At a pivotal historical moment, family foundations are poised to address matters of racial equity, inclusion, and diversity to enhance their impact. These concerns are central to any thematic area a family foundation would address in its programming. Health, education, income and wealth, and any range of other issues are characterized by persistent disparities among demographic groups. If family foundations hope to influence systemic change, the realities of today’s demographics and inequities between racial and ethnic groups would have to be incorporated into strategic thinking and action.
Saturday was wonderful preconference kick-off to what will undoubtedly be another great Council on Foundations event. Collaboration, common agendas, and community engagement were key themes for both the Association of Black Foundation Executives (ABFE) and Global Grantmakers. Each group delivered thought-provoking, inspiring programming - but unfortunately I was forced to choose between sessions. Similar to previous conferences, I was forced to make the mad dash between presentations and sneak politely in and out of conversations that were great independently but have the potential to be transformative together. I don’t know about you, but I’m ready to mobilize to create a more perfect Council union.
For the past two decades, the James A. Joseph Lecture has been one of the intellectual high points of the Council on Foundations Annual Conference. The list of past lecturers at this Association of Black Foundation Executives event helps make the case, not just Ambassador Joseph delivering the first lecture in 1991 and again in 2001, but Carol Goss of the Detroit-based Skillman Foundation (2007); Frank Thomas of the Ford Foundation (1992); Emmett Carson, now heading the Silicon Valley Community Foundation (2000); and Handy Lindsey, formerly the innovative grantmaker heading the Field Foundation in Chicago, more recently heading the Cameron Foundation in Virginia.
I was a member of the third class of diversity fellows. I value many things about the fellowship. My top two are the structured opportunities for reflection and learning and the access the fellowship provided to the philanthropic field overall, a tremendous support network, and numerous growth opportunities.
Prior to starting as a Proteus Fund Diversity Fellow, I spent five years in my hometown serving the city that provided me with the platform to become an educated professional of color. In returning to my hometown of New Bedford, Mass., to serve its youth, I saw that the promise of an excellent public school education had been supplanted by an underfunded and lackluster version of my urban school experience.
I work with the program team at a regional education foundation, where it is often my job to provide feedback to applicants who were not selected to receive grants. These conversations are always difficult, but sometimes they can be particularly hard. I may find myself talking to a district superintendent, an educator with a doctoral degree and decades of experience, or a group of community members who have spent years developing a project that is about to lose some expected funding. From my perspective, I sometimes feel like it is my job to close a door on these people.
At Proteus Fund we’ve pondered how to address the challenge of increasing the number of professionals of color working in philanthropy, not just to increase the diversity of faces around the table but to expand the life experiences and perspectives that foundation professionals bring to their decisions about funding. The Proteus Diversity Fellowship recruits talented young professionals of color from a variety of fields and life experiences into a rigorous, year-long training program with placements in hosting foundations in Massachusetts.
Continuing the Community Foundation Week blog series, The Denver Foundation reflects on its Inclusiveness Project: the lessons learned over the last decade, the progress made in closing racial and economic disparities, and the gaps that remain. The foundation has received national recognition for its groundbreaking work.