Telling a Different Story of Impact

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Many of the partners we work with share our commitment to racial equity. Together, we are working toward a vision of justice that we may not see in our lifetime. Given that, how can we know if we are making meaningful progress toward the goal?

We had the pleasure of discussing these questions with funders in a session at GEO’s 2023 Learning Conference in the spring. Some funders are working to build relationships with and invest in BIPOC-led organizations as one way to help correct historic, systemic inequities in funding, and this is encouraging. Yet we also have seen some resistance to changing funding practices due to concerns around how to know whether new approaches are having the desired impact. Specifically, we see some funders struggle to give the types of support BIPOC leaders say matters most—such as unrestricted funding and multiyear support—because they have concerns about measuring and communicating impact. We also see funding preference given to organizations that have capacity and resources to measure and tell the story of their impact—which can perpetuate inequities in funding.

Understanding the progress, we are making toward dismantling inequitable systems in pursuit of racial equity will require different ways of thinking about impact. Below are three tools that offer alternate approaches to understanding the impact of long-term, complex work.

A tool to help understand the impact of narrative change. Advancing racial equity often requires changing hearts and minds. Narratives are commonly held ideas about individuals and society. Measuring Narrative Change is intended to help practitioners identify key outcomes and indicators relevant to various aspects of narrative change work and offer tools, frameworks, and resources.

A tool to help assess the strength of relationships. Social change work is relational. Measuring Love on the Journey to Justice makes the case for why focusing on love in social justice work matters and offers four interconnected dimensions of emergent, transformative, catalytic love to help guide change leaders in their relationships with themselves, with others, and with community.

A tool to help assess shifts in power. Achieving equity will require shifting power and resources to people who have historically been kept farthest from power and resources. Evaluating Power Building makes the case that power building has long been overlooked by the evaluation sector and offers considerations on ways to assess power-building efforts.

Strengthening Relationships Through a Community of Practice

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How can a diverse range of organizations—each serving unique communities and each with its own goals and priorities—come together to push for systemic change? And how do these organizations align around a shared purpose and commitment to equity?

Since 2020, Community Wealth Partners has designed and facilitated the Healthy Food Community of Practice, a community of more than 50 national and regional organizations coming together for relationship building, learning, and collective action centered around a goal of helping to ensure that Black, Indigenous, and other people of color (BIPOC) and communities kept furthest from power, can access and consume healthy food.

In a recent podcast interview with Collective Impact Forum, Carolina Ramirez and Kaylyn Williams of Community Wealth Partners and Taylor Thompson of Intertribal Agriculture Council share about the genesis and evolution of the Healthy Food Community of Practice and elements that have contributed to its success so far.

Listen to the podcast to learn more about how the community focused on building relationships as a foundation for collective action, how participants leaned into discomfort to align a diverse group of organizations around equity, and the community’s decision to shift resources directly to BIPOC communities through participatory grantmaking.

Listen here:

To learn more about the design and facilitation of the Healthy Food Community, read this blog post.


Secrets to Success in Engaging Broad, Diverse Stakeholders for Transformational Change: Insights from the Healthy Food Community of Practice

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The Healthy Food Community of Practice is a space for connection, learning, resource sharing, and action with a goal: help people experiencing food insecurity — particularly those facing systemic barriers — access and consume healthy foods. The community, funded by the Walmart Foundation and facilitated by Community Wealth Partners, is made up of nearly 50 organizations across the country focused on healthy food access and consumption. Community members come from various parts of the food system and represent diverse experience and perspectives, ranging from program delivery to benefits enrollment to policy analysis to nutrition education to community activism.  

The community kicked off in 2020, just before the start of the COVID pandemic, In the midst of stay-at-home orders, increased need in communities, and shifts in how food was safely distributed, the community of practice provided a space of connection and support for members.   

Over the past two years, community members have built relationships, taken some collective action, and begun to align around a shared vision of an equitable and just food system that is rooted in community. While we still have a long way to go to achieve that vision, we are seeing some encouraging signs of progress. Reflecting on our experiences, we see four factors that helped create the conditions for collective action across this large, diverse group.  

  • Flexibility in the Community’s Design 
  • Time and Space for Building Relationships 
  • Distributed Power and Decentralized Decision-Making 
  • Opportunities for Learning and Trying New Ways of Working

Below we share more about how the community incorporated each of these factors and some recommendations to consider. 

Allow for Flexibility and Emergence in the Community’s Design
From the beginning, the community of practice has prioritized being responsive to participating organizations’ needs, and flexibility has been critical for making that happen. In fact, the Walmart Foundation decided to fund a community of practice based on feedback from grantees expressing their desire to connect with peers, share best practices and learn from each other. To ensure the community had flexibility in its design, the Foundation offered guidance and counsel as the funder, but left the shaping of the vision, purpose and design up to the community members.   

