Strategies to Increase Equity in Grantmaking & Empowerment: Notes from the Houston Conference

In October 2014, at the GIA 2014 Conference in Houston, Aaron Dworkin (The Sphinx Organization), Maurine Knighton (Nathan Cummings Foundation), and Roberta Uno (Ford Foundation) presented a session on addressing the significant disparity in how funding reaches underserved communities and smaller arts organizations. Per its design, the intended session outcome was to develop a list of key strategies to address inequitable funding in collaboration with the audience members. Here it is:

23 Key Strategies/Best Practices

  1. Question what we accept as given language. Excellence redefined: rigor, aesthetic value, innovation (R. Uno)
  2. Re-examine the intersection of arts and culture through the lens of today’s demographics (under-represented to whom/which community?) (R. Uno)
  3. Shifting the paradigm of current inequity. How do we fund up smaller organizations and build their capacity? (R. Uno)
  4. Work with large, non-diverse organizations, as well as small, diverse organizations. Encourage meaningful, intentional cohorts and partnerships within organizations and between organizations (R. Uno)
  5. Multi-year funding is key to long-term success (R. Uno)
  6. Starting inside: asking ourselves frankly about our cultural competency (1-our own world view; 2-understanding and valuing the practices and richness of other cultures; 3-developing the capacity and interest to respectfully and effectively interact with cultures other than our own). (M. Knighton)
  7. Let smaller organizations hold the purse strings in collaborative projects (funded as a partnership). (M. Knighton)
  8. Think about any interaction with a grant-seeker as an opportunity for mutual learning exchange. Leave the grant-seeker with a greater capacity post the interaction than when they entered the conversation. Give them tips/tools: regard the experience as an opportunity to broaden your own scope (do your own eligibility reqs unjustly position grant-seekers?). Separate the narrative value from what is in a grant. (M. Knighton)
  9. This is a journey for grantmakers: we are a reflection of a larger societal issue. This may not solvable completely, but we can affect change constructively. (M. Knighton)
  10. Start with where people are (focusing on non-diverse organizations), help them define and achieve their goals in diversity. Benchmarks matter: this should be a carefully assessed piece (R. Uno)
  11. Trust artists, wherever possible. Allow artists to be more than recipients, empower them to regrant and empower others (Roberta Uno)
  12. Flexible funding: extraordinary considerations are encouraged (R. Uno)
  13. Organizing with grantees focused on equity to change the way in which foundation does business, leading to community members working to bend the processes in favor of greater equity (J. Laing)
  14. Research: doing research that raises questions of equity and widely sharing that information in the community (J. Laing)
  15. Have direct/uncomfortable conversations within your own foundation: start “at home” and find your allies (who can be your grantees, other funders) who can help with the difficult conversation. Conversations can be awkward with powerful, non-diverse organizations: ask directly about demographics of their community. Create space for a comfortable conversation, but ultimately, the conversation must be had, regardless of comfort and for the ultimate goal (audience/collaborative strategy)
  16. Diversity of boards within the philanthropic community is important (audience strategy)
  17. Race Forward (a resource); look at and learn from existing work that has been done already (audience strategy)
  18. Get past perceptions! (audience strategy). Consider possibly funding the full proposal post an LOI(R. Uno)
  19. Assess the way in which the guidelines are laid out: ask why they are laid out in the way they are and what perception that leaves with grant-seekers. Consider revising to better represent purpose (audience strategy)
  20. In asking for diversity stats within grant-seeker organizations, assess whether there is diversity in leadership versus support positions (that should indicate whether an organization “gets it”). Under-represented versus total is one way to assess the overall diversity. An advisory Board does not typically have much power (audience/collaborative strategy)
  21. Historically underfunded; historically under-resourced, may be a good way to characterize “under-represented” in your guidelines (R. Uno)
  22. Using studies (such as Holly Sidford’s and others, including the economic divide, looking at industry specific and mainstream media) is a good entry point in formulating the argument for equity(R. Uno)
  23. CLOSING: Be humble, be open, keep at it! (M. Knighton); Be brave! Unexpected allies come from unexpected places: stay open!(R. Uno)