Philanthropy has gained a lot of criticism in recent memory, particularly due to the preservation of a system of exploitation, the perpetuation of wealth inequality and its lack of transparency. This isn’t a new criticism towards philanthropy either. It’s a criticism that has been brought up for decades, with individuals such as Martin Luther King Jr warning philanthropists not to forget about the circumstances of economic injustice which make philanthropy necessary. An example of these injustices can be found in the failure of philanthropy to fund or hire people of color, where only 6.9 percent of grants go to communities with diverse backgrounds and only 8.4 percent of CEOs or presidents are diverse leaders. Because of statistics like these and others, many leaders in philanthropy are working to improve upon past mistakes as well as improving overall diversity, equity, and inclusion. Here’s how we can get better about DEI.

Re-define Risk

When looking over funding applicants, it’s important to make sure funders don’t overlook a leader’s ties to the communities they serve or their experience in the field. Often times funders will see that an applicant doesn’t have a degree from a certain university or maybe they lack the data that shows the impact they’ve made. They label these applicants as risky because of these things. Metrics should be created which take value in community connections and experience, as philanthropy should value leaders from all backgrounds as well as their hard-won experience. 

Emphasize Trust

Trust is important to almost any part of working with others. Unfortunately, philanthropy has acted more as a gatekeeper as opposed to an ally or partner, which has stopped many applicants from getting the grants they require. Many funds have lengthy grant applications as well as extensive reporting requirements, which can imply that they do not trust the nonprofits that are applying. A great example of an organization using “trust-based philanthropy” would be the Whitman Institute. They try to tackle the imbalance of power between funders and grantees by getting rid of the applications, reducing the reporting requirements and then providing multi-year grants that groups won’t have to worry about losing as long as they’re honest about both their successes and failures.

Reflect The Community

Though the push for nonprofits to be more transparent about their staff has been big lately, the actual funds have not shared that same information. Research shows that the majority of foundation staff and CEOs are white, which can explain some of the inequitable funding outcomes. Many foundations are pushing themselves to reflect the communities they serve, such as The Rosenberg Foundation having a committee of community-based leaders who help find underrepresented talent for the Leading Edge fellowship. By having a more diverse team, everyone can have a better understanding of how to best help the communities and organizations that need it.