5 practices to advance equity with your giving

A child's colorful drawing of diverse people holding hands

Want to advance equity with your giving? 5 action items from experts

During troubled times, giving with impact is more important than ever—and applying an equity lens to your philanthropic choices can multiply that impact.

San Francisco Foundation CEO Fred Blackwell and his team have identified five equity-based practices that donors can use to ground their giving and create real-world impact.

1. Move from power-agnostic to power-aware.

Nonprofits often feel forced to bend over backwards to secure funding for their work. Centering equity in your giving means being aware of these power dynamics and working to address them. You can begin to mitigate them by building mutually respectful relationships with nonprofits and show that you are adapting based on what you learn from them. 

Get to know the organization by setting up a call with their executive director. Try to learn what about what motivates the leaders you're speaking to: What keeps them up at night? What are they most proud of? What’s their vision for the communities they serve? You can build trust by expressing a genuine interest in why they do what they do and what their communities are experiencing.

2. Watch out for the “shiny penny.”

While well-resourced organizations grab the headlines, consider supporting smaller and newer organizations that also do critical work. We often rely on websites and read grant proposals to help decide which organizations to support. And while this may show which groups have the resources to pay web developers and grant writers, it’s not always indicative of an organization’s effectiveness or importance. Consider looking at groups that are made up of community members and center community priorities, specifically communities of color and communities where English may not be the primary language. 

3. Address the root causes of social issues.

This principle is particularly poignant in this moment. While emergency cash relief for families of color who have lost their jobs is a worthy cause, we must also examine our economic systems. Those systems have created a reality of millions of families without savings even before the pandemic, and now millions of households with no lifeline during this crisis.

No amount of direct service will solve a social problem. We must look "upstream" to the policy and systems that have created or at the very least contributed to the problem itself. Some ways to address systems change include funding organizations focused on community organizing, advocating for policy change and building sustained movements for change. 

4. Flexibly fund organizations rooted in community.

Look for organizations with leaders and staff who represent the community they are serving. Keep in mind that people who are most impacted by a particular problem should be part of informing the solution. Rather than dictate how nonprofits should spend their funds, study after study has confirmed the need for philanthropy to provide flexible funding; after all, they are the experts and know best how to serve their communities.

It is also important to consider investing in building the power of communities to advocate for change for themselves and their communities, rather than relying on others to swoop in and speak for them.

5. Keep learning and collaborating.

No single funder can solve a social problem by themselves! Look for other donors and funders that are interested in similar issues. Gather together, share information, and learn from nonprofits and community members themselves.

The bottom line is: ask community members directly what they need most.

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