The community began with a planning phase that engaged community members in co-creating the design and theory of change. In 2020, when the country was simultaneously responding to the COVID pandemic and going through a racial reckoning in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, we had to quickly make some adjustments to respond to immediate needs. We canceled plans for bringing participants together in person and redesigned for a fully virtual engagement. We created space for participants to come together on emerging issues such as making benefits enrollment more accessible and prioritizing racial equity in the work. Later, when the White House announced its 2022 conference on hunger, nutrition, and health, we pulled together a convening to amplify the voices of those with lived experience of hunger to help ensure those voices helped inform the White House strategy. Now, at the two-year mark, we are revisiting our vision, purpose, and outcomes with the community to align around the change we are hoping to see and how this community can help create that change. 

In addition to having the flexibility to pivot in response to emerging opportunities and needs, the Healthy Food Community also allows for flexibility for each participant’s engagement. The community is a large diverse group, and we have worked to create a space that allows individuals to contribute in different ways to help us be able to leverage the unique strengths and perspectives of each participant while also staying relevant to their needs. There are opportunities for active engagement in the community—such as serving a term on the advisory council, participating in innovation pods, and helping craft new knowledge and content. Participants who are more actively engaged report making new relationships via the community that are helpful to their work and forming partnerships to advance common goals. Some participants participate in the community primarily for learning and professional development. For these participants, the value in the community is learning what other organizations are doing to address common challenges and taking new insights back to their organizations. 

Provide Ample Time and Space for Building Relationships
A common mistake we have seen in other collaborative efforts is an expectation to move quickly to action and results. Collective action that has meaningful impact cannot happen without a strong foundation of trusting relationships. The Healthy Food Community has prioritized giving space for relationships to develop.  

A key ingredient for building trusting relationships—especially in a virtual space—has been helping participants be able to bring their full, authentic selves into the space. Recognizing the stress of working on food access and nutrition during the pandemic, we focused on the wellness of participants in addition to focusing on the work at hand. We introduced somatic practices into Zoom meetings, such as breathing and mindfulness exercises. We facilitated learning sessions on topics connected to well-being such as rest and healing. We also set clear expectations for how participants show up in the space by co-crafting partnership principles. The partnership principles address things such as how community members navigate conflict and address harm when it happens. The progress we have made to build trusting relationships has laid the groundwork for collective action the group has taken.  

Providing Opportunities for Learning and Trying New Ways of Working
Engaging a broad group of diverse perspectives is important for achieving transformational change, and yet, that diversity can sometimes make it difficult for participants to find common ground and ways to move forward together. One way the Healthy Food Community addressed this was by forming “innovation pods”—small groups focused on discrete topics to engage participants on issues most relevant to them. Innovation pods have formed and disbanded as needs from the community have emerged. We have eight active innovation pods now on topics including supporting tribal communities, intergenerational food access, nutrition education, and improving benefits access.  The collective action these pods have taken have helped the community achieve some “quick wins” and build momentum for further action. Accomplishments of the innovation pods include developing a proposed community nutrition education framework, crafting guidance for organizations that want to partner with tribal communities, and gathering data to better understand the impact of the pandemic on nutrition assistance programs 

Another way the community has offered opportunity to try new ways of working has been through participatory grantmaking, where community members have come together to make collective funding decisions for grants that support the community’s vision in ways that center community and promote collaboration across organizations. One example of a grant made through the process is a partnership between the National Council on Aging and the Santa Clara Pueblo in New Mexico. After participating in participatory grantmaking through the healthy food community, some members are considering how their own organizations might use a similar process.  

Distribute Power and Decentralize Decision Making
Some collaborative efforts default to a “hub and spoke” structure where a backbone or intermediary ends up as the primary holder of decisions, communications, and relationships. While this structure often makes sense for the sake of simplicity and efficiency, the limitation is that this limits the ability to tap the power and potential of all participants. 

We have worked to distribute power and decentralize decision making in the healthy food community through a variety of ways. For example, the community is led by an advisory council of members that serve on a rotating basis. The advisory council often serves as thought partners and a sounding board after we have gotten input from the full community on things like annual priorities or group values and norms. Advisory council members serve for six months and receive a stipend in recognition of the extra time they are contributing. Another example is the innovation pods, described above, that allow small groups to make progress on areas of common interest. We also have delegated decision-making to the full community at times, through activities such as participatory grantmaking, and aligning on the community’s purpose and vision going forward.  

While we’ve made some good progress in distributing power and decision-making, we’ve encountered challenges as well. A large group of diverse stakeholders are not going to agree on everything all the time (or maybe ever!). We have learned it is important to set clear processes for how decisions will be made, as well as what will happen if the group does not reach consensus. For example, in our participatory grantmaking process, each organization in the community is allowed to vote on how the funds will be spent. If the vote results in or near a tie between two grant applications, the advisory council holds final decision-making power.  

Recommendations to Consider
Based on the experience of the Healthy Food Community so far, we offer some recommendations to funders and intermediaries that want to create the conditions for collective action across a broad, diverse group of stakeholders.  

