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About the author(s)

Director of Social Investments
Open Road Alliance

Anti-Oppression Allyship in Global Development

The events of the past year have brought new attention to long-standing inequities in American society. More people have risen up to resist the deeply entrenched systemic racism in our country.  More people are stepping up to call racism by its name and take a more active role in opposing and dismantling it.

For those of us who work to address global challenges, lessons for anti-racist allies are equally applicable to our global development work. Renewed focus on addressing systemic racism in the US provides opportunities for transformative thought and action by American foundations working in the international arena.

International anti-oppression allies resist all structures of oppression, regardless of the category used to sort, “otherize,” and discriminate against any human being (including race, ethnicity, class, caste, religion, sex, gender, sexual orientation, physical ability and so on).

As privileged North Americans working in global development, now is the time to recommit to work as international anti-oppression allies, to own our privilege, and to listen, learn, and take responsibility. We must recognize:

Our privilege is a threat.  An international anti-oppression ally recognizes that our work often replicates, justifies, and props up oppressive structures operating inside our own organizations and through the programming we fund. We are not saviors.

Our privilege is also an asset.  We have an intimate understanding of the way power works to open doors, elevate voices and bridge what inequity has divided. We can use our leverage to bend systems and processes towards justice.

Getting Started

This is big stuff.  Where do we start?  As an evaluator, I’m keen to understand how my own practice and perspective needs to change and how I can support the transformation of evaluation itself to become a tool “for and of equity” as called for by the Equitable Evaluation Initiative.

Community conversations spur learning and commitment. The Funder and Evaluator Affinity Network (FEAN) recently released its Call to Action series spotlighting innovative ways to tackle challenges in philanthropic evaluation. “Evaluation is so White,” drafted by FEAN’s Evaluators of Color Action Team provides exciting answers to the question, “What will it take for evaluators of color to flourish in the evaluation ecosystem?” That paper called out the systemic barriers evaluators of color face, and that diminish and deplete the entire field.

So, how can we leverage insights and energy in the US to reconsider and reimagine the way we support change overseas?  FEAN’s Global Challenge’s Call to Action outlines steps towards building a robust and inclusive evaluation ecosystem to enable philanthropic evaluation’s contribution to global transformation. The brief includes timely and practical recommendations for strengthening shared identity, leadership and member engagement, funding and supporting policies, the knowledge base, and identifying exemplars of practice.

Moving forward

Real and sustained change is only possible if members of the communities that philanthropy seeks to benefit have meaningful roles in making decisions that affect their lives. “Nothing about us, without us” is true of philanthropic programming.  Funders, evaluation firms, and the field’s infrastructure organizations – each have an important role to play in cultivating an ecosystem that is more inclusive of diverse perspectives and lived expertise. People whose lives foundations seek to improve should hold positions of influence in the organizations that fund, implement and evaluate programming.

According to the Global Fund for Community Foundations, an ally goes beyond funding programming and hiring local evaluators to ensure that “local people have control over the resources they need to enable them to build the communities they want.” Movements like #ShiftthePower and community philanthropy are reshaping our understanding of what just engagement looks like. Organizations such as The Share Trust, Network for Empowered Aid Response, Thousand Currents, and Radical Flexibility Fund are demonstrating how to nurture and finance local solutions for local people with global implications.

Opportunities abound when it comes to harnessing existing assets and expertise, developing connections across practitioners, and leveraging existing infrastructure to build capacity. Now is a critical window of time to seize these opportunities given the scale and complexity of the challenges we collectively face.

Continue the Learning & Conversation

In this spirit of collective action, FEAN is partnering with GEO on a webinar series highlighting the learnings from its new Call to Action resources. The first of these is scheduled next week on Thursday, June 17 and will focus on evaluation for global transformation and strengthening evaluator collaborations and knowledge-sharing. The second session on Thursday, July 15 will focus on actionable strategies to make evaluations more useful to philanthropy and to help evaluators of color thrive.

Anti-Oppression Allyship in Global Development


About the author(s)

Principal Research Scientist
NORC at the University of Chicago

Virtual Workshop: Bending the Arc of Grantmaking Towards Racial Justice

In today’s climate of racial tension and the ensuing movement for racial equity taken up by foundations, Lori Villarosa, co-author of Grantmaking with a Racial Justice Lens and founder/executive director of the Philanthropic Initiative for Racial Equity (PRE) notes that “we now have more lessons to confront power, shift how we distribute our resources and move toward system-wide transformation.”

These lessons and this shift will be the topic of a Candid virtual workshop on Tuesday, March 30, from 11:00 am - 12:30 pm PT/2:00 - 3:30 pm ET. Hear directly from Michelle Morales of the Woods Fund Chicago and Castle Redmond of The California Endowment--two grantmakers whose foundations have advanced both racial equity and racial justice grantmaking--as they share the kinds of shifts they made and sought as they deepened their investments for greater community transformation.

A Racial Equity Lens

In 2006, PRE partnered with GrantCraft to lift up what it meant to move from a "colorblind" frame or a basic diversity frame to actually applying a racial equity lens to their grantmaking, building on work that PRE had been advancing since its launch in 2003. Grantmaking with a Racial Equity Lens reached thousands of funders and nonprofits and became a seminal resource for the field.

In 2019, PRE created an updated guide to reflect the ways funders were advancing a racial justice lens, starting initially by asking racial justice movement ecosystem leaders what they would like to see philanthropy doing differently.

A racial equity lens separates symptoms from causes; a racial justice lens brings into view the confrontations necessary for real change.


To learn more or to register for the session, visit Candid Learning.

Virtual Workshop: Bending the Arc of Grantmaking Towards Racial Justice


About the author(s)

Content Development Associate

ICYMI: People Are Talking About Participatory Grantmaking

Participatory grantmaking continues to gain traction with grantmakers and grantseekers alike, as more are looking at the value and outcomes of grantmaking that includes all stakeholders in the full process and the ways that participatory grantmaking can improve funder/grantee power dynamics, build stronger alliances, help achieve DEI-related goals, and have a deeper impact on the issues at hand. GrantCraft’s Deciding Together field guide explores this movement in great detail, complete with case studies and helpful tips, and companion templates in the Mechanics section of our website. Since the publication of this guide, we are always on the hunt for new knowledge about how participatory grantmaking is being implemented. Here are three recent compelling reads exploring the impact of participatory grantmaking.


Two beautiful black women stand together. Strong African American girls side by side. Sisterhood and females friendship.

Telling My Truth as a Black Woman Made Me a Better Grant Maker

(Jasmine Sudarkasa, The Chronicle of Philanthropy, February 9, 2021) This first-person account of participatory grantmaking (PGM) at work at the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation demonstrates that PGM can also effectively be used within large foundations as a means to lift up under-represented voices and lived experience.

