Tips for infusing equity into philanthropy

In April, we reported on a thread that came up during the Black Birth Maternal & Infant Health Symposium: capitalism and how it influences health equity.

This month, the United States Breastfeeding Committee (USBC) hosted Philanthropy with an Equity Lens featuring Dr. Cara V. James of Grantmakers in Health.

Photo by Jon Tyson

For those who couldn’t attend, there will be a recording sent to registrants. And if you missed registration, we’ve distilled the conversation in hopes that you’ll use it as a jumping-off point in your discovery or continued understanding of operationalizing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) or what is sometimes referred to as J.E.D.I. (Justice, Equity, Diversity, Inclusion).

First off, USBC Senior Engagement & Training Manager Denae Schmidt and Dr. James made the distinction between operationalizing DEI and advancing health equity. Simply put, the former is the practice and the latter is the outcome. Dr. James suggested participants think of the distinction as the difference between who is doing the work and who is being served.

So, what practices are philanthropists adopting in order to serve the advancement of health equity?

  • Funders are reevaluating what is truly needed from grantseekers. Many are making the application process less tedious, acknowledging that many small organizations do not have the resources to “jump through hoops.”
  • Some funders are forgoing reporting requirements, adopting the concept of trust-based philanthropy.  Trust-based philanthropy embraces the idea that the community has a lot of expertise, as Dr. James puts it. In this relationship, there is trust in the collaboration, a power share. Dr. James nods to MacKenzie Scott who tends to vet organizations on the front end in order to understand their focus, and then give funding with no strings attached.
  • Over the past five or so years, there has been a shift in the field to recognize that there needs to be more capacity-building for grant seekers. Catchafire is a “network of volunteers, nonprofits, and funders working together to solve urgent problems and lift up communities” offering pro bono services. Find out how that works here: https://vimeo.com/462743914
  • Dr. James reports that more people are starting to recognize that policy is an important piece in health equity. She said that we need to get “upstream” to address health disparities which means that we need to address the structures that lead to poor outcomes in conjunction with providing resources to organizations.

 

What are some tips for grant seekers?

Photo by Tim Mossholder
  • Grantseekers can check funders’ websites for statements on commitments to DEI to make sure it’s a good fit for them. Grantseekers might also research what other projects funders have supported to get a sense of what kind of work they invest in.
  • Grantseekers might consider inviting potential funders to their events in order to engage with the community. Dr. James suggests not approaching the first meeting with funders with an “ask”.
  • Work alongside and across spaces to pool resources like talent and time. Collaboration expands reach, and this is desirable to funders.
  • Don’t be afraid to reach out to funders to get more information about how proposals can align more with their commitment.

Schmidt and Dr. James closed with some thoughts on why good intentions just aren’t good enough. Mainly, good intentions don’t always lead to action, Dr. James pointed out. And sometimes, she added, they can lead to harmful action. She reminded us that we didn’t start talking about health equity in 2020. These discussions had been happening long before, and what has been missing are the resources and the support in leadership.

What leadership talks about in public and in private signals what they care about, Dr. James continued. Individuals leading DEI initiatives need to have the authority and the respect to make decisions.

So, generally speaking, what can we all do to help operationalize DEI?

  • Take the courageous stand to commit to DEI.
  • Facilitate the collection and evaluation of DEI initiatives, so that we can gain an understanding of what is happening in these spaces.
  • Enter spaces with cultural humility. Recognize who is already in the space and what you can learn from them.