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What Foundations Are Learning About Supporting DEI Capacity

In December 2019, the Kresge Foundation hosted a convening to facilitate learning across the various approaches funders are taking to build diversity, equity, and inclusion capacity among grantees. Over 20 funders gathered to share their experiences and explore questions and challenges together. A new report highlights takeaways from the two days.

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

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

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

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

In Work with Grantees

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


In Internal Work

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

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


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