  • Stay flexible and responsive to members’ needs. Members of the community or collaborative know best what will work in their context, and their needs may shift as the context changes. While it is certainly helpful for a funder or intermediary to hold a vision for what the collaborative could achieve to help bring people together in the beginning, it is important to hold that vision somewhat lightly and be open to evolving it based on what you hear from members. 
  • Allow time and space for building trusting relationships. Stephen Covey said “change happens at the speed of trust”, and building trust across broad, diverse groups takes intention and time. Consider how your effort is designed to build relationships and trust. Pay special attention to the experiences of the members that hold the least power and privilege in the group. Be patient, and avoid unreasonable expectations around how quickly the group should get to collective action and outcomes.  
  • Right-size and customize the experience for members. A one-size-fits-all approach is unlikely to work for a broad, diverse group, and could miss opportunities to tap individual members’ abilities to contribute. Consider how you might offer customized experiences so that each participant is able to contribute what they can and are getting the value they seek in return. Look for opportunities for “quick wins” to help build momentum for larger-scale success. Create opportunities for learning and trying new ways of working.  
  • Shift power to the community. Strive for your collaborative effort to look like a “network” rather than a “hub and spoke”. Decentralize power and decision-making and consider structures that allow individuals to step in and out of leadership roles.  

FAQs on Racial Equity and Intersectionality

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Racial equity is core to social change. Throughout our nation’s history, racial bias, discrimination, and oppression have been baked into policies, practices, and decisions of systems, organizations, and individuals. This has resulted in wide disparities on social outcomes ranging from education to health to economic well-being, with race being the biggest predictor of disparity. Having the impact we hope to have requires us and our partners to center racial equity in our work.

Doing so will better position us to advance other forms of equity as well. In our work with partners, we often get questions about prioritizing racial equity and how that intersects with other forms of equity. Below are responses to some frequently asked questions and additional resources.


If we center racial equity, are we leaving out marginalized groups that are not people of color?

No, and here’s why:

  • Racial equity does not mean investing only in communities of color; it focuses on dismantling the systems and policies that disproportionately impact Black, Indigenous, and other people of color (BIPOC).
  • Racial equity centers those experiencing the greatest disparities but does not exclude other groups pushed to the margins because systems that disproportionately impact BIPOC communities also impact other communities the system oppresses.
  • Dismantling these systems primarily benefits those experiencing the greatest systemic disparities — BIPOC communities — but will also benefit other communities experiencing these disparities: people living in poverty, LGBTQ people, people with disabilities, and others.
  • Our focus must be intersectional — we cannot separate race, class, and other identifiers that the system uses to oppress; we must fight for holistic justice to dismantle the whole system for the benefit of all groups oppressed by it.


How does a focus on racial equity bring better outcomes for all?

Perhaps you’ve heard of the curb-cut effect, the example of how making sidewalks accessible for people in wheelchairs benefited everyone — from people pushing strollers, to people pushing carts or wheeling luggage, to skateboarders. Similarly, focusing on racial equity brings better outcomes for all. Here are a few examples from Government Alliance on Racial Equity that illustrate how focusing on BIPOC communities in specific issue areas bring better outcomes for all.

  • Education: “Although there are a disproportionate number of youth of color who do not graduate from high school, there are many white students as well. We have seen strategies that work for youth of color also work better for white youth, a truly systemic approach.”
  • Legal: “Disproportions in the criminal justice system are devastating for communities of color, most specifically African-American men, but are financially destructive and unsustainable for all of us. Dramatically reducing incarceration and recidivism rates and re-investing funds in education can work to our collective benefit.”
  • Voting: “When voting was/is constrained for Black and brown voters, low-income white voters are also likely to be excluded. During the period of poll taxes and literacy tests, more eligible whites were prohibited from voting than Blacks.”


Why does racial equity matter in predominantly white communities?

Systemic racism is embedded in all our systems — education, health, justice, to name a few. Those systems were designed to produce unequal results. Even in predominantly white communities, race is the difference that makes the most difference across a range of different outcomes. And, as described above, systemic injustices that impact BIPOC communities impact other communities experiencing systemic disparities as well. When we do not address race, we are not getting at the root of the problems in our systems, and the same problems continue for all.


Additional Resources





Redesigning Capacity Building: How Philanthropy Must Support Leaders of Color

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This article was originally published in Nonprofit Quarterly. View it here

Over the years, in our roles as staff at Community Wealth Partners, we’ve spoken and worked with hundreds of Black, Indigenous, and other BIPOC nonprofit leaders. They’ve consistently told us that current capacity-building approaches often miss the mark—or worse, contribute to inequities in the sector.

But they’ve also shown us what it looks like—and what impact is possible—when they get the capacity-building support they need. Below, we share their insights, alongside direct quotes from focus groups and interviews we’ve facilitated on behalf of funders who want to support BIPOC-led organizations.

National data reinforce the urgent need to shift capacity-building practice. A 2022 Nonprofit Finance Fund survey shows that compared to BIPOC-led nonprofits, white-led nonprofits received more unrestricted funds (15 percent more), more federal funding (14 percent), and more corporate funding (13 percent more). Meanwhile, more BIPOC leaders bring lived experience representative of the communities they serve than white leaders (39 percent more). Although funders are increasingly trying to support these nonprofits and deepen their own focus on racial equity, a Center for Effective Philanthropy survey shows that one third of interviewed nonprofit leaders said funder actions on racial equity didn’t match their rhetoric.

