Tools For Moving Philanthropy

Pathways of progress

Philanthropy has much to offer in contributing to progress in all the areas in which it puts forth commitment, resources, and skills.  Making progress in “racial equity” or “social justice” is also possible, but difficult.  An Effective Communities Project team visited 71 foundations and nonprofits, largely in the American South but also elsewhere, to discover benchmarks of progress.  Our full report is presented here.   

In addition to more fully articulating “what progress looks like,”  we identified three major barriers philanthropy faces in making progress in these difficult arenas.  For each, we developed a tool to facilitate further progress.


Barrier 1) Racial equity and social justice are not easily discussed. We have learned that in many places, the terms “racial equity” and “social justice” are so laden with heavy historical and emotional baggage that the terms themselves get in the way of making progress. All our respondents expressed dismay with this situation.  Our first tool intends to help.

“Moving Past the Silence: A Tool for Negotiating Reflective Conversations About Race,” developed by Vanessa M. Stephens, offers a framework for beginning these conversations inside a philanthropic organization and then broadening these conversations to engage constituents and partners.  September 1, 2006, 9 pages.  Download PDF

Barrier 2) Becoming effective in this arena requires unique preparation. For a board of directors, themes like education, social services or even community economic development are much easier to make a priority than improving racial equity or social justice. Individuals, whether on staff or boards, typically come to prioritize equity and justice along very different paths. Until the board chooses to prioritize this arena, however, staff leadership is limited in its impact.  The second tool:

“Becoming a Catalyst for Social Justice: A Tool for Aligning Internal Operations to Produce Progress,” developed by Betty Emarita, encourages board and staff to align values, intentions, and internal processes in order to expand the impact of social justice activities.   September 1, 2006, 8 pages.  Download PDF

Barrier 3) Philanthropic efforts to increase racial equity and social justice are meaningful but dispersed, diluted or fragmented. Institutional philanthropy’s greatest strength as well as its greatest weakness is that each organization works independently.  To advance the pace of progress in the field of racial equity and social justice, ideas and proposals that yield more progress in closing gaps must rise to the top.  The idea is that the strongest ideas or proposals for closing equity gaps are those that address the mechanisms that can change those gaps.

“Choosing Promising Ideas and Proposals: A Tool for Giving That Closes The Gaps,” by Steven E. Mayer, can be used to choose among competing proposals for funding; monitor the progress of a project or organization over time; assess the readiness or capacity of an organization to address racial equity; and identify areas of an idea or organization that need strengthening.  September 1, 2006, 11 pages.  Download PDF