In the face of a people-led movement, philanthropic institutions were woefully ill equipped. By this point, I was, too. I sat in my apartment, looking at facilitation plans for “equitable learning,” and felt like an idiot. Enough was enough. I couldn’t separate my Blackness from my responsibilities as a grant maker. I needed to tell my truth.

And so, I started talking. I cried, too. And surprisingly, people at Hewlett started listening. Those people included Larry Kramer, our president. He heard me, as fearful and enraged as I was. Then he invited me to stand in that fear and do something about it.

Read more>>

A diverse group of unrecognizable people stand in line to vote. A woman at the end of the line holds an American flag.

To Support Democracy, Foundations Must Practice Democracy

(Josh Lerner, Nonprofit Quarterly, February 9, 2021) Democracy in America (and around the world) depends largely on where the funding goes. Josh Lerner asserts that, “It’s an inconvenient truth, but foundations are one of the most durable bastions of oligarchy. They are generally governed by a small group of benefactors and professionals, who are disproportionately white, wealthy, and male.” Want more democracy? We need more democratic distribution of philanthropic dollars.

Democracy is under attack around the world, and many foundations are rallying to its defense. Yet at the same time, many foundations in their mode of operations are practicing and reinforcing the anti-democratic ideology of the attackers. By preaching democracy externally but practicing oligarchy internally, funders undermine their investments and our democracy.

To confront the crisis of democracy, directing external funding to pro-democracy groups and causes is not enough. Funders must also undo their internal anti-democratic practices. This means ending top-down decision-making by a small ruling elite. It also requires shifting power to communities. Fortunately, we already have models for how to do this.

Read more>>

Teamwork concept with building puzzle. People working together with giant puzzle elements. Symbol of partnership and collaboration. Flat vector illustration isolated on white background.

Shifting Power to Communities in Grant Funding

(Rodney Foxworth and Marcus Haymon, Stanford Social Innovation Review, January 20, 2021) Foundations are being called to examine how institutional practices deepen inequality instead of dismantling it: from arduous application processes to repetitive reporting requirements, business as usual in the funding world feels more about maintaining control than sharing it. “To address this painful history, and implement policies based on trust and equity, philanthropists must give up power in decisions around funding deployment. Inclusive decision making can have more inclusive and powerful results.”

So, funders must ask themselves: Where in our processes might we share decision making? How might we create space for grantees to tell us about their impact, in their own words, to shape our thinking? How might we be equitable in all aspects of our work, including our investment? The urgency of this moment is calling on us to look across our systems and center those who are building the world we so desperately need.

Read more>>


Read a recent article about participatory grantmaking that you’d like to share? Email us at [email protected].


About the author(s)

Content Development Associate

Where in the World Do Your Ideas Come From?

If I told you that I read about a new approach to reducing violence, would you want me to forward the article? What if I had a conversation with someone who created a program that bridged social divides? Would you be interested in an introduction? What if I knew an entire group of people who had interesting and impactful ideas on how to address climate change, reduce inequities, help people live longer, or overcome COVID-19. Would you want to join that group?

I’m guessing the answer would probably be yes to one or all of these questions. Wouldn’t hurt, right? In fact, it could have a huge impact in your own work by applying this new approach to the communities you serve, or sparking a related idea that could be transformative.

Now, would it matter if I told you these people, programs, and groups were from a different country? From Denmark or Brazil or Rwanda?

At first you might say, “No, it doesn’t matter,” because you believe, like me, that good ideas have no borders.

But now ask yourself, how often do you look to other countries for solutions or inspiration?

If the answer is “not often,” don’t feel bad. You’re not alone.

In a survey of foundations located in the U.S. conducted by Candid in early 2020, 73 percent of respondents reported that their domestic grantmaking was rarely or not at all informed or inspired by ideas and solutions from around the globe and beyond U.S. borders.

As director of Global Ideas for U.S. Solutions at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, I can say I wasn't surprised by that result. I've learned over the last several years, speaking with many curious, well-intentioned folks, that there are reasons--perceived and real--that can make learning from abroad something people don't readily seek out in their work

In an effort to help others discover the value of global learning, we created a simple 12-question quiz that enables people to reflect both on how they may (or may not) experience the rest of the world and on how this may influence their own thinking.

It’s called the Blue Marble Quiz, inspired by the ways in which astronauts have had their perspectives profoundly changed after seeing the world differently from space.

While not a scientific survey, the questions in this quiz are meant to encourage reflection and are informed by resources and research that speak to the benefits of looking abroad for inspiration, ideas, and solutions.

The quiz also addresses some of the factors that may influence why we do or don’t look to the rest of the world for inspiration. From the practical--you haven’t been exposed to many people or places from other countries--to the psychological, like the Country of Origin Effect or the Overview Effect.

While we call it a quiz, in reality there are no right or wrong answers, just questions that we hope will help people reflect on how they see and learn from the world.

The Candid survey also revealed an opportunity to increase specific global learning practices within philanthropy. For example, only 8 percent of respondents said they have a global network of people they regularly tap into, and just 12 percent said they encouraged staff to review media and content from other countries.

Recognizing that both foundations and their staff may benefit from specific resources and recommendations, we’ve also included a page of resources at the end of the quiz so people can learn more about how we all see the world and the research and resources behind each question.

I lead a team that is charged with searching beyond our geographic borders for ideas and solutions that could be adapted to the U.S. to improve health and wellbeing. We are fortunate to have a dedicated team to explore far and wide regarding issues important to us. For example, we can look to Malawi to learn about advancing food justice or study what New Zealand is doing to pioneer a comprehensive approach to wellbeing.

Appreciating the many demands on your time and attention, let us assure you global learning doesn’t have to be a full-time job, does not require that you physically travel, and doesn’t necessitate making international grants.

Here are three simple ways to get started without ever leaving your desk.

  1. Have 5 minutes? Take the Blue Marble quiz and share it with others.
  2. Have 15 minutes? Take the Blue Marble quiz and then spend a few minutes checking out the resources. Watch a video, read a piece of research, play with a tool, or even bookmark the page for checking out later.
  3. Have an hour? Join the next conversation in RWJF’s Reimagined in America: What Can the World Teach Us about Building a Culture of Health webinar series or explore past episodes to find more inspiration and learn from abroad.

As an organization, if you’d like to dive in a little deeper, you can take the quiz with a group and host a discussion to reflect on your different experiences and influences.

And, of course, you can reach out to our Global Ideas for U.S. Solutions team. We’d be happy to discuss our approach to global learning and how it contributes to RWJF’s mission.

It goes without saying that we are living through unprecedented times with challenges and inequities that can be overwhelming and seem insurmountable.

But what if I told you that Rwanda could teach us how to heal from racial injustice or that within Europe you could find the key to tackling vaccine hesitancy?  Or that in some other faraway country lies the solution you’ve been looking to bring to your community?

It could all start by taking a simple quiz and then seeing where your learning journey might take you next.