It’s time to act. It’s time to adopt capacity-building approaches that leaders of color say will actually help. Below are three basic principles to guide these efforts.

Principle 1: There’s no one right way for nonprofits to be effective. Capacity building is about supporting nonprofits to choose and invest in how they want to change. 

Listen to what people say their needs are. —Nonprofit Leader

Traditional capacity building often prioritizes a narrow vision of what an effective nonprofit looks like. In an NPQ article from 2019, Sarah EchoHawk emphasizes this issue in relation to Native nonprofits, arguing that forcing nonprofits to adhere to preconceived standards of success turns capacity building into a colonialist practice. As Kathleen Enright, the former head of Grantmakers for Effective Organizations, observed years ago, that vision often rewards nonprofits “most skilled at navigating the thicket of hurdles, requirements and processes put in place by philanthropy,” which disadvantages smaller, BIPOC-led organizations.

This traditional approach is reinforced by white dominant cultural norms of perfectionism (e.g., focusing on perceived inadequacies) and paternalism (e.g., assessing and defining the “weaknesses” for capacity-building support). For example, traditional capacity assessments tend to focus on deficits and reinforce the assumption that an organization needs to be strong in all areas. This assumption isn’t always realistic or helpful. There are alternative ways to think about assessments as tools that lift up different perspectives from internal and external stakeholders and help guide conversation within a nonprofit about where they want to focus their time.

Capacity building should be about resourcing nonprofits so they have the time, networks, and skills they need so they can focus on delivering their mission.

When we conduct capacity assessments, we guard against assessments becoming a punitive tool in a few ways, with the aim of designing them to provide grounding for helpful discussions with funders and nonprofits about opportunities to provide meaningful support. First, the results for individual organizations are shared only with the organizations themselves; funders see aggregate data but not individual reports. Second, we encourage nonprofits to view the assessment and the results as a tool for conversation. The findings can help illuminate where there might be differences in perspective about an organization’s strengths and challenges as well as the types of capacity support that could be most helpful. They are not intended to dictate where an organization focuses its capacity-building efforts. Many nonprofits have shared that the assessments have been a helpful tool for conversations with staff and board and have helped them make decisions about where to invest in strengthening capacity.

The bottom line is, nuance, not a one-size-fits-all approach, is required in supporting nonprofit capacity. Sometimes, the most valuable thing for a nonprofit might be building their current strengths while finding ways to outsource or collaborate around areas of need. Capacity building should be about resourcing nonprofits so they have the time, networks, and skills they need so they can focus on delivering their mission.

Principle 2: Capacity is built through unrestricted funding paired with long-term, tailored supports.

Stop inviting me to trainings. Most of the time we can do the training better. I hear that a lot of leaders go to trainings only because they are tied to funding. Give investments to Black and Brown leaders and trust them. —Nonprofit Leader

First and foremost, capacity is built through unrestricted funding. When organizations have full power to decide how to spend funds, they can invest in their priorities. There’s also data showing the power of pairing unrestricted grants with designated capacity-building grants.

When it comes to how you support designated capacity-building opportunities, one-off trainings certainly have their place but should not be the primary way to strengthen capacity. Instead, capacity-building opportunities need to be sustained over the long term. BIPOC leaders also point to the value of relationship building (connecting with and learning from peers) and individualized support (such as coaching or programs tailored to the needs of a subset of grantees).

The Southern Reconstruction Fund provides what they have coined as restorative capital to organizations and leaders that are transforming their communities, thereby helping strengthen the resilience of the American South. As the fund’s website says, “Traditional philanthropy starts and stops. Restorative Capital walks alongside communities as they rise to health, wealth, and prosperity.” The fund makes philanthropic and equity-based investments in communities of color as they decide for themselves the goals they will pursue and the mix of financial mechanisms (philanthropic grants, program-related investments, loans, etc.) that will best help them achieve their goals.

For too long philanthropy has rewarded those amongst us who tell the worst stories about our communities the best. We have to realize that Black communities in the South do not have a human capital problem, but we do have a capitalization problem,” said Dr. Dorian O. Burton, managing partner and CEO of the Fund. “These racialized barriers to capital are a result of centuries of racist behaviors and bad policies that continue to be extractive and exclude Black communities from markets, investment, and self-determined community wealth and health. Philanthropy makes decisions about communities often absent this historical context and frames communities as ‘problems’ or having problems that need to be solved.”

Principle 3: Capacity building requires change not only at the individual and organizational level, but also in the ecosystem as a whole.

There is a notion that capacity building needs to happen for people and organizations, but I personally don’t like the term. I would prefer to use “cultural transformation.” If we’re talking about supporting organizations and individuals, we have to think about how we are going to change the systems that have oppressed us. —Nonprofit Leader

Current capacity building often focuses on individuals and organizations as the units of change. Those are critical, yet we know sustainable change relies on the strength of an ecosystem. Capacity building that focuses only on individuals and organizations fails to address the broader ecosystem of funders, service providers, community groups, movement leaders, government, businesses, networks, and groups not formalized into 501c3s.

