How Minnesota’s White Foundation Leaders (and not just CEOs!) Can Step It Up on Racial Equity

Friday, August 5, 2016

By Leah Lundquist, MCF program manager for Leadership Development

As a white woman working in the Minnesota philanthropy community, the death of Philando Castile has once again shocked me into expecting more of myself and other white colleagues in the field. I recalled reading a Chronicle of Philanthropy article over a year ago by Aaron Dorfman, executive director of the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, titled “How White Foundation Leaders Can Promote Racial Justice.” In light of the recent tragedies, I think it deserves a revisit. I’ve reread it and am going to attempt to localize it for our Minnesota context.

I was hesitant to do this at first because I don’t always feel like I live up to everything that Dorfman lists. I often take for granted my place of comfort and privilege as a white woman working in a field dominated by people who look like me. But in my role with leadership development here at MCF, I seek to create spaces where we can grow as a community of practice working in philanthropy. I find that the spaces where I tend to grow the most are spaces where I stand in my discomfort. I always gain new perspective on my unique voice and leadership.

So, in an attempt to encourage more action from myself and other white leaders in the field, here are Aaron’s five points on how white foundation leaders can promote racial justice with links and resources specific to white folks working in Minnesota’s foundations.

1) Embrace your own discomfort while taking responsibility to educate yourself about issues

I’ve heard many a colleague of color express how tired they are of explaining to and comforting us white colleagues. There’s lots of spaces where you can learn outside your office. According to Claire Chang, senior program officer with Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota Foundation, she and her colleagues are embracing a practice of intentionally participating in events led by communities, cultures and geographies where there is room to grow relationships, perspective and insights.

It was suggested by a member at a recent Program Officers Network breakfast that MCF network members utilize the network listservs to share community events or gatherings in order to help each other build new relationships.

Virtually, I’ve been following “Showing Up For Racial Justice MN” on Facebook for opportunities to learn and ally. I’m also a regular reader of Vu Le’s Nonprofits with Balls blog, since he posts often on what funders can be doing (and can stop doing!) to build equity. I’ve recently expanded my virtual social network to include Black Lives Matter MPLS, MN Neighborhoods Organizing for Change, Voices for Racial Justice and Nekima Levy-Pounds (Twin Cities NAACP president and Minneapolis Foundation board member).


2) Link racial justice to your foundation’s mission.

I’ve been fortunate to have colleagues of color in all my organizations who have been highly intentional around racial equity in our work such as Ron McKinley, Gary Cunningham, Trista Harris and Alfonso Wenker. While lucky to learn from them, it’s made me sometimes - regrettably - take a back seat on calling out the racial equity questions in my organizations. From wherever we sit in our organizations, there is always an opportunity to raise questions around racial equity (and not expect the questions and ideas to be raised by our colleagues of color). I’ve found the internal discussion questions (page 29) from Grantcraft and the Philanthropic Initiative for Racial Equity’s Grantmaking with a Racial Equity Lens a good resource for reflection.


3) Hire and promote blacks, Hispanics and other people of color for staff and trustee positions.

Here’s where I insert a big plug for the Ron McKinley Philanthropy Fellowship at MCF. We’ve heard from our current host sites who have hired fellows that they gain not only the new perspective of that individual, but more diverse applicants for other open positions, more diverse grantee applicants and new community relationships that increase their impact as community conveners. We’re currently welcoming foundations to consider hiring a Fellow starting in January 2017.


4) Take a stand.

“Taking a stand” looks different for different foundations locally. Issuing a public statement and showing up for community conversations and protests are of course highly visible ways. At this year’s GEO conference, Alicia Garza of #BlackLivesMatter encouraged funders to consider showing up not just for site visits but for community events as part of good due diligence. The Minneapolis Foundation publicly sharing its convening work around racial justice in hopes of inspiring other foundations is another way to lead the field forward.


5) Provide unrestricted long-term support to grassroots organizing groups.

The need for general operating support for organizations responding to changing conditions and the need for simplified application processes was voiced once again in a recent Funders for Justice “rapid response” conference call. Clearly it can be hard to enact these practices where they aren’t already in place, but there are both discussion guides like this one from Grantcraft to help us crack the conversation about funding community organizing and there are organizations in our community such as Headwaters Foundation for Justice that are poised to act as rapid response intermediaries. Invest just a few minutes to talk to someone at Headwaters Foundation. They have their finger on the community pulse.


For those of us feeling like bystanders in our organizations while all this happens in the community, we must stop just checking things off our to-do lists long enough to reflect on the power of our voices within our organizations and professional circles. No matter where we are in our organizations there are little things we could be doing differently in our roles to promote racial equity daily.

As program manager for Leadership Development here at MCF, I’d love to hear your ideas about how we can support you in this moment. We’ll continue to try to provide resources like those in this blog post and the ones Trista shared recently. I welcome you to send good articles my way and I will continue to share them out with the field here in Minnesota.


Photo cc Fibonacci Blue on Flickr