About the author(s)

Director of Global Ideas for US Solutions
Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

Helping Foundations Better Understand Their Most Powerful Resource: Their People

Foundations are often resource rich in ways that other nonprofit organizations are not. One of the most powerful resources foundations have is their people, those on the staff and board of directors who dedicate their time to advancing the mission and goals of the foundation.


  • How much does the sector know about those working in philanthropy?
  • How might the sector better assess its workplace climate and culture?
  • And what might grantmakers do with this information?

While grantmakers enjoy access to ample data on the issues, geographic areas, and populations being supported by grant dollars -- and receive regular reports about the efficacy of their own investments -- there is far less data on who works in the field of philanthropy. The national sector-wide reports that do exist typically rely on submissions of institution-wide data from participating foundations based on information collected internally, usually by the human resources departments, as opposed to surveying individual board and staff members directly. And the data collected can be incomplete: participating institutions may not collect or report data on all the components of an individual’s identity, for example, sexual orientation or gender identity. As a result, there is insufficient data to report on various measures of diversity in philanthropy.

The DAPP Survey aims to help the philanthropic community better understand its workforce and leadership. The DAPP survey is unique in soliciting anonymous self-reporting from individuals on the staff and board of participating foundations, improving the accuracy of demographic data and allowing for honest feedback.

The 2018 DAPP Survey, which resulted in The 2018 Diversity Among Philanthropic Professionals Report: A Tale of Two Sectors and The Philanthropic Closet: LGBTQ People in Philanthropy, helped answer the question of LGBTQ representation in philanthropy. It also sadly revealed that LGBTQ people in philanthropy are “in the closet” at work (meaning they have not disclosed their sexual orientation to most or all of their colleagues) at a higher rate than LGBTQ people in the corporate sector. This finding that would have been nearly impossible to unearth if the researchers relied only on institution-wide data collection efforts.

The DAPP Survey is part of CHANGE Philanthropy in 2020, though it was previously administered by Funders for LGBTQ Issues. Participation has already more than tripled. This year we have more than 120 foundations committed to participating. The 2020 DAPP Survey officially launches December 1, 2020. CHANGE Philanthropy looks forward to sharing the results in Quarter Two of 2021.

As CHANGE Philanthropy prepares to undertake the DAPP Survey on a biannual basis, the DAPP survey remains unique in that:

  1. It relies on anonymous self-reporting. Participating foundations email their staff and board the link to the survey. The survey is conducted by a third party, SMU DataArts, allowing responses to be collected securely and completely anonymously.
  2. Participating foundations that reach statistical significance receive a confidential custom report comparing their results to the overall findings. While the overall findings are only published and shared in aggregate form, those foundations that reach statistical significance will get a confidential custom report about their workforce.
  3. The survey measures how individuals perceive that their organizations respond to various components of their personal identity. The 2020 DAPP will reveal how comfortable individuals are living the components of their identities at work and how responsive institutions are to authenticity. Across an individual’s race and ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, disability status, religion or belief system, and country of origin, participants are asked to identify how their employer recognizes that component of their identity on a scale of actualized, celebrated, acknowledged, invisibilized, erased, and exploited.

An added benefit of CHANGE Philanthropy housing this survey is that once results are available, for those seeking to increase the diversity of their workforce or improve their workplace climate and culture, CHANGE Philanthropy’s 10 partner organizations stand ready to help!

As the country continues to address the dual pandemics of COVID-19 and systemic racism, now seems as important a time as ever to check-in with philanthropy’s most powerful resource, the people working in philanthropy. Learn more about the 2020 DAPP Survey. There are still a few weeks to sign up to participate before October 30, 2020.  The DAPP survey is open to grantmaking institutions of all types based in the United States, for whom grantmaking is 75 percent or more of the institution’s programmatic work.

About the author(s)

Senior Fellow
CHANGE Philanthropy

Toward a Philanthropic Racial Equity Movement

This period of racial justice activism in our nation’s history has been building for many years. Perceptions of confederate flags and statues, the renaming of buildings, numerous statements from businesses of all types, police reforms, and all the shifts we have seen in recent weeks are the result of sustained efforts.

Now we are experiencing an acceleration of change and a long-overdue acknowledgement of racial inequities and injustices that have remained present for several generations. Certainly, we have seen moments since the Civil Rights Movement, when it appeared widespread anti-racist action might be upon us. But this time feels different.

Previously, in discussing philanthropy’s response to the racial equity movement, I wondered whether philanthropy itself will experience a sustained movement for racial equity and racial justice. If so, what would be required to make this a reality?

Foundations Transforming Themselves and Helping Dismantle Systemic Racism

Looking ahead, foundations could pursue a few approaches in order to develop a lasting commitment to racial equity. These include sustained commitment in grantmaking to anti-racist advocates and organizers, investing in Black communities and other communities of color more broadly, transforming foundations institutionally, yielding power to communities and enabling community-driven and participatory grantmaking, collaborating across philanthropy, and collaborating across sectors.

Sustaining Commitments in Grantmaking to Racial Equity and Racial Justice

As we have seen in recent weeks, many organizations on the front lines of anti-racist policy and advocacy have received expanded funding. In some cases, this funding is an articulation from within foundations to commitments to racial equity and racial justice. But the challenge is to attain true sustained commitments. Systemic racism will not be eradicated with small, short-term grants. Large grants alone will not do it either. For philanthropy to help advance a racial justice movement, multiple foundations and donors would have to contribute significant and flexible funding that allows organizations to expand the work they have already begun – the work that actually brought us to this historical moment.

Moreover, foundations and donors would have to transcend funding only organizations that are well-known and well-connected. There has to be willingness to engage grassroots communities on the ground and openness to learning about new organizations that might be involved in crucial endeavors without any fanfare.  We should also remember that grassroots activism can transcend incorporated nonprofit organizations.  Philanthropy will have to be willing to engage informal associations that are not incorporated.

Investing in Black Communities and Other Communities of Color

In addition to investing in racial justice advocacy and organizing, it is also important for foundations and other donors to commit to strengthening Black communities and other communities of color.  This means supporting Black-led social change organizations as well as investing in capacity building for organizations led by and serving communities of color of all types including small businesses.

Transforming Institutionally

Grantmaking in a vacuum may have a short-term impact. However, a sustained anti-racist commitment in grantmaking or a new funding program require additional support systems. For example, it would be difficult to commit to dramatic increased investments in organizations led by and serving communities of color if foundations do not simultaneously collect demographic grantee data. The Race and Equity in Philanthropy Group (REPG) has been providing a forum for learning exchange among foundation representatives regarding policies and practices on racial equity and various aspects of equity and inclusion.

This historical moment for foundations is intriguing because numerous philanthropic institutions have been civic actors, beyond grantmaking. They have been challenged to reflect on their values, how they communicate, and their willingness to publicly advocate. There are so many dimensions of systems, operations, policies, and practices in foundations, all of which should be interrogated via a racial equity lens, from how they make decisions to how they hire and promote to how they build their boards of directors to how they invest, procure, and beyond. If foundations as whole institutions are transformed to embed a commitment to racial equity fully, grantmaking rests within a more sustainable context.

