3 Focus Areas for Grantmakers Incorporating Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Many funders have made a real effort to prioritize diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in their grantmaking practices, but how this looks in practice can vary widely. There is seemingly no science to it and much of what we do learn is through trial and error.

Grantmakers are looking to one another to share effective practices and case studies. This kind of sharing offers up valuable insights into their successes and failures to incorporate DEI values more fully into their organizational practices. These insights are something we can all learn from. While there are many considerations for beginning (or expanding on) a grantmaker’s DEI journey, all organizations must prioritize the commitment from their leadership, their internal processes, and their grantmaking practices.

1.  Equity in Grantmaking Starts at the Top 

Commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion must come from the leaders of the organization. That includes the CEO or executive director and the board of directors. It is imperative that this commitment is demonstrated through active support of equity-focused grantmaking and programming as well as internal operational changes. Ideally, they will serve as public champions of these efforts and put in the hard work of turning inward. They will not shy away from difficult conversations and assess how they, as individuals, might need to change their own thinking. Many foundations have turned to outside consultants with expertise in this area to help guide them through the beginning of their DEI journey.

2.    Grantmakers Must Look Inward

One of the first steps in making progress towards equity focused-grantmaking is recognizing that equity work needs to be done from the inside out. This requires a full examination of institutional culture and practices. If an organization is clearly stating its commitment to DEI values in its mission and vision and has done the work internally, any external engagement with the community will be seen as much more credible.

A 2020 survey of foundation leaders found that while the majority had shifted internal practices around things like operations, vendor selection, investment priorities, and strategy development, there were few examples of increases in power sharing. Power sharing enables historically marginalized individuals to create solutions and design the path forward. Delegating and diversifying decision-making power, changing hiring practices, and promoting and listening to diverse leaders are all examples of how power sharing could show up in an organization.

3.    Grantmaking Practices: Infuse Grantmaking with Empathy

Envisioning the changes needed to make grantmaking more equitable requires a level of empathy for those communities and organizations that are on the receiving end of funding. It requires the ability to “walk in their shoes” through the grantmaking process and the ability to truly listen to their feedback. Funders may default to practices that work best for them when it comes to the application method, timeline, or reporting requirements, for example. But it is important to view the entire grantee/applicant journey with an equity lens, striving to be inclusive and accessible. Ideally, an organization’s practices will not reinforce inequities or discourage diverse perspectives.

Blackbaud’s own corporate grantmaking, led by its Global Social Responsibility team, has evolved over the past few years to be more inclusive, spanning geographic regions as opposed to specific cities. Coupled with a simplified application process, the interest in this program has grown significantly. Knowing that applicants are also prioritizing DEI is important, and there are now questions to that end on the grant application. The reporting requirements are minimal, trusting that charities will put grant dollars where they are needed most. These tweaks were easily implemented without necessitating a complete overhaul of the grants program.

Putting Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Practices into Action

Start By Reviewing Common Practices

A report from the Equitable Evaluation Initiative found that some perceived “best practices” or unspoken norms in grantmaking may actually have a negative impact on equity efforts. Here are some examples of these beliefs that should be challenged:

  • The foundation defines what success looks like: This dynamic doesn’t provide opportunities for grantees to be flexible based on changes in their communities’ needs.
  • Evaluators are the experts and final arbiters: Grantees are closest to the problem and have the best perspective on how to approach the issue.
  • Evaluators are objective: Everyone carries their own biases, including those who are approving grant funding.
  • Trust/relationships come from doing the work but are not the starting point: Trust is the cornerstone of strong relationships with your grantees.

Each of these beliefs could be the beginning of a robust internal conversation around how funders do the work that they do and how they might need to shift their practices to be more equitable.

Build a Peer Network

While it’s not necessarily a key area of focus, it is worth restating how valuable it is to have a peer network and resources to turn to. Grantmakers can take advantage of member networks nationally or more regionally to ensure they are connecting with peers to learn from their shared struggles and successes. Listening to peers share about their programs and strategies in this space is a great way to expand your own thinking. While their templates may not fit your own organization, there are likely to be pieces of the work that are compelling to you and worthy of bringing back to your own organization for consideration.

If you are looking for more examples of how organizations are incorporating DEI practices in their grantmaking, join us for our webinar, DEI in Practice: How Seasoned Grantmakers Are Adopting These Principles, where Blackbaud and two other grantmakers share their experiences prioritizing DEI principles.