A Letter to Foundation Trustees: 5 Things You Can Do Right Now To Show Up For Racial Justice
This article was originally published by the Andrus Family Fund and is re-posted here with permission.
The year 2020 holds challenges for us all—a triple-layered challenge of the COVID-19 pandemic, the police killings and resulting uprisings calling out racial injustice and an economic recession. The upcoming shift in the political landscape provides hope, but the election also highlighted a known rift in a country that has not reckoned with its racist history. Arguably, the work and organizations funded by the Andrus Family Fund (AFF) are more critical than ever.
This year also marks AFF’s 20th anniversary, which provided an opportunity for reflection and radical visioning. Our grantee partners have shown incredible resilience and serve as a source of inspiration in building power among like-minded groups, with an urgency that philanthropy isn’t used to. We understand that philanthropy is steeped in dominant culture and centers itself over the needs of community. We can no longer operate at this slower pace; we must be responsive. It is essential that change at the board level follows the pace of movement building or we will lose this moment. The building of this moment has happened over time; now is the time to trust community, listen to community and lean in.
As we reflect on our role as a learning board and family fund, we commit to the hard work of organizing our peers—trustees. AFF board members, comprised of both family and community board members ages 25-45, have put together five recommendations to fellow trustees in family philanthropy to meet the current moment, all of which are rooted in action. These ideas are not new, but we want to lift them up resoundingly because we are on the journey to committing to bringing these recommendations to life.
We center two commitments above all else in our work as board members: (i) to create just and sustainable change rooted in a commitment to racial and social justice and (ii) to learn and commit to using our knowledge to bring about change—in ourselves, in our board rooms and in our communities. These values are reflected in the recommendations below:
1. Practice Trust-Based Philanthropy
- The brilliance lives in the field and with the practice of our partners, not within foundation walls. Directly impacted communities hold the ideas and need resources to carry them out.
- Trustees are to trust in staff, and in turn, staff are to trust in grantee partners. Forgo the need to understand all strategies before trusting partners on-the-ground to experiment, innovate and lead with action.
- Shift the focus from transactional grant-making to deep, authentic relationship-building. Ask yourselves: how are we in service to our partners? Re-assess both strategic and operational aspects of the grant-making process to make sure it leads with deep care for movement organizations and their staff.
- Be careful not to center board members in this process. Ask not what board members want or need and instead center community. An explicit focus on social and racial justice will continue to shift the focus back to community.
2. Commit Long Term to Becoming Anti-Racist and Eradicating Anti-Blackness in our Institutions
- AFF and Surdna recently made a commitment to become a fully inclusive, anti-racist organization. Our vision is an institution within a wider community that has overcome systemic racism and all other forms of oppression, with full participation and shared power from diverse racial, cultural and economic groups. We are humbly at the beginning of this journey.
- Require both institutional and personal commitments. Individual commitments are necessary to examine internal bias, as well as to sit in the discomfort and do the work.
- Work to build anti-racist cultures and processes across all levels of the institution. Learn about anti-racist practices and implement these practices throughout all corners of your foundation.
- Break up all-white spaces and ensure members across all identity groups are participants in decisions that shape an institution. Recognize where, why and how all-white spaces appear. In family philanthropy, this may be across all levels of an organization, or at the board and senior leadership level.
- Recognize that much of this work rests on the shoulders of white people. Without a commitment to anti-racism and fighting anti-blackness from white people, we become the barriers to progress.
3. Fight Complacency and Transcend Fatigue
- Silence is violence—speak up about racism and anti-blackness on every level to hold both people and systems accountable. As Ibram X. Kendi has taught us, one must be actively anti-racist and not complacent to counter the forces of racism. Center anti-racism and social justice in your personal life and family relationships. Lean into vulnerability; there will be discomfort in this process—find your support team, regroup and keep at it!
- Cultivate a learning culture. Learning has been central to AFF’s evolution—from topics such as power, privilege and white supremacy to abolitionist strategies. Education with historical context is key, and helps prevent claims of ignorance or unawareness.
- Do not rely on staff—particularly BIPOC professionals—to “teach” board members; there is a balance between leveraging resources and expertise versus consuming the time and energy of staff.
- Reframe the concept of risk to promote action. What does it mean for a young, Black person on the front lines to bear risk? What does it mean for a white person close to resources, power and privilege to bear risk?
4. Take Bold Action
- Ask questions and push for bold action as board members, including diversifying boards and exploring increased spending.
- Building on several of the themes listed above, family foundation boards should be encouraged to diversify boards by bringing on non-family and/or community board members. AFF embarked on this journey several years ago, recognizing the importance of living our values by extending the opportunity for board service to the broader community and bringing professionals with expertise and lived experience into decision-making roles. Today, AFF proudly has a community member serving as Chair of the board and a standing commitment to have three community board members.
- Institutions should also wrestle with the question of further supporting a well-funded endowment versus supporting communities in need. If not now, then when? Throughout 2020, AFF advocated for more dollars to flow to grantee partners. In the words of Ash-Lee Woodard Henderson of the Highlander Research and Education Center, “fund us like you want us to win.” Grantees are on the frontlines and we want more dollars to be directed more quickly to critical movements supporting Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) communities. We want them to win!
5. Leverage Relationships and Power
- Educate and organize within your own communities. Have conversations with family members, friends and acquaintances. Make a personal commitment to do so long-term.
- Explore fundraising ideas and ask people you have relationships with for money. Look to partner organizations and directly impacted communities to inform how resources should be allocated, and follow their lead. Build on the themes around trust-based philanthropy, quickly removing barriers to access grants. Make it as easy and labor-free as possible to move resources.
This list is not meant to be exhaustive, but rather highlight areas where a family foundation board has uncovered small wins in responding to the current moment. Grounded in our commitment to learning, we welcome continued conversation around what other family foundation trustees are doing to advance social and racial justice. If you’d like to sign on to this pledge, or request support in holding conversations around these ideas to your board, please reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The AFF Board
The views and opinions expressed in individual blog posts are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the National Center for Family Philanthropy.