This installment is the third in a series that engages readers on social equity issues as they impact programming, grantmaking, and advocacy. Here, we examine the intersection of social equity issues and grantmaking, particularly in foundation settings. Foundations often ignite community transformations through careful attention to best practices, leadership, and sustainable community change. However, a social equity framework is often absent. In our discussion of social equity in community and school programming, we emphasize the ubiquity of social equity issues in programing whether or not organizations are aware and respond to the issues. This is also true of grantmaking.

Grantmaking and Social Equity Issues

Best practices and sector leadership provide frameworks and guides for addressing two critical questions in grantmaking: 1.) Which organizations demonstrate stewardship of grant funds? and 2.) How is grantee effectiveness defined? When responding to these two questions, the frameworks and guides tend to overlook the mitigating influence of social equity issues with regard to answering the two critical questions.

For example, an indicator of an organization’s potential to perform as an effective steward of grant funds is the successful recruitment of robust Board of Directors (BODs) and the BOD’s develop of unrestricted funds and philanthropic connections.  Organizations as well as leaders and community members can be excluded from offering their richness and talent, not making it to the table or community convening when not viewed by grantmakers as likely to be effective stewards.

To continue with this example, organizations who face this very serious challenge with the development of unrestricted funds and philanthropic connections often include organizations who engage populations and/or topics undervalued in the society. In the following example, we illustrate this dynamic with reference to the non-traditional art modalities of quilting and street music.

Example: Arts and Culture Grantmaking

In the Arts and Culture sector of grantmaking, conventional art modalities and popularly innovative arts receive focused attention by sector specialists and the public. Arts, for instance, in craft modalities and on corners of city intersections (i.e. street performers) are overlooked and framed as outside of conventions. Hence, these modalities of art are positioned as non-traditional and less valuable, and are generally overlooked for grant funding.

Non-traditional arts also tend to be organizationally a-typical in terms of the foundation/501c3 funding relationship. Foundations face challenges with funding Arts and Culture programming without a tax identification attached to the grant recipient. Favored by established social and financial structures, the established relationship for awarding funds implicitly creates barriers for arts outside of the convention. In the selection of grantees and defining of success — the two major questions that frames the inquiry of foundation grantmaking — we propose intentional steps to inform grantmaking on the social equity foundation of undervaluing non-traditional arts.

“Strategic Philanthropy” to Interrupt Social Equity Issues

John Kania, Mark Kramer, and Patty Russell provide concise recommendations for moving to what they refer to as the emergent model in their Strategic Philanthropy for a Complex World. Of particular note for the current discussion, this article reminds readers of the importance of intentional partnerships. The intentional partnership approach should also ask Who is not here? and Why? which engages the example above with regard to grantmaking in Arts and Culture. Foundations are exquisitely positioned to seek an understanding of social equity issues in terms of organizations and leaders who are not present at convenings in their community. A shift in grantmaking via intentional partnerships imbued with concern for social equity issues can redefine the grantmaker-recipient relationship to a relationship of grantmaker-recipient-context. We recommend a conversation about such a metamorphosis in grantmaking.

In Closing

Social equity issues influence the goals of funding in the same ways that social equity issue interrupt community programming. When we infuse grantmaking inquiry with an understanding of social equity as it unfolds across sectors, and utilize Strategic Philanthropy to support this effort, we can interrupt social equity issues rather than implicitly perpetuate them. Social equity issues in grantmaking prevent communities from celebrating their full spectrum of richness and talents and from utilizing their richness as a vehicle to move communities into greater success.