Community-Driven and Centered Philanthropy

Additionally, it is not enough to leave all decision-making about the distribution of resources to donors and their foundation staff. Too often, not only are communities of color not sufficiently represented on Boards and in executive level positions, but the very constituents in the communities most adversely impacted are also not engaged and consulted about the funding ostensibly intended for their benefit. A great deal of work is required to bridge this longstanding gap in philanthropic culture. Philanthropy is seen as the domain of the wealthy and their endowed institutions, and communities of color and all low-income communities as recipients. They are framed as deficits to be fixed rather than engaged as assets to help shape the direction of resources for their communities.

Black communities and other communities of color should be positioned to not only receive but also drive philanthropy. Larger, well-endowed foundations must learn to share power and relinquish control over money to communities of color, including philanthropic initiatives by and for their communities, which have a more intimate understanding of their constituents.  Moreover, we should acknowledge the potential of community foundations to create various avenues, such as giving circles, which can focus on highly localized strategies.  Racial inequities and injustices, after all, are experienced by people of color largely in places – in the neighborhoods, cities, and regions in which they reside. At this level, we can find many grassroots organizations that may have very little experience with foundations despite their important work.

Some years ago, the Community Foundation for Greater New Haven created a Communities of Color Initiative, which spun off numerous new philanthropic initiatives led by and serving communities of color, including The Prosperity Foundation, which operates as a community foundation for Connecticut’s Black communities. The traditional community foundation model is no panacea for the breadth of systemic inequities around us, but it can be creatively leveraged. Community foundations are set up to remain in place in perpetuity, creating a unique relationship with the community as a crucial philanthropic vehicle that's embedded in that community and should, in theory, evolve along with the community and better understand the communities’ needs than regionally- and nationally-focused funders.

Beyond just community foundations, all foundations can investigate how systemic racism is manifested in local communities, and share decision-making with residents and community-based organizations. The Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation, for example, has focused its work on community-based networks. There is much work to be done to enable greater and more widespread forms of community-driven philanthropy. But it does not feel as if philanthropy can maximize its contribution to dismantling systemic racism without it.

Collaborating Among Foundations

The journey to becoming a racially equitable foundation is lengthy. It can include various fits and starts. We see foundations change priorities relatively frequently.  Often, a commitment to racial equity and racial justice can be quite precariously positioned amidst shifting philanthropic sands. Peer learning and support can help foundations mutually strengthen each other’s commitment to this important work.

Community foundations across the country are working to reduce racial inequities in their communities as part of CFLeads' equity network. The goal of an equity practice is to eliminate the outcome disparities in society—many of which exist due to deep-rooted issues in our systems and institutions. The equity network fosters peer learning and support to help strengthen community foundations’ efforts toward racial equity.

But a single foundation can have only so much impact.

PSO’s can play a crucial role organizing groups of foundations around anti-racist agendas. ABFE notably galvanized numerous Black foundation CEOs to pursue joint priorities. Several foundations signed ABFE’s Joint Statement on COVID and Police Shootings highlighting action that the philanthropic sector should take in order to address the immediate needs around COVID-19 and police reform as well as longer-term strategies to address racial inequity and structural racism.

Collaborating Across Sectors

The philanthropic sector is not in a position to dismantle systemic racism on its own. Philanthropy can provide sustained and flexible support to nonprofit organizations. As previously noted, philanthropy can take responsibility to transform internally and engage externally. But given the pervasiveness and persistence of systemic racism, every sector must transform, and policymakers at all levels of government must institute substantially different regulations in so many aspects of life – housing, policing, education, health, and so on.

At every level – global, national, local – true systemic change will require some form of collaboration and coordination across sectors. This includes institutions transforming themselves and acting together. The Prudential Foundation has been supporting and participating in the Newark Anchor Collaborative (NAC) in Newark, New Jersey. Last year, NAC launched a signature initiative on racial equity in which Newark’s anchor institutions, representing numerous industries (corporations, foundations, universities, hospitals, arts institutions, etc.), have been mutually strengthening their racial equity policies and practices. Housed at the Newark Alliance, which has a close working relationship with the City of Newark, NAC has been aligning the entire city and its surrounding region to strengthen Newark, which is populated mostly by people of color.

Philanthropy As Part of the Whole

Overall, philanthropic foundations have been responding to and seeking to play a role in an advancing racial justice movement. But, as is always the case when confronted with enormous challenges, philanthropy must consider how to commit to sustained activity. Foundations and donors must have the will to stay focused and not walk away from a dedication to racial equity and racial justice. This is not easy work. Some strategies could fail. However, our current moment calls on us to proceed without the fear and risk aversion that can inhibit so many in philanthropy.  Additionally, it is important that philanthropy is not the whole story. It plays a role in a broader ecosystem of partners on the long road to racial equity and racial justice.

Toward a Philanthropic Racial Equity Movement


About the author(s)

Founder and President
Marga Inc.

How Racial Equity Supports Better Grantmaking Practices

Exponent Philanthropy is on a journey to understand, embrace, and champion equity, and we are embedding it in our programmatic and research efforts. Much of our 2020 Foundation Operations and Management Report centered around exploring how racial equity relates to good grantmaking and governance practices.

The relevance of racial equity

Our survey defined racial equity as, "the systematic fair treatment of people of all races that results in equitable opportunities and outcomes for everyone." We asked foundations to rate the relevance of racial equity to their mission, and more than a third (34%) said it was “very relevant.”

Interestingly, foundations with at least two people of color on their boards and foundations with all female or nonbinary board members, considered racial equity significantly more relevant to their foundation mission than did boards without. Foundations with all white or all male boards can still engage in racial equity work, but bringing more diverse perspectives onto the board is the best way for a foundation to advance conversations around racial equity, and make the work more central to their mission.

Good grantmaking practices align with racial equity

We surveyed foundations on an array of grantmaking practices—from monitoring grantee accomplishments to engaging constituents in the grantmaking process—and analyzed the relevancy of racial equity as it related to the grantmaking practices.

The foundations rating racial equity “very relevant” to their mission were more likely to carry out each of the grantmaking practices above as compared to foundations rating it “not relevant” or “somewhat relevant.”

Stepping outside the survey, members say these strategies also play an outsized role in advancing racial equity:

  • Streamlining and simplifying grant requirements helps de-emphasize traditional long-form applications. It offers alternative ways to collect and share information, reducing some barriers to entry, and affording more organizations a shot at philanthropic dollars.
  • Collaborating with other funders to learn, support a cause, or pool grants, has its advantages including more large scale work, shared risks and new perspectives.
  • Engaging constituents in the grantmaking process helps funders make more informed decisions without preconceived ideas on what they think grantees need.

