Racial Equity is Fundamental to Effective Family Philanthropy

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Learning opportunities bring us the delight of something new: we hear or do something for the first time, we might—metaphorically—or actually—scrape our knees, we pick ourselves up, and we enjoy a sense of accomplishment as we recognize that new thing we know or can do. Much like viewing the world through the eyes of young children, the National Center for Family Philanthropy has been experiencing its own learning and growth—and the excitement, worry, and accomplishment that comes along with it. 

NCFP has committed to an equity journey requiring listening, learning, and action. We’ve uncovered many insights. We’ve hit some bumps along the way. And we remain dedicated to the journey because racial equity is fundamental to effective philanthropy.

We began to walk.

Leaders give life to values and lay out the course for the development of an organization. When NCFP began the process of hiring a new CEO, we kick-started intentional efforts to bring our values to life. We sought to identify leaders who would not only guide NCFP, but imagine new paths for the sector of family philanthropy.

Our founder Ginny Esposito began succession planning several years before she stepped down, and that gift of time allowed us to imagine a new path ahead and consider what type of leader could guide us. In Nick, we found someone whose values shaped our path, welcomes varying viewpoints, guides our board and our community through challenging times and conversations, and helps us knit together many perspectives. As we crafted a new strategy, we scrutinized existing practices, asked each other tough questions, and began to spell out what a meaningful commitment to equity looks like. We welcomed board members with different backgrounds from those who’ve served NCFP in the past, and in doing so we gained perspectives from individuals with different life and specific work experiences, including those from inside grantmaking organizations. 

“When I reflect on boards where I’ve served, I see a pattern emerge from leaders who I admire: they’re individuals who take the time to get to know the community, find ways to ignite their energy about the organization and its work, maintain focus, and see the value in constructive conflict. Those practices emerged in NCFP’s work, and I hope they support the growth of more and more family philanthropies.” – Kimberly Myers Hewlett

We occasionally fall down, and we get up again.

The dual pandemic—COVID-19 and magnified instances of racial injustice—amplified deep inequities in our society and accelerated our discussions. We grappled with what equity looks like in society, our systems, family philanthropy, and at NCFP. We worked through discomfort as individuals recognized and confronted  their privilege, experimented with new language and constructs, and moved each other to moments of clarity and hope. 

We deeply appreciate the trust that’s made it possible to question, share, and learn alongside members of the family philanthropy community, our board members, and NCFP staff. This trust in our shared purpose made it possible to identify and elevate more effective ways to make an impact. And this trust made it possible to move through challenging conversations while extending each other grace and permission to fumble along the way. Although we each continue on individual journeys, as a group we’re building greater alignment in understanding that racial equity is essential for effective family philanthropy.

We are seeing many donors refine and evolve philanthropic approaches, and many are listening, trusting, and giving more. They’re engaging their communities to learn what works. Donors are realizing that multi-year, unrestricted support is highly strategic and are interrogating grantmaking practices and policies. More donors are seeing value in collaborating with each other, exploring alternative giving vehicles, and funding work that targets the racist systems and structures that persist in our society. These efforts and experiments are helping philanthropists imagine new ways to give and have an impact. 

We’re making progress, and we reach for hands along the way.

Growth requires unlearning and hard work. Our strategic plan provides a clear map for our development, but the day-to-day work we do alongside each other is what will determine who we serve, how we grow, and what impact we make. As individuals and organizations, we’re each on different points  of our equity journeys. We have the opportunity to be and to build racial justice champions—and in doing so surface and support approaches to the biggest issues society faces with racial equity at the center.

“Systemic racism that has perpetuated deep disparities in our country cuts across most every issue philanthropy seeks to address. Letting go of power and control in our giving and further engaging communities in decision making will ensure giving families are better able to make the real impact they want to see. To truly make progress, we must understand the history that got us here, trust and empower those with lived experience, and intentionally invest more in women- and BIPOC-led organizations. We’ve seen so many funders respond in this dual pandemic moment. My hope is that we can sustain and expand these approaches that embrace racial equity and justice.” – Kelly D. Nowlin

Our work together during the last year+ has underscored several  fundamental truths:

  • Equity and justice are fundamental to effective philanthropy.
  • Trusted partnerships make learning and change possible.
  • This is the time to be bold.

As you read these reflections from the past year, we anticipate you’ll find insights and questions that mirror those you’ve discussed in boardrooms and around kitchen tables. We invite you to reach out and share what you’ve explored, the bumps you’re encountering, and the new knowledge you’ve uncovered. We’re committed to continuing to grow and learn and to grasp the changes that will make philanthropy even more effective through its commitment to racial equity.

We look forward to boldly walking this path together.  

Kimberly Myers Hewlett is the immediate past NCFP Board Chair, President, Myers Family Foundation President, and Flora Family Foundation Director. 

Kelly Nowlin is the NCFP Board Chair, Surdna Foundation Trustee, and NCFP Fellow (2018–2021).