In Southeast Michigan, a network of local partners came together to create a new definition of capacity building—one that emphasizes the connectivity between individuals and organizations in the nonprofit sector and that also recognizes the racial, social, and economic barriers nonprofits face. In 2019, these partners came together to launch a hub for nonprofits called Co.act Detroit. Co.act’s mission is to accelerate collaborative action among nonprofits and community organizations in Southeast Michigan. The hub works to leverage capacity supports that already exist and fill the gaps that remain so that nonprofits have access to a broad range of services to support their capacity. Since its launch, Co.act has become an essential resource for nonprofits, a trusted partner to intermediaries and a convener of cross-sector partners. Through equitable grantmaking, collaborative networks and expanding nonprofit access to innovative resources Co.act Detroit is addressing systemic barriers that impeded nonprofit success and equitable outcomes for communities.

The ability to help strengthen the collective capacity of organizations within an ecosystem relies on having access to intermediary organizations with the knowledge, skills, and capacity to provide the services organizations need. When the Kresge Foundation designed a program to help develop leadership capacity through a racial equity lens among its grantees, the program included an explicit focus on the intermediary organizations that provide leadership development services to nonprofits. In addition to providing funding, training, and peer support to grantees, Kresge’s Fostering Urban Equitable Leadership (FUEL) program also provides funding and peer support to a set of service providers. Investing in the capacity of these providers has led to outcomes such as 1) increased effectiveness and efficiency of service delivery, 2) strengthened capacity of capacity builders, and 3) greater collaboration and coordination among service providers.

“Being in work that is fee-for-service or grant dependent means that you’re often isolated,” said Jessica Vazquez Torres of Crossroads Antiracism and Training. “The FUEL program provided a place of collaboration, learning, and camaraderie across a set of shared commitments to notions of equity from organizations that normally would compete with each other for the same RFPs or who would be passing each other because we exist in this parallel world.”

Funders’ actions can also impact the strength of an ecosystem. One way that funders can contribute to a strong nonprofit ecosystem is by convening grantees to learn from and support one another. In capacity-building cohorts we have facilitated, time and again grantees find tremendous value in being able to connect with and learn from their peers. Busy nonprofit leaders don’t always have the time to prioritize networking, and the structures and supports funders provide for peer connection are often appreciated.

In addition to fostering connection among grantees, funders can connect and coordinate with one another to help strengthen the ecosystem. Coming together to share strategies and plans can illuminate which areas in an ecosystem are well supported and where there are gaps. Being aware of one another’s timelines and processes might surface opportunities to streamline grant application and reporting requirements, thereby minimizing the fundraising burden on grantees so they have more time to focus on their missions.

What Can Philanthropy Do?

The philanthropic sector is awash with recommendations for practice. At Community Wealth Partners, we have created our own resources including an equitable capacity building field guide and a set of five recommendations for leadership programs.

How might foundations shift their capacity-building practices? It starts with a willingness to shift power.

But fundamentally, there is no data problem. Most people in the field know what should be done. Even so, debate continues on whether to trust nonprofits with unrestricted funding—or wait until smaller organizations are “ready.”

The results are evident: leaders burn out, harmful public policies continue to become law, and inequities are deepening. A sea change in philanthropic practice is overdue.

How might foundations shift their capacity-building practices? It starts with a willingness to shift power. Philanthropic leaders can begin to shift power by asking the nonprofits they support what they think and then changing practice to match what the nonprofits they survey say they need.

Of course, it is not enough for philanthropy to survey nonprofits. Foundations should also survey themselves. Here are three sets of starter questions:

  • What level of investment is our foundation making in nonprofits’ capacity? Is that sufficient for the outcomes they hope to achieve? Is the level of investment equitable between our white-led and BIPOC-led grantees?
  • How else is our foundation supporting BIPOC-led organizations? In what ways are we providing helpful support to them? How might our funding practices present barriers to BIPOC-led organizations? What changes should we consider?
  • Do grantees receive multi-year, unrestricted funding? If no, why not? If yes, what share of our grants budget does this represent, and is that enough? What justifications are used to provide restricted support rather than unrestricted?

A New Way Forward

What’s possible when you fund and trust BIPOC leaders and capacity builders to do their work the ways they know it needs to be done?

 —Nonprofit Leader

If philanthropy wants to contribute to thriving, equitable communities, there need to be changes in who receives funding and how funding flows.

BIPOC-led organizations are more likely to be proximate to the communities they serve and have deep, trusting relationships with community members. As a result, they’re more likely to be able to drive change in communities and should receive more support from funders.

Nonprofits pushing for long-term, systemic changes need long-term, flexible support. Offer multiyear, unrestricted grants. Funders must support opportunities for connection, peer support, and collaboration. And, most importantly, they must give nonprofits the type of support they say they need.

Carla Taylor, Megan Coolidge, and Lauri Valerio are vice president, senior consultant, and affiliate consultant, respectively at Community Wealth Partners. Collectively, they have worked with dozens of funders to design and deliver capacity-building programs for hundreds of nonprofit organizations. The authors are grateful to Maria A. Fernandez for review and feedback on this article.