Interestingly, general operating support and multiyear grants were fairly common regardless of the relevance of racial equity to a foundation’s mission. But we’ve heard from funders and grantees working to advance racial equity that these two types of grants are essential.

Further, general operating support and multiyear grants are increasingly common amongst lean funders, and not just for those focused on racial equity. No matter your funding focus, multiyear general operating support grants afford recipients the security to think long term to better create change and solve problems.

There is still work to be done

Despite the positive findings we identified in this year's report, there is still work to do to increase the number of diverse voices in philanthropy and understand how racial equity relates to even more grantmaking practices.

The racial and ethnic diversity of foundation boards and staff was low compared to the overall population and number of foundations (65%) that consider racial equity “somewhat” or “very relevant” to their mission.

  • Of participating foundations, 74 percent reported having no board members of color (i.e., their boards were comprised entirely of people who identified as white)
  • More than three-fourths (78%) of participating staffed foundations had no paid staff members of color (their staffs were fully comprised of people who identified as white). And this trend continued for CEOs—90 percent of participating foundations with full-time CEOs had someone in that role who identified as white.

Though philanthropy is still dominated by people who identify as white, an important lesson to keep in mind here is that those who are engaging in racial equity work, and working to bring more diverse perspectives into the field, are the foundations more likely to be engaging in other types of philanthropic best practices. In addition to rethinking barriers to entry, rethinking data collection, and knowing the stresses on their grantees, these grantmakers are also streamlining grant requirements, collaborating with other funders, engaging constituents in the grantmaking process, and providing financial support to grantees for evaluation.

As the philanthropic sector aims to build trust, strengthen relationships, and address the systemic power imbalances in our society, trusting nonprofits and the people they serve is crucial. Regardless of a foundation's funding priorities, it can make the world a more equitable place for all of us.

About the Foundation Operations and Management Report

466 foundation members of Exponent Philanthropy completed the 2019 survey for a response rate of 26 percent. The majority of respondents self-identified as family foundations (53%) or independent foundations (39%), and respondents were relatively evenly distributed across the United States. For more information, access the full report on Exponent Philanthropy’s website.

About the author(s)

Manager, Research and Education
Exponent Philanthropy

Director, Equity and Inclusion
Exponent Philanthropy

COVID-19, Racism, and Philanthropy


As the founder and president of Marga Inc., a consulting firm providing strategic advice and research to philanthropic initiatives and community partnerships, I have led coordination of the Race and Equity in Philanthropy Group (REPG), which engages a cluster of member foundations in strengthening policies and practices on racial equity, diversity, and inclusion. Through that work, Marga Inc. has collected the information and examples shared here.

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the world. It is a crippling disaster.

As is often the case during and after disasters, philanthropy has stepped in. Over recent weeks, we have seen foundations and their partners create numerous relief funds and explore new policies to move resources more quickly or make grants and donations more flexible for recipients. And we have seen foundations raise their voices to highlight injustices during the crisis as well. More recently, some foundations have been speaking out regarding the events surrounding the deaths of George Floyd and other unarmed Black citizens and the broader racial injustices these incidents represent.

COVID-19 and Structural Racism

This pandemic is no ordinary disaster. It is creating, as so many have said, “a new normal.” While it has ushered in some new realities, it has also highlighted existing inequities—one of which is longstanding structural racism.

As data begins to become more available, we are seeing that people of color are more likely to be affected by the pandemic—they are contracting and dying from the virus at higher rates, as they disproportionately reside in densely populated metropolitan areas that increase the risk of exposure to the coronavirus, and those who contract the virus face worse health outcomes than their white counterparts.
Social distancing and working from home have been vital ways in which the spread of the virus has been limited to some degree. But many lower income people of color are not in a position to practice distancing if they don’t have much space at home, or they live with numerous others in those quarters. Perhaps they do not have homes at all. Mass incarceration has disproportionately filled prisons with people of color living in close quarters in which the virus can spread.

Additionally, many of the jobs that cannot be done at home and are considered essential, such as service employees in grocery stores or transportation workers, are disproportionately occupied by Black and Latinx employees. These workers are true champions for placing themselves at risk to keep things going. They deserve tremendous gratitude. Native American communities have been particularly devastated by COVID-19 as well.

Discrimination, xenophobia, and ignorance are components of racism that have also surfaced around COVID-19, as demonstrated in the rise in hate crimes against Asian Americans, who are being blamed for the virus.

In addition, what is unquestionably a public health crisis is also an economic one. As jobs disappear and small businesses go under, populations with limited savings and limited career flexibility cannot withstand the loss of even a single paycheck. In the context of structural racism, again, communities that have been historically underserved and disenfranchised are most vulnerable.

One of the greatest disparities by race is around wealth, beyond income. Crises put a strain on communities with the least wealth (e.g., savings). So many in communities of color experienced dramatic losses in wealth during the financial crisis over a decade ago and were just starting to recover. This pandemic worsens conditions for those already vulnerable conditions.

As the pandemic has exacerbated existing inequities in a public health and economic crisis, a third crisis of racial injustice has converged with our experiences around COVID-19. Again, the very recent murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery are not actually new. They are emblematic of a history of systemic violence against communities of color, and Black people in particular. There have been many protests following specific acts of racial injustice throughout this century, but none as widespread and multiracial as the daily and nightly civil unrest of late May and early June.

It is also critical to examine the distribution of resources by financial institutions and by philanthropy during this multidimensional crisis. Who gets the money? At this moment, there is debate and inquiry around how the smallest businesses that need funding the most are not getting much, while larger businesses are figuring out ways to get more funding. These are familiar dynamics, with a racial dimension to the distribution of resources in philanthropy. Smaller organizations led by and serving communities of color that are in greatest need are often disconnected from larger foundations and greater philanthropic resources.

As we look at the inequities illuminated in the pandemic, philanthropy absolutely must explore how grantmakers can substantially expand giving to organizations led by and serving communities of color. It is particularly important to serve representative organizations that provide a voice for their constituents and raise awareness about the realities confronting communities and advocate for policy change.

The many actions taken by foundations and donors recently are very important. But it is crucial to expand the number and range of philanthropic activities that directly address the racial dynamics that are increasingly apparent in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic as well as the racial injustices around repeated police brutality. The clear worsening of racial inequity demonstrated throughout this crisis only underscores the need for foundations to make it a priority in all aspects of their work well beyond the near future. If foundations want to contribute to improving the health and economic conditions that have influenced the gravity of the pandemic’s impact, they will have to consider crucial racial dynamics.

Philanthropy Together for Change

It is encouraging that many foundations have been actively engaged during the pandemic, focusing on the various racial equity considerations evident in the crisis. Because racial equity is complex, there is not a one-size-fits-all approach.

Below are a variety of approaches some funders are taking that may serve as helpful examples for others.

