Philanthropy is evolving. Under the current social and economic climate, there is an increasing need to address the role of philanthropy in the realm of racial justice and gender disparities. On February 3, 2021, the Nonprofit Master’s Program and Center for Social Impact Strategy at Penn’s School of Social Policy and Practice hosted a joint event to discuss the nature of the current philanthropic ecosystem. The panelists share ways to approach philanthropic giving in consideration of historical events, the intersectionality of race across different issue areas, and growing social challenges.
CHIP Founding Executive Director Kat Rosqueta moderated the discussion, featuring Dr. Abhishek Bhati (Assistant Professor in Political Science, Bowling Green State University), Matt Stephenson (Co-Founder & CEO, Code2College), and Iimay Ho (Executive Director, Resource Generation).
The panelists highlighted how the color of one’s skin can be a prominent factor in the success of an organization. Dr. Abhishek Bhati, who has conducted research on the effects of racial bias on funding, emphasizes that race inevitably affects access to capital, networks, and development opportunities. He mentions, “Social networks are attuned to wealth; you need to have time and resources in order to go out to meet people… If you are more towards the lighter skin tone, you’re more likely to be invited.”
“Black organizations, leaders, and communities are consistently underfunded,” Matt Stephenson said. He pointed out that organizations run by People of Color ultimately receive a disproportionately low amount of funding. This reveals the mistrust in Black leaders — most of whom are best acquainted with the communities that they are serving. He mentions the importance of donors to trust the leaders of organizations that are “in the community, know the community, and serve the community.”
The panelists also discussed about how donors’ efforts may stem from a place of sympathy, compassion, or even guilt, but can become imposing to communities on the receiving end when they remove a group’s sense of agency and ability to help themselves. Inherent forms of classism that exist in philanthropy and explained the importance of utilizing multiple perspectives from those working on the frontlines and the served communities. Centering the lived experiences of beneficiaries is only part of the process. Limay Ho shared their insight as a funder on how organizations and philanthropic initiatives can think about historical circumstances leading to the racial inequities that exist today. Individuals from historically underserved communities often face constant pressure to have to pitch themselves and sell their stories convincingly for funding. Ho described, “It’s really unfair to keep on trying to extract stories from people and not participate in the truth telling.” They emphasize the importance of considering the history of racism, the entities that have benefited from it, and how to be accountable to it.
-by Bing Liang