Q&A: Kresge REED partners share the power in holding space for rest, healing, collective learning

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This blog post was originally published on the Kresge Foundation’s website and describes work Community Wealth Partners facilitated with grantees working in community development, arts, and culture. Read the original post here. Images created by Brandon Black of Drawnversation

For six months throughout 2022, a group of more than 50 nonprofit representatives and grantee partners working in community development, arts and culture came together to learn, dream, heal and be in community with one another. In the process, they created a space grounded in joy, liberation, rest and healing.

In the Q&A below, a few members of the group – also known as The Kresge Foundation’s Racial Equity Exploration and Discovery (REED) community – share tips to help funders create learning spaces ripe for this kind of engagement.

The REED community was first convened in late 2020 by Kresge’s Arts & Culture Program to connect leaders of community development and arts and culture organizations. Together they exchanged ideas about ways to advance racial justice, identifying new practices to adopt and the systems support their organizations need to thrive.

“These groups harness the creativity and imaginative power of artists and residents to envision and build a more inclusive future,” said Michelle Johnson, senior program officer with Kresge’s Arts and Culture Program. “Lessons learned from their work can be of use to everyone who seeks a more equitable, prosperous and healthy America.”

What did you most appreciate about the space that was created through REED?

  • “I really appreciated this learning series. Particularly during these collectively turbulent and uncertain times, not only is holding space for rest and healing needed – it is a revolutionary act.”
  • “What I appreciated about the space was that I realized that I was not alone. I wanted to just be angry about how artists of color have been treated and I didn’t feel there was anything that I could do to change the systemic racism in my country.  But we were not allowed to languish in that helplessness.  The focus on joy and personal health took a while for me to embrace, but when I did it was liberating.  I also grew to enjoy reading the objectives each time we gathered because I began to ponder what those objectives truly met.  I now use that process in my class because my students need to see where they are in the process. I have a new appreciation and joy for the persons I have met and hopefully will meet them again in person.”
  • “I most appreciated having an opportunity to hear from my peers in the field – the learnings + validation I receive is inspiring and grounding. I get a lot of ideas from folks across the country that include perspectives I would not necessarily get from my region of the country.”
  • “I appreciated the intentionality in planning the sessions, the topics and the follow-up emails with additional resources. I also appreciated the compensation to participate in the sessions.”
  • “[The spaces created through REED were] such a welcomed change for how professionals can meet and gather. It invited me to reimagine how online meetings can feel and ways to make connections with like-minded individuals and organizations.”

What from REED would you recommend to other funders in the field who are doing other similar convenings or capacity-support efforts?

  • “I would recommend providing stipends to participants and facilitators, asking for recommendations for speakers from grantees, and including participants in shaping the content for each session.”
  • “I would recommend Reed – I think communication has been great, the stipends have been helpful in being able to ensure I can participate.”
  • “The stipends did help a great deal because I don’t know about others, but many times I am asked to participate on panels, but no money is offered because it is my social responsibility to participate. There is a saying that all African American artists that came up in the 60’s and 70’s are social workers at heart.  We feel responsible.  I would have participated without the stipend, but the stipend said what I had to say was important, my time was important, and my presence was important.”
  • “My hope is that these spaces will become common practice and that funders continue to provide participants with stipends to honor the time and intention they bring into these spaces.”

For more from the REED community, read two previous articles:
Kresge partners share 8 ways to advance racial justice through culture and creative practices
Advancing Racial Justice: 5 Practices to Adopt from Arts and Culture Organizations

 REED Resources
Throughout the sessions, the group and guest speakers shared the following resources related to the learning topics the group chose.

Changing Organizational Practices to Confront Anti-Black Racism

 Prioritizing Rest and Healing

Divesting from Oppressive Systems and Creating a New Reality

REED Principles
The REED group co-created these principles and grounded each gathering in a group-led reading of each principle.

  • Why race: We lead with race because race is the greatest predictor of how one fares in areas such as health, wealth, career, education, and civic participation.
  • Why focus on anti-Black racism: Anti-Blackness is at the root of racism. Therefore, we make explicit anti-Black racism, which both voids Blackness of value, while systematically marginalizing Black people and their issues.
  • Why racial justice: We seek to advance racial justice where there is the systemic fair treatment of people from all races through proactive reinforcement of policies, practices, attitudes, and actions that produce equitable power, access, opportunities, treatment, impacts, and outcomes.
  • Why liberation: We seek to transform the conditions of our society so that we all can live into our full abundance and self-worth.
  • Why not white-centered: We actively center the experiences of Black, Indigenous, and other people of color in our conversations and use intentional racial identity-based spaces to do our respective work.
  • Why joy: We refrain from reducing experiences into singular narratives of victimhood and intentionally lift up joy and resilience in who we are, in our stories, and in how we connect with others.
  • Why arts and culture: We see culture and creativity as core drivers of more just communities.