Advocating for immigrant communities

A group of 40 California-based foundations signed a joint letter to Governor Gavin Newsom elevating the need to support and protect immigrant Californians and their families, who are excluded from federal relief and ineligible for state safety-net programs.

Creating rapid response funds and giving grants to support communities of color and other vulnerable communities.

(A complete list of the many recently created crisis response funds can be found on Candid’s regularly updated list of funding opportunities on its coronavirus popup web page.)

  • The California Wellness Foundation is committing $3 million in grants to support the most vulnerable communities and people in the state. Additionally, they are providing core support grants to small and mid-size organizations led by people of color.
  • The James Irvine Foundation board approved $22 million to support grantees that are critical to California’s efforts to protect and advance low-wage workers and to help other grassroots organizations in California.
  • The East Bay Community Foundation is allocating $1 million from its endowment to support provide support for the most vulnerable communities in the East Bay.
  • The Ford Foundation, along with several other funders, launched the Families and Workers Fund to serve the workers, families, and communities most devastated by the economic and health crises resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • The Seattle Foundation, in partnership with a coalition of philanthropy, government, and business partners, started the COVID-19 Response Fund. The fund, which is intended for nonprofits that are working on the frontlines, prioritizes communities of color, undocumented immigrants, low-income residents, limited English proficient residents, among others. So far the fund has galvanized $21 million.
  • The San Francisco Foundation has created the SFF COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund for capacity building grants to address worker support, preventing homelessness, providing renter protection/housing security, ensuring food security, and addressing racial bias. It is also tracking race and ethnicity data of grantees and populations served.
  • The Langeloth Foundation has created the COVID-19 Rapid Response Fund to address organizations’ urgent and critical needs.
  • The California Endowment announced a $5 million COVID-19 Response Plan to provide for the essential needs of highly vulnerable populations in California.
  • The Walton Family Foundation approved using part of its annual grant budget for disaster relief to provide direct support for existing grantees. Many of these are education grants to target under-resourced schools where students of color often comprise the majority of the student population.
  • The Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation has relied on local philanthropic partners to provide grants to individuals for basic needs and to nonprofits providing direct services. recognizing that many businesses in communities of color have limited access to capital, the foundation has also provided $400,000 directly to CDFI (Community Development Financial Intsitutions) partners to provide loans and grants for small businesses
  • The Lumina Foundation designated two contingency funds totaling $1.4 million to address the needs of national partners and to fund the work of local nonprofits in Indianapolis.

Denouncing discrimination against Asian American and Pacific Islander communities

Several foundations have endorsed the call to action from Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in Philanthropy (AAPIP) entitled “Open Letter to Philanthropy: The Cure to Viral Racism is Within Our Hands,” which denounces the racism accompanying COVID-19 that is targeting Asian American communities.

Focusing public attention on structural racism and racial inequities

Policy advocacy, and community organizing

  • The San Francisco Foundation is planning to weigh in on key policy issues, as it sees this as one of the most important tools it can use to advance racial equity and economic inclusion in the Bay Area.
  • The California Wellness Foundation will commit $1 million to community clinics and the associations that advocate for them.
  • The East Bay Community Foundation’sCOVID-19: “Just East Bay” Response Fund will target community groups that put policy and organizing at the core of their work and prioritize underserved populations.
  • The James Irvine Foundation, as part of the Priority Communities grantmaking initiative, is focusing on building more inclusive and equitable economies in several places.
  • The Annie E. Casey Foundation has provided policy resources, which elevate the needs of youth, families, and communities of color, to help grantees influence and educate federal legislators to inform relief bills.

Promoting power building strategies

Going Forward

One way foundations should deepen communication with communities of color is through existing networks that have been organizing people of color in philanthropy and raising awareness about racial equity, such as the ABFE, Hispanics in Philanthropy, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in Philanthropy, and Native Americans in Philanthropy, among others.

COVID-19 has revealed the depth of persistent racial inequities, which has made the array of existing resources in philanthropy even more relevant to helping foundations contribute to social change. Change Philanthropy’s assessment tool can help foundations understand the state of their current policies and practices and the breadth of considerations as they imagine the work required to become more inclusive and equitable. The Philanthropy Initiative on Racial Equity (PRE) is another resource that has been helping foundations bring a racial equity lens to their work. United Philanthropy Forum’s Racial Equity Committee has been helping philanthropy-serving organizations build capacity to help their foundation members develop programming on racial equity.

The coronavirus pandemic has exposed structural racism we already knew about, and the need for philanthropy to directly address these inequities has been longstanding. But if anyone needed an additional reason to prioritize racial equity in philanthropy, the rationale is upon us. In this pandemic, its impacts, and aftermath, we will need foundations to use all the tools at their disposal. This will include greater funding to organizations led by and serving communities of color and will also require foundations and donors to reflect on themselves as civic actors—as institutional change agents willing to raise awareness about the racial dimensions of this crisis and advocate for change.

Persistent acts of police brutality and racist violence that have especially impacted Black communities over generations have been painfully animated in recent events. While each incident involves individuals, the context is systemic racism. The lack of accountability of the perpetrators of such acts demonstrates the structural racism that supports and even encourages these behaviors. Foundations will have to challenge these systems in order to be relevant, and support the advocacy and community organizing to dramatically reform the criminal justice system and the racism embedded within it.

As the impact of COVID-19 on communities of color will be longstanding, philanthropy will be faced with a continued challenge. And as the calls for justice in the face of recent racist murders increase, philanthropy is faced with another responsibility. Philanthropy will have to make a sustained commitment to racial equity, racial justice, and communities of color in order to truly have an impact.

Certainly, philanthropy alone will not transform historically persistent inequities. But philanthropy can use its influence—both money and power—across sectors to authentically collaborate with communities that are most impacted to effect real change.

About the author(s)

Founder and President
Marga Inc.

Changing from the Inside Out: Calgary Foundation’s Journey to Strengthen Relationships with Indigenous Communities

This case study has been developed as a part of Investing in Native Communities, a joint project of Candid and Native Americans in Philanthropy.

“The key to our journey was the recognition that throwing money at the issue—in the same way that had been done—wouldn’t change much,” shares Eva Friesen, president and CEO of Calgary Foundation. “Instead, we realized that we needed to change who we were—even though at first we didn’t know what that meant exactly.”

Grantmaking is a key role for community foundations. And funding Indigenous-led organizations matters, particularly given how little funding goes toward Indigenous initiatives. Indeed, The Giving Report, 2018, published by the nonprofit CanadaHelps, found that Canadian charities serving Indigenous peoples receive only 1 percent of overall donations.

Effective philanthropy is about more than donations, however. Building authentic relationships, expanding community input and participation, and developing a commitment to systems change all contribute to deep, longer-term transformations. And, as Calgary Foundation learned, this work must begin by looking within.

