Why Grantmaking Using a Racial Equity Lens is More Important Now Than Ever

November 23, 2016


The philanthropic sector has an inherent mission to promote fairness, equity, and justice. Our national election’s protracted and tormenting focus on our differences, and the challenging outcome and implications of this contest have made an indelible and troubling impact on hearts and minds.  While we intuitively know that we are stronger together, we live and work in a deeply divided nation.  November 8, 2016 ushered in a potent mandate for philanthropy’s renewed commitment to and unceasing action in bridging these divides. 


CAAIP is responding to this Call-To-Action by urging foundations to adopt the practice of using a racial equity grantmaking lens.  Nationally, a number of foundations have found that disciplined attention to race and ethnicity while analyzing issues, seeking solutions, and defining success has greatly enhanced grantmaking insights, perspectives, and effectiveness.


The Philanthropic Initiative for Racial Equity partnered with GrantCraft to develop the guide, “Grantmaking with a Racial Equity Lens”, to which I was a contributor.  And as a result, in 2010 the Woods Fund of Chicago adopted this practice and made Racial Equity a Core Principle of the foundation.    


I strongly encourage all foundations to seriously consider adopting this methodology which helps surface patterns of inequity, separate symptoms from causes, and identify new approaches and solutions.


On behalf CAAIP, I offer the following two aids to help foundations further consider implementing the strategy of Racial Equity Grantmaking:


1 – A link to the Grantcraft Guide: Grantmaking with a Racial Equity Lens


2 – An excerpt below from the CAAIP 2010 Handy Lindsay Lecture which I presented on the importance of employing a racial equity lens in the practice of philanthropy. My entire lecture can be found on our website at:


“Racial Equity: Framework- Definition of Racial Justice

One way that philanthropy can address the inequalities described is to consider incorporating a racial equity framework into the fabric its grantmaking.  Last year, the Philanthropic Initiative for Racial Equity in collaboration with Grantcraft produced a guide entitled “Grantmaking with a Racial Equity Lens”.  For grant makers, a “racial equity lens” brings into focus ways in which race and ethnicity shape experiences with power, access to opportunity, treatment, and outcomes, both today and historically. It can also help grant makers think about what can be done to eliminate the resulting inequities.”


One approach the publication recommends in helping grantmakers to make the case for racial equity as a priority in a foundation’s grant making is by describing a racially equitable society. There does not appear to be a universal definition of racial equity/justice, but most experts agree that it is imperative to develop one before moving forward with this very important work.  Here is a useful definition from the GrantCraft guide: A racially equitable society would be one in which the distribution of resources, opportunities, and burdens was not determined or predictable by race.


A racial equity lens involves many components, including:

  •  Analyzing data and information about race and ethnicity

  •  Understanding disparities—and learning why they exist

  •  Looking at problems and their root causes from a structural standpoint

  • Naming race explicitly when talking about problems and solutions


A racial equity lens helps grant makers look at a problem more clearly so that new solutions to old problems become visible. According to the GrantCraft guide, here are some benefits of a racial equity lens:

  • Sharpens the focus on outcomes

  • Uncovers patterns of inequity

  • Separates symptoms from causes

  • Reveals how race is relevant to all groups

  • Can be used with other lenses (such as gender and sexual orientation)

  • Helps scan the landscape

  • Gets people talking 

  •    Encourages new approaches

  •    Cultivates new leadership

  • Helps rethink “merit” and who gets to define it  

  • Assess impact

  • Addresses seemingly intractable problems



Acknowledging the problem of structural racism does not malign fundamental American values, virtues, or accomplishments.  On the contrary, America’s values of democracy, equality, and liberty are best served by our willingness to understand, confront, and dismantle structures that undermine those values.  But our past successes must serve as encouragement for future gains, not as an excuse for complacency and inaction in the face of persistent racial inequalities. 

I encourage foundations to seriously consider adopting a racial equity framework and am proud to announce that last year, following significant analysis, discourse and consideration the Woods Fund of Chicago adopted Racial Equity Core Principle.  It reads as follows: “The Woods Fund of Chicago believes that structural racism is a root cause of many challenges facing less-advantaged communities and people and serves as a significant barrier to enabling work and eradicating poverty.  The Woods Fund encourages and supports organizations, initiatives, and policy efforts that lead to eliminating structural racism.  Success in this area will be evident when there is equal distribution of privileges and burdens among all races and ethnic groups, and when a person’s race or ethnicity does not determine his or her life outcomes.  Woods Fund will support organizations that pay disciplined attention to race and ethnicity while they analyze problems, look for solutions, and define and document success.  Ideally, these organizations will incorporate an analysis of structural racism into all aspects of their operations.  Woods Fund is committed to raising awareness in the philanthropic community to support this work.”

Our foundation now also includes a question on the grant application that asks how racial equity informs the organization’s work.  And we’ve added a FAQ section about racial equity on the website.

Remnants of structural racism permeate every aspect of our society and influence many issues poverty alleviation, which our foundation attempts to reduce through its grantmaking.  The Woods Fund of Chicago employed a racial equity lens to help our foundation think more intentionally about addressing inequities both internally, within the communities in which we operate, and beyond.  We believe that by incorporating a racial equity lens into our grantmaking, in some small way we can begin to model and promote racial equity practices within our own foundation and the greater philanthropic community.


Ways that you can Move Beyond Diversity to Racial Equity and Justice:

  • Invest time and deliberation in internal discussions about race its impact on grantmaking strategy

  • Incorporate a racial equity framework into your foundation’s Grantmaking Process

  • Provide Leadership in the Field: Individually and collectively, from the front lines to board rooms, to Affinity Groups of Color and beyond --- we must advocate for racial equity

  • Involve outside partners including grantees, community and nonprofit leaders – tap into this wisdom for ideas and experiences that can shed light on problems and solutions

  • Identify and support organizations that embody the principles of racial equity  

  • Monitor progress, Publish, and Broadly Share lessons learned


In closing, we must challenge our assumptions and get involved in ways that do not reinforce non-productive funding patterns of the past. For foundations that more intentionally choose to be effective, that seriously intend to make an impact, diversity and inclusiveness are essential ingredients.  Diversity and inclusiveness are important commitments, but ultimately not powerful enough to drive the changes to ensure advancements towards racial equity.  As our country shifts towards increasing degrees of multi-culturalism, a commitment to racial equity will become even more critical.  A commitment to champion racial equity, especially at the trustee and CEO level is the best way to grapple with, and indeed make sustainable inroads on some of our most vexing social problems while also achieving foundations’ missions and strategic objectives.”



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