Farewell to our President, Sara Brenner

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Dear Friends,

I’m writing to share that our President Sara Brenner will be leaving Community Wealth Partners after more than 15 years. She has accepted a position to lead the creation of a new community foundation, the Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Washington. With an endowment of $300M from the local Jewish federation, this new philanthropic entity will focus on creating a more just and equitable world and thriving Jewish community with a primary focus on supporting those furthest from resources and power – especially communities of color – in the Jewish community and society at large. Her last day with us will be July 1st.

This is a bittersweet moment. Sara has been a vital and dedicated member of our team, from her early days as an intern and a consultant to more than a decade as a member of our executive team. She will leave an indelible mark on our organization. She has helped build this organization, including critical relationships, systems, and processes, that have allowed us to elevate our impact through our work with clients.

On a more personal note, I will miss Sara’s co-leadership and partnership. Sara’s commitment to the organization’s success as well as mine as her partner have always been evident. She is willing to engage in the hard conversations or assignments and is creative and visionary in solving problems.

Amidst this change for our organization, we are excited for the impact Sara will have in her new role, continuing to contribute to our collective effort to shift power and resources to those who historically have been kept furthest from them. There is nothing more gratifying than seeing one of our own elevate her leadership to help advance racial equity.

As we take this moment to thank Sara and wish her well in her new endeavor, we also thank you for your continued partnership.  By working together, we can get farther in creating a world where all people truly have the opportunity to thrive.

Dream Forward,

Amy Celep, CEO

Standing in Solidarity With Reproductive Justice Leaders

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On the heels of last week’s Supreme Court ruling that rolls back access to safe and legal abortions, we stand in solidarity with nonprofits, movements, and funders who fight for gender equality and reproductive justice. We are committed to using our platform to lift up their voices and following their lead on this issue.

This ruling disproportionately impacts people who have been kept furthest from resources and power—notably women, nonbinary, and trans people who are people of color, undocumented, and experiencing poverty. Studies (such as this one) show that legal abortions are linked to outcomes including reduced maternal mortality among Black women; higher levels of education, workforce participation and earnings for all women but especially for Black women; and lower rates of living in poverty and receiving public assistance for children.

The ruling also opens the possibility to roll-back other rights and protections that have been in place for decades, such as same-sex marriage, interracial marriage, access to contraception, and more. This threatens our vision of a world where all people have what they need to fully live into their potential.

Nonprofits and funders play a vital role in a vibrant civil society through mobilizing communities, advocating for policies, and changing narratives on social issues. This moment calls for bold action and long-term commitment from funders and nonprofits.

The reproductive justice movement was founded by Black women and centers those who experience the greatest reproductive health disparities. We encourage nonprofits and funders to follow their lead and the lead of others who have been kept farthest from resources and power and have been at the forefront of pushing for justice.

If you are wondering how you can leverage your power and voice in this moment, here are some resources that can help:




Moving to Action to Advance Racial Equity: Examples from Community Foundations

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Since 2020, as COVID-response grantmaking and local conversations about racial justice pushed many community foundations to action, community foundations have played a powerful role in directing resources to organizations meeting the greatest needs and catalyzing conversation and learning among donors and other community stakeholders. As private and family foundations consider how they can advance equity in their organizations, they could look to community foundations for guidance.

We’ve seen firsthand the actions community foundations are taking to advance racial equity through research on community foundation practices and a peer cohort of 12 community foundations we facilitated in 2021. Community foundations are making changes at various levels of their organizations. Many have had success aligning internally around a point of view as to why racial equity matters to their mission. Many have also made changes to their discretionary grantmaking—both in terms of how they give and who they give to—in pursuit of greater equity and inclusion. And some are trying new approaches to engage donors in conversations about racial equity and inspire greater giving from donors to BIPOC communities and in support of racial equity.

The following list is a sampling of actions we have seen community foundations take. Consider which ones you might be able to take or what additional ideas this sparks for you.

Gaining internal buy-in

  • Develop new grantmaking policy around equity
  • Communicate progress already made towards equity to donors, staff, and board
  • Develop policy to screen against hate groups for all donor-advised gifts
  • Develop messaging to communicate the foundation’s point of view on racial equity to donors

Supporting the capacity of BIPOC-led organizations

  • Provide capacity-building for BIPOC-led organizations
  • Connect BIPOC leaders to donors and other funders

Making social norms more visible

  • Develop racial equity donor champion circle for peer learning and sharing on how to bring a racial equity lens to philanthropy
  • Collect disaggregated data to have clarity on amount of resources going to BIPOC communities

Feedback and strengthening identity

  • Partner with BIPOC-led organizations to help donors understand the impact of their giving so they will continue to give to these organizations and encourage other donors to do the same

Curation, “endowing” trust on charities

  • Social media posts highlighting BIPOC-led/community-based grantees
  • Highlight BIPOC-led/community-based orgs in philanthropic advising recommendations
  • Create fund focused entirely on racial equity

Using the endowment for impact

  • Aligning investments and investment management with foundation values, and to advance racial equity


Advancing racial equity inside organizations and in communities will require ongoing learning that will never be complete. It is important to find ways to take meaningful action while continuing to learn. Consider what small steps you might take to begin to make progress toward larger changes.

Applications are open for our 2022 community foundation cohort focused on increasing support to BIPOC communities. Learn more here.

Insights from Community Foundations Who Are Talking to Donors About Racial Equity

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As community foundations are increasingly playing a leadership role in their communities and centering racial equity in their programmatic work, many are considering how to engage donors as partners in their efforts to advance racial equity in communities. In a profession that has historically centered donors’ preferences, how can donor advisors have conversations with donors about racial equity and why it matters for local philanthropy? This was a central topic of discussion in a peer learning cohort of 12 community foundations that Community Wealth Partners facilitated as well as in learning sessions hosted by the National Center for Family Philanthropy and Community Foundation Opportunity Network’s NEON cohort.

A theme of these conversations has been there is no one right way to do this. Individuals enter conversations about race and racial equity from different and personal places. Nevertheless, through sharing stories and experiences, community foundations are supporting one another in finding ways to engage with donors around racial equity. Here are four insights that emerged from the conversations.

1. Speak with authenticity and vulnerability.

Many community foundations recognize they won’t be a credible partner on racial equity without prioritizing their own internal equity work. This often includes investing in staff training and spending time together learning about the history of their communities and how systems and structures have driven racial disparities that exist today. In addition to doing the internal work, sharing openly and honestly about that work can help build credibility and trust. For Maine Community Foundation, Jen Southard, vice president of donor services, said leaning into discomfort also made a difference. “Being honest with our donors that the internal work we’ve been doing has been uncomfortable for us too has helped us open vulnerable conversations with some of our donors,” she said.

2. Invest in relationships.

Getting to honest, vulnerable conversations with donors will require investment in relationships. As one community foundation staff member shared, sometimes it can take a few conversations before a donor is ready to talk about race and racial equity with an advisor. Community foundations are also deepening relationships with nonprofits in the community and other local partners and connecting donors to these nonprofits and partners. The Righteous Rage Institute for Healing and Social Justice has developed the Conductor Circle model for multiracial, multifaith community members to come together for individual and communal healing, relationship building, and grantmaking to advance racial justice in the community. The Rose Community Foundation is partnering with RRI to bring the Conductor Circle to Denver, and has convened a mix of local donors, activists, nonprofit leaders, and community leaders. The name “Conductor Circle” comes from the conductors of the underground railroad that fundraised and built the infrastructure to free enslaved people in the South, and RRI lifts up lessons from the abolitionist and civil rights movement to inform the approaches needed to address racial equity today. Healing is central to Righteous Rage Institute’s approach for social justice and liberation and includes components such as wellness and mindfulness rituals, remembering and restoring BIPOC culture, and participatory visioning and building a new future. Black community members will make grants decisions. Rose Community Foundation is providing seed funding for the pooled fund in Denver, administering grants the fund will make, and tapping its network to attract more donors to the fund. “The work has reminded us how complex and time-intensive deep partnership is, but this level of relationship is necessary for the changes we want to see,” said Sarah Indyk, vice president of philanthropic services.

3. Use data and frameworks.

Many community foundations find it helpful to share data that helps donors understand the racial disparities that exist as well as frameworks that codify the changes the foundation is working toward. The Hawaii Community Foundation created its CHANGE framework to identify equity gaps in six priority areas. The framework includes disaggregated data in each area. Donor advisors use the framework to help donors understand the root causes of challenges faced by the community and which types of investments will make the greatest impact.

For community foundations working to channel more resources to BIPOC-led and BIPOC-serving organizations, one barrier to knowing whether you’re having the desired impact is lack of demographic data or knowing if an organization has sufficient talent and resources to submit a fruitful grant application. To overcome this challenge, Hawaii Community Foundation interviewed about 700 grant applicants and collected demographic data to help them better make decisions given who they are reaching through their giving—and who they’re not. According to Malia Peters, senior director of philanthropy, the CHANGE framework and demographic data on grantees helps donor advisors raise awareness about inequities across the state and advocate for increased funding to BIPOC-led organizations.

4. Ground engagement with donors in patience and love.

When the Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham (CFGB) engaged community members to help shape its strategic plan in 2018, equity and inclusion emerged as a priority. Since then, the foundation has been convening community conversations about racial equity. From these experiences, board and staff members have learned that it is important to focus on areas where people have common ground, to listen carefully, and meet people where they are. A common concern among many community foundations is that they could lose donors if they push them too far outside their comfort zone. CFGB has found that while the majority of donors agree that equity and inclusion should be a priority, there are donors who prefer to focus on the future and may not agree that we should reflect on Birmingham’s history to better understand how and why racial disparities exist. Board member Brian Hamilton said in these conversations it’s important to stay grounded in compassion and love and to take a long view—recognizing that dismantling systems that drive racial disparities is generational work, and therefore progress may feel slow at times.

There is not a roadmap everyone can follow for engaging donors in conversations about racial equity, but these four takeaways from fellow community foundations might offer a helpful start. As community foundations continue to lean into having a stronger point of view about racial equity in conversations with donors, continued peer learning and support will help advance the field’s understanding and practice.

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