More Money Is Not the Solution

The journey for Calgary Foundation began in 2010, when Environics Institute invited funders to support a landmark national Urban Aboriginal Peoples Study, which focused on the experiences of Aboriginal peoples living in Canadian cities. The study enabled
non-Indigenous peoples to better understand the perspectives, values, and aspirations of urban Aboriginal peoples. A follow-up report was published about the experiences of Indigenous peoples specifically in Calgary.

Subsequently, representatives of Calgary Foundation attended a national conference where the governor general of Canada directly challenged attendees: “What population is not currently well-served by community foundations?” For Calgary Foundation, the answer was Indigenous peoples. The governor general also pointedly asked, “What can you do to extend the value of your work to those not presently well-served?”

These insights encouraged Calgary Foundation to commit one million dollars to improve the lives of Indigenous peoples, specifically youth, in Calgary. But a year later, after grants were awarded and the Foundation evaluated its efforts, it did not appear that any of the typical success indicators—e.g., increased graduation rates or decreased rates of poverty—had changed.

“None of these metrics got any better,” notes Friesen. “While we didn’t expect one million dollars from one funder in one year to drastically shift outcomes, it did prompt us to consider that just more money for programs that benefit Indigenous peoples in the city might not be the solution the community needs.”

Calgary Foundation’s next step was a crucial one. It affirmed that strengthening relationships with Indigenous populations was a priority for the organization and decided to form an advisory group of Indigenous leaders from Calgary to inform its next steps. Following a year of conversation and community engagement, the Foundation decided to hire someone to lead the work within the organization. A senior leader was hired, not to be the head of an Indigenous grants program, but to lead change within the organization with an Indigenous perspective and knowledge. The Foundation wanted to change who it was from the inside out. “We didn’t know what this would look like. We didn’t know where it was going,” admits Friesen. “We don’t know what we don’t know. But that was okay. We needed to be brave.”

A New Way of Seeing

In 2017, Calgary Foundation welcomed Tim Fox, a proud member of the Blackfoot Confederacy from the Blood (Kainai) reserve, as vice president of Indigenous relations. His mandate was broad but simple: “Teach us what we don’t know; show us a new way of seeing things.”

Fox approaches the work of reconciliation through systems change. His role not only focuses on ensuring that Indigenous initiatives receive funding, it’s also about designing new knowledge systems to help the Foundation understand why systemic disadvantages exist for Indigenous communities in the first place. “I was literally tasked to facilitate a change process and find ways to shift the culture of an organization and mobilize the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s calls to action. I quickly came to realize, there is no guidebook for this work. I also knew that before any shifts can begin to happen or any change can be realized, there is a level of context that is missing. I wanted to take the entire team—including board, staff, and volunteers—through
experiences that increase their knowledge,” shares Fox. “There is a common thought pattern about the Indigenous community that is very negative. We need to understand how history has led us to where we are now and how this thought pattern continues to cause harm for Indigenous communities.”

He has approached this work in a variety of ways, designing knowledge sharing based on themes he feels are important for his colleagues to understand. One of the ways he shares this is through a workshop he designed called Impacts of Intergenerational Trauma. This engaging experience touches on realities Indigenous communities currently face and explores the legacy that historical processes and policies continue to have on Indigenous peoples.

Fox also facilitates the Blanket Exercise for all stakeholders, which was a practice Calgary Foundation’s board initiated before he came on board. This interactive history telling guides participants through history from an Indigenous perspective. The goal is to foster truth, understanding, and reconciliation among Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples.(1)

Another theme that has emerged focuses on Indigenous women and girls. In June 2019, following a three-year national inquiry into the widespread deaths and disappearances of Indigenous women and girls in Canada, a landmark government report pointedly named “persistent and deliberate human and Indigenous rights violations and abuses” as the root cause of this “genocide.” “We’re going to take some time to slow down and to unpack what that means and really understand the issue,” says Fox. “Things will then begin to emerge in how we grant or how we support charities that support Indigenous women and girls. And from there, more things will continue to emerge.”

Fox creates space and comfort in the Foundation to lean into topics as they arise. He recognizes that this process of learning, unlearning, unpacking, and understanding must happen throughout the entire organization. “It doesn’t matter what role you hold, we all have a responsibility to be a part of change,” says Fox. “It wouldn’t be enough to focus, for example, just on the programs team and spend all my time increasing their knowledge capacity. This would create a dynamic where only a select group of people hold knowledge, and it would be difficult for them to incorporate changes that the rest of the organization wouldn’t fully understand. So, it’s important that everyone in the organization gets to the same level of understanding.”

To that end, Fox has also organized staff retreats inspired by the Art of Hosting and systems change methodologies. These retreats take place on the land with a facilitation team that includes Indigenous elders, Indigenous and non-Indigenous facilitators, and storytellers. This is an intensive learning experience that engages participants in conversation about many topics but is rooted in the framework of reconciliation. This unique experience provides each person with an opportunity to develop personal leadership and capacity to facilitate and lead both dialogue and engagement in complex situations. It is an effective way of harnessing the collective wisdom and self-organizing capacity of groups and designing collaborative projects with impact. Staff of Calgary Foundation are joined by staff of a partner charity also committed to reconciliation, facilitating further relationship building, knowledge exchange, and change ideologies. The retreats enable participants to identify what their own work means for Indigenous communities and how they can navigate their journey of reconciliation.

The feedback from staff who have attended these retreats has been positive. One participant reflected, “By far, the most impactful insight was that I need not be ashamed or afraid of that which I do not know. This is a journey—with no destination—and each step I take is a step in the right direction. I will never have all the answers and may still say things that are wrong or misguided, but even in those instances there are learnings if I am open to seeing them.”

Just as everyone is afforded the opportunity to learn, all staff are also held accountable for their learning. In 2019, for the first time, the organization added to its annual performance evaluation the responsibility for staff to identify an area of learning tied to strengthening relationships with Indigenous communities. All staff have self-identified a goal related to reconciliation, alongside other role-related performance goals.

For his part, Fox is responsible for communicating opportunities for staff to engage with Indigenous communities. He also makes himself available for one-on-one consultation, although most have not requested this support. Fox shares that “there are so many things happening, and so many opportunities coming up. Staff are at a level of knowledge where they’re confident that they know what they want to do and what they want to focus on.” Some are even making it personal. For example, one peer is using it as an opportunity to connect with family members who identify as Indigenous.

Fox and Friesen are eager to see how Foundation staff have met these goals and how the Foundation can continue to support staff development. “This journey should begin with an individual shift that hopefully informs and influences the practice of that individual in the workplace, thus leading to more significant shifts within the organization or system,” describes Fox. “Fundamentally, what was very important was the realization that we need to change ourselves,” adds Friesen. “It starts with individuals’ attitudes, and that leads to changes in organizational attitude.”

