Pathways to Progress: Focusing Philanthropy on Racial Equity and Social Justice

Follow these pathways to success

Philanthropy, Justice, and Evaluation
Pathways of progress

Racial equity and social justice philanthropy has finally gained the attention of the public.  Our work reported below in 2010 is at least as timely now as it ever was.  It is the culmination of several years’ work evaluating a portfolio of grants concerning Community Philanthropy and Racial Equity in the American South, created by the Ford Foundation.  Its goal was to discover and present “benchmarks of progress” in moving philanthropy towards more productive solutions. It presents these benchmarks, arrayed along six “pathways to progress,” along with a set of promising practices with examples from the field.  Other publications came out of this work, also on this website.

Many lessons and productive avenues for a more informed and productive nonprofit sector are presented:


This paper presents a framework – six “pathways to progress” – that you can build a grantmaking program on, ally with a variety of productive partners, and see rapid improvement in racial equity and social justice.  These pathways were constructed from wisdom gleaned from dozens of productive efforts on the ground.  The more these pathways are engaged and productive, the greater the likelihood of justice and equity.  Producing the most meaningful progress requires combining all the pathways while keeping a focus on closing the gaps.  No one foundation, no one nonprofit organization, no one effort can work many of these different strands of effort; it requires combined action.


Typically it’s nonprofit organizations that are the ones doing the work, with support given or arranged by grantmakers.  The work, if the goal is to reduce racial inequities, requires progress along these pathways, individually and together.  The more you can demonstrate your ability to make progress, the more your nonprofit should be favored with funding.  The chapters in this publication follow this structure.

Pathway 1: Preparing the organization.

Pathway 2: Discussing social justice and racial equity safely.

Pathway 3: Crafting and advancing solutions.

Pathway 4: Strengthening relationships, networks and leadership.

Pathway 5: Increasing philanthropic resources – time, talent and treasure.

Pathway 6: Focusing on reducing barriers and changing conditions.


The organizations featured in this publication are doing heroic work for little pay.  You could help fix that.


This publication reveals the power of “appreciative inquiry” as an evaluation strategy.  No one effort holds the key to success, but combined, a framework that allows progress to be made can be discerned.


Download Pathways to Progress: Focusing Philanthropy on Racial Equity and Social Justice

And click here for three very useful Tools For Moving Philanthropy down these pathways.

“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

“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

“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


Philanthropic organizations engaged in this project:

Ford Foundation
Alliance for Justice
Appalachian Ohio Regional Investment Coalition
Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families
Arkansas Public Policy Panel
Association of Black Foundation Executives
Beloved Community Center
Black Belt Community Foundation
Boston Indicators Project
Brett Family Foundation
Bush-Clinton Katrina Fund
Community Foundation of Greater Greensboro
Community Foundation of Ottawa
Community Foundations of Canada
Community Investment Network
Council for Crime and Justice
Diversity in Philanthropy Project
Emerging Practitioners in Philanthropy
ERASE Racism
F.B. Heron Foundation
Faith Partnerships, Inc.
Families and Friends of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children
Ford Foundation
Foundation for the Carolinas
Foundation of the Midsouth
Hamilton Community Foundation
Headwaters Fund for Social Justice
HindSight Consulting
Hispanics in Philanthropy
Humboldt Area Foundation 
Initiative for Nonprofit Sector Careers
Jacksonville Community Council
Lee County Community Development Corporations
Louisiana Disaster Recovery Foundation
Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation
MDC, Inc.
National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy
Native Americans in Philanthropy
New Generation of African American Philanthropy
New Mexico Community Foundation
Norfolk Foundation
Parkersburg Area Community Foundation
People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond
Philanthropic Initiative for Racial Equity
Resource Generation
Social Justice Funding Collaborative
South Carolina Association of Community Development Corporations
Southern Good Faith Food
Southern Partners Fund
Southern Rural Development Initiative
The Community Foundation of South Wood County (Wisconsin)
The Heifer Foundation
The Jessie Ball duPont Fund
The Long Island Community Foundation
The Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation
The National Center for Black Philanthropy
The National Rural Funders Collaborative
The New World Foundation
The Saint Paul Foundation
The Twenty-First Century Foundation
The Winston-Salem Foundation
The Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation
Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation


Originally appeared: Website of Effective Communities Project

Number of pages: 44

Original date: January 2010

Author: Steven E. Mayer, Ph.D., Betty Emarita, Vanessa McKendall-Stephens, Ph.D.

Effective Communities Project
Minneapolis, MN