge, but it’s a matter of understanding where the gaps are and then creating the right plan to address those challenges.” — Angela Romans

Listen to the episode

Read the Nonprofit Quarterly article


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.