Embedding an Indigenous Perspective

Learning from the experience of the Foundation’s past, Fox knew that he did not want to create a separate initiative for Indigenous projects. “Rather than further silo-ing a community by creating a separate granting stream, I wanted to embed an Indigenous perspective and lens in the practices that Calgary Foundation already had,” he said.

For example, Calgary Foundation already had a collaborative grantmaking process, involving more than 100 community members in its decision making across all its community grantmaking priority areas. Twice a year, volunteers meet, review proposals, and make funding recommendations to the Foundation based on their knowledge of the community.

“Now, we are more intentional about how we invite and include Indigenous volunteers into that process,” states Fox. “Indigenous community members are not just providing their perspectives on Indigenous projects and proposals, but their perspectives are shared across all projects and proposals that come across our table. Indigenous participation is embedded in the mainstream practice of what we do.”

When Fox was hired, there was one Indigenous person on the Foundation’s board of directors who was instrumental in helping to guide the Foundation in this work. Now, there is an intentional strategy to recruit more Indigenous board members—and to recruit them for all committees of the board, not just the grants committee.

Incorporating an Indigenous lens throughout the Foundation’s established practices means that the impact extends beyond Indigenous peoples. The Foundation, for example, realized that the ways in which it received requests for funding did not consider traditional Indigenous storytelling practices. Now, the Foundation invites oral applications and oral reporting, in lieu of written documents. This practice is available to all grantees and applicants.

“We are not fundamentally changing who we are,” explains Friesen. “We are simply improving how we serve the Calgary community by incorporating legacies from an Indigenous perspective. And this is, in turn, benefiting the entire charitable sector.”

Working Without A Guidebook

As the vice president of Indigenous relations, Fox’s position is a first among the 191 community foundations of Canada. “There’s no guidebook on how to do this,” Fox reflects. “It’s new. It’s emerging. And it’s exciting.”

Thus far, Fox has defined his role as supporting the collective reconciliation journey by:

  • supporting the current practice of all teams at Calgary Foundation
  • building Indigenous paradigms of thought and practice into the internal culture
  • providing awareness and context-setting experiences internally and externally
  • offering capacity-building services for community partners
  • developing resources for internal and external use
  • offering guidance to the charitable sector and other community partners

His role requires staying attuned to emerging conversations and issues. Networks like the Circle on Philanthropy and Aboriginal Peoples in Canada provide inspiration and inform the work he brings to Calgary Foundation. At the same time, he wants to build his team’s capacity so that he is not the only source of Indigenous wisdom at the Foundation. He is empowering others to engage with greater understanding as they meet with Indigenous community members, visit First Nations communities (reservations), and think through how the organization should move forward.

In this process, Fox, Friesen, and the entire Calgary Foundation team have had to operate with an abundance of trust and flexibility. “I learned that in a team of 35 staff and 14 board members, everyone will go at different speeds on the learning journey,” observes Friesen. “We have bumped into discomfort. But we must acknowledge the varying speeds with which people travel on that journey and the discomfort people may have. It reminds us to slow down a bit and wait for people to catch up in their own way, on their own time.”

As the organization has developed its practices and processes, it is also building a library of knowledge and resources, available to all stakeholders. The Foundation created a video about land acknowledgment, explaining that honoring the authentic history of the land and its original people is an important step in building respectful relationships and is an important part of reconciliation. It has adapted an Indigenous ally toolkit, specific to Treaty 7 where the Foundation is located, highlighting the role and responsibility all individuals play in recognizing every person’s right to human dignity, respect, and equal access to resources.

“After we released our land acknowledgment resource, organizations have been contacting us asking if they can use it in their trainings. We say yes to these requests, but we also advise them not just to show the resource but to add context about what land acknowledgment is, where it came from, and that it exists to inspire acts to build an understanding of the original people in this territory. I would include that caveat to anyone who’s asking to use our resources,” shares Fox. Setting the context is important because, for Fox, the ultimate goal of raising awareness is to build deeper relationships that are based on mutual respect.

Indicators of Change

Deepening understanding and shifting internal culture takes time. “It’s incremental,” describes Fox. “Reconciliation is about inspiring and facilitating a process and less about working toward a deadline and outcome.”

There are promising signs of change. Calgary Foundation has seen an increase in the number of funding requests for projects that focus on strengthening relationships with Indigenous communities. This growth has enabled the Foundation to understand better the challenges and opportunities and improve its role as a steward working to benefit the entire Calgary community.

Increasingly, more Indigenous peoples are present at public events hosted by the Foundation. “This indicator is an exciting one, because it shows that our work to invite and include Indigenous communities around Calgary to engage with us has been effective,” shares Friesen.

In 2019, the Foundation published an impact report using what it calls the “Outcome Harvesting” evaluation model.(2) The report identifies qualitative shifts toward strengthening relationships with Indigenous communities. “Rather than measuring progress towards predetermined goals,” the report states, “outcome harvesting collects evidence of what works, what’s changed, what’s in the way, and what’s ahead.” This model involved gathering feedback from key community stakeholders at a workshop facilitated by an elder. The report identifies progress in four specific areas: 1) an increase in local programming for engaging and empowering Indigenous youth; 2) the development of strategies in charitable practices to engage Indigenous communities and individuals; 3) changes to Calgary Foundation’s organizational practices; and 4) changes within the broader Calgary community, with the municipal government and charitable sector investing in the planning stages of action toward reconciliation.

Encouraged by these changes, Friesen and Fox feel strongly that they are on the right path. In order to have lasting impact on the broader community, they believe the work needs to be woven into the organization’s fabric. And as Calgary Foundation moves forward, with guidance from and engagement with Indigenous communities, ultimately, the entire Calgary community will reap the benefits.


  • What from Calgary Foundation’s story resonates with how we approach relationship building with our grantees? What is something we might consider doing differently based on this approach?
  • What populations are not presently well served by the organizations where we work? What can we do to extend the value of our work to those not presently well served? What can we change about our process to bring in populations whom we might not currently be reaching?
  • How is our funding strategy informed by our relationship with our grantees? What are the barriers to knowing the communities we work with better and how might we address them?
  • How do we ensure that there is a common understanding of the communities we work with across our staff? What biases, misconceptions, or misunderstandings might we hold?
  • How can our organization engage in cross-cultural learning internally? How can this impact our grantmaking strategy?
  • How can we incorporate diverse voices from the communities we serve in our decision making? Or, how can we begin a process of actively listening to the communities we serve?

(1) The Blanket Exercise was originally created in Canada in response to the 1996 report by the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples. An adapted version is conducted in the United States, facilitated by various groups, including Native Americans in Philanthropy.

(2) The Outcome Harvesting evaluation method collects evidence of what has changed and works backward to determine whether and how an intervention has contributed to these changes. This method is particularly useful in complex situations when the goal of an intervention is not possible to define concretely.


Learn more at nativephilanthropy.candid.org.

About the author(s)

Director of Global Projects & Partnerships

Global Partnerships and Projects Associate