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More on the Color of Philanthropy – a Response to Venu

January 7, 2009

I’ve been following the Greenlining controversy about private foundation dollars closely as well – Venu lays out some of the background below, and Rosetta Thurman does a good job too. The Chronicle of Philanthropy has also been providing excellent coverage of the issues on its Opinion pages.

I’m not sure I agree with Venu below that Al Piña’s approach, or the California proposition’s, is the right one. Handing out money based on the racial composition of boards/staff, and/or forcing additional and burdensome reporting requirements onto private foundations, are not good options to address what may be a serious problem. [Now, what that problem is has not really been articulated well either – all of the proposals stem from our (probably correct) assumption that too many private foundation dollars go to causes that disproportionately benefit white communities.]

Requiring funding for “minority led” charities, or mandating reports on grants to such groups, is not the right metric to have an impact on this problem. Greenlining and the others are looking for a simple metric to a very complex question.

The right metrics – which are very hard to measure – are things like the following:

  • How many minorities are served by the grantee charities funded by a particular private foundation?
  • How much are the beneficiaries of a target program or project taken into account in program planning or grantmaking? (So that it’s not a top-down approach…)
  • How much outreach are traditionally “white” or non-minority focused charities funded by private foundations (like the orchestra, traditional art museums, etc.) doing to increase their minority audiences and beneficiaries?

The other issue on this theme is responsibility on the part of people of color. One of the purposes of SAPP is to inspire more leadership in philanthropy and the nonprofit sector on the part of South Asian Americans, because there simply aren’t enough of us volunteering, giving, or serving on boards. Minorities need to step up and bear this responsibility – and private foundations can help. People of color – like us South Asians – need training on board service, we need to be welcomed to volunteer, we need to be asked to give and to give more.

I think Venu is ultimately right that the WSJ was off base, particularly with such a controversial headline, but I’m not sure Al Piña’s approach is right either. I’m all for a more hands-off approach in terms of government regulation, and a more hands-on approach to inspire individuals and foundations to address these issues with training, awareness, and outreach.

What do you all think?

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Adam permalink
    January 8, 2009 1:07 am

    Greenlining’s bill in California would only have required simple transparency data that is already collected by most corporate foundations and would have meant a simple