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My Experience in the Philanthropy Together Racial Equity Community of Practice

Thursday, December 31, 2020 5:09 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

by Paula Liang, Chair, Philanos

Spoiler Alert: It was extraordinary, just like all of their programming to date.

Having been one of the original Co-Design team members whose mission was to  bring some infrastructure and support to the entire collective giving sector will, I believe, be one of the crowning achievements of my life.

Funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and others, the five of us on that team took a leap of faith in the movement and each other: Felicia Harman of Amplifier, Hali Lee, founder of the Asian Women’s Giving Circle, Sara Lomelin of The Latino Community Foundation, Marsha Morgan, chair of the Community Investment Network, and myself.  We practiced radical transparency and decided early on that we wouldn’t be defined by “turf.”  Many philanthropic women sit at multiple tables. We aren’t in competition; we are in community.

Now called Philanthropy Together, the initiative that we designed with input from more than 100 funders, leaders and members across the movement (men and women), launched on April 1, 2020.  I would be lying if I didn’t tell you that it felt like terrible timing in that moment, and we were all concerned about 18 months of work going up in the flames of a global pandemic. 

We needn’t have worried.  The ED we hired, Sara Lomelin, (yes, an original member of the Co-Design team) and our amazing consultant, Isis Krause, who was Sara’s first hire, have the knowledge and the passion to push through many obstacles. They are also unhampered by an imposing structure, a large board and the expectations of hundreds of funders.  They hit the ground at a gallop and haven’t let up. 

Their first two webinars, attended by hundreds, were all about the Black Lives Matter moment and philanthropy’s response. They featured Executive Directors of frontline organizations, answered crucial questions, and offered important “tips and tricks”. Two personal takeaways:

  • One consultant suggested that if it is difficult to diversify your giving circle because of your geography, think about how else you can help: where do you bank? Who do you employ as consultants, speakers, caterers, etc.?  You can support Black-owned businesses in many ways. I spoke with nascent groups in Vermont and Maine over the Summer, and this was helpful to them.
  • One session featured EDs of frontline organizations involved with the BLM movement.  One of them pointed out that “we” in the collective giving movement might be shocked by George Floyd’s murder and the subsequent fallout, but that none of them were surprised; they all knew it was just a matter of time and circumstance. Her appeal to us, and I’m paraphrasing because she was much more polite, was this: We’ve been doing this, and coordinating across organizations for a very long time. If you want to support our work, send a check. Don’t quibble about language, or nibble around the edges of the policy recommendations. As someone who can always come up with an opinion, it was a very powerful gut-check. 

Following two outstanding webinars, Philanthropy Together found enough interest in these topics to host a six-month long Racial Equity Community of Practice, which was attended by dozens of staff, leaders and members of collective giving groups across the sector, including Susan Benford, Sandy Cook and myself and dozens of leaders of Philanos affiliates.  Marsha Morgan (who many of you will remember from her intro of Ijeoma Oluo at PowerUP!2020) and I recorded sessions for this Community of Practice (COP) and other organizations. A couple of takeaways:

  • Marsha asked me if there were affiliates who weren’t interested in “doing the work” of diversity, equity and inclusion. My response was “if they aren’t, they are being quiet about it. Everyone who came to Seattle wants to do the work. What they might not be ready for is the next step they have to take after they bring in diverse women. They have to let them lead.”  And in that moment, I realized that I was taking up space on at least two boards, which I will phase off of over the next several months, to make way for other voices. Stay tuned.
  • I learned that two of our affiliates, ninety-nine girlfriends of Portland, OR and Wood River Women’s Foundation in Ketcham, ID have morphed their language from DEI to JEDI: Justice, Equity, Diversity & Inclusion.  How cool is that?

As the final act of the Racial Equity COP, Philanthropy Together announced that they had $25K available to grant to organizations whose leaders had been part of the cohort, and who had ideas about programming that would further their DEI journey.  It was incredibly fulfilling to have 11 of our Philanos affiliates win these $1K awards. Details:

  • Anne Arundel Women Giving Together, Giving Together of Chevy Chase, MD, Impact Austin, Impact100 Philadelphia, ninety-nine girlfriends of Portland, OR, Women’s Giving Alliance of Jacksonville, FL, and Women’s Giving Circle of Howard County, MD each received funding to hire a trainer. Some will train their board, others their grants team, and some will train both board and members.
  • Impact100 Metro Denver, Impact100 South Jersey, Many Hands, DC, The Philanthropy Connection of Boston, each received funding to hire a facilitator or a coach to guide their DEI conversations.

I look forward to hearing stories about the impact of these small but meaningful grants. I also encourage all of you to add Philanthropy Together to your bookmarks, check out their programming and the resources available on their website—you’ll recognize some of Philanos’ best content being promoted to a wider audience. 

And if any of you have questions, suggestions, ideas, you all know how to reach me, pliang@philanos.org

Contact Philanos  info@philanos.org

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