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Funders Highlight: Perspective on the Direction of Equity in Climate Change and Equitable Development

From invaluable advice on philanthropic fundraising strategies, to profound discussions around the role and direction of philanthropy as a whole, this uniquely candid plenary session created the container for community-based organizations and a panel of philanthropic program officers and advisors to dive deep and directly into the challenges and opportunities ahead for equitable philanthropy.

As someone working to support community organizations that are working in the climate space, it has been my experience that community-based organizations led by people of color have to fight to get their messages heard and needs validated by funders. That is why I was struck by this funder informed discussion. In regards to impactful messaging, Jennifer Patrick, Senior Program Officer at The JPB Foundation, urged PRC partners to be very particular about what funders to pursue as each foundation has different rules about who and how they fund. “Keep at it to get and keep the right donors,” Patrick encouraged the group. “The smarter you are about who to go after, the greater the returns.

"Keep at it to get and keep the right donors. The smarter you are about who to go after, the greater the returns.”

Jennifer Patrick, Senior Program Officer, The JPB Foundation

For Shamar Bibbins, Senior Program Officer at The Kresge Foundation, honesty and directness is everything. “Ask very specific questions of your funders,” she suggested.  “Ask for introductions (to other funders). Ask [about] who I should be talking to. Ask for a funders briefing, even to smaller funders.” In addition, Bibbins stressed the importance of not stretching a mission statement or program deliverables to fit an RFP. In other words, stay true to the essence of your work. 

Each panelist highlighted the importance and emergence of the philanthropic field to push for intersectionality and community-identified priorities. “Institutions need to change how they articulate power building because it’s already happening,” said Tené Traylor, a Fund Advisor at The Kendeda Fund. Traylor asserted that philanthropy can and should be in better alignment with communities sparking change, dismantling white supremacy, and building influence. However, as Traylor pointed out, philanthropy still has limitations to fully catalyzing systemic change. 

Referring to the “built-in barrier” that philanthropy comes from and is controlled by white wealth, independent Philanthropic Advisor, Pierre Joseph, described the challenges program officers often face when pushing for transformational change within foundations. He acknowledges that there are emerging networks to support this paradigm shift, but that more needs to be done for funders to hear directly from the community in order to better align priorities.

Scot Spencer, Associate Director of Advocacy and Influence at the Annie E. Casey Foundation, detailed an example of how philanthropy that understands and is sensitive to the needs of communities can respond to the needs of low-income communities of color. Citing an example of his own work, Scot was able to make a discretionary small grant of $5,000 which helped support some Baltimore “Squeegee Kids” become successful entrepreneurs generating more than $40,000 in revenue over 8 months from their streetside water bottle sales. This is the kind of transformational philanthropy that reclaims the narrative for Black and Brown people across this country.

“We have a tendency to not be candid with funders,” pointed out Sarita Turner, Director of Inclusive Communities at Institute for Sustainable Communities. “But (our lack of candidness) it restricts their positions of privilege and power to be advocates for us.” Opportunities like this plenary are the very spaces needed to bring funders and community organizers in partnership with one another.