Foundations Boost Focus on BIPOC, Other Underserved Groups

The unfortunate confluence of heightened attention to racial inequities and the Covid-19 pandemic has yielded a slightly tarnished silver lining: 90% of foundations report increasing support to communities particularly affected by the pandemic, according to Foundations Respond to Crisis: Toward Equity?, a report from the Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP).

Specifically, three quarters have made new efforts to support organizations serving African-American communities, more than seven in ten elevated support of people from lower-income communities, 63% have increased efforts aimed at Latinx communities, 47% boosted their support of undocumented immigrants, 28% boosted efforts aimed at Asian or Asian-American communities, 30% upped their support of organizations serving people with disabilities, one quarter increased efforts focused on indigenous communities, 18% increased support of Middle Eastern or North African communities and 12% boosted support of native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander communities.

Respondents indicated that input from grantees and those they served was influential in their shifts in focus. The strongest motivating factor was funding the most pressing iniquities.

Women have been affected especially adversely by the pandemic, and foundations similarly reported heightened efforts to support organizations serving women in the communities most deeply affected.

Among respondents from foundations, just over 20% said they had only begun supporting these communities after the pandemic began. A bit more than one third – 39% – who do support these communities say their new efforts stretch across all the program areas at their foundations, with another 36% indicating their new focus has been put in place across “most” program areas and 25% have upped their efforts in some of their program areas.

The amount distributed by foundations has changed as well, with 59% of foundations allocating a higher percentage of grant dollars to communities most affected by the pandemic. Within this, 52% report boosting funds designated for African-American communities, 41% have increased founds for low-income communities, 36% have upped distributions for Latinx communities and 12% are distributing more to organizations that serve Asian or Asian-American communities. Among the other groups, dollar amounts distributed were increased by 10% or less.

There is concern that the pandemic is creating a one-off focus, as opposed to launching a sustained effort to correct injustices. Said one foundation leader, who like all quoted throughout the report was anonymous: “Let’s not think of this as a moment. Let’s look at the larger task before us: changing our underlying systems. That’s philanthropy’s role.”

Foundations might start by looking inward. More than half (57%) of those participating in the CEP study report having boards with fewer than 25% people of color. Respondents from another 29% indicated their boards had between 25 and 49% of their seats filled by people of color, and a mere 14% said more than half of their boards consisted of people of color.

As one frustrated foundation leader put it, “In our strategic planning, even though the staff says we are going to put everything through a DEI lens, if you actually asked our board what DEI stands for, most of them wouldn’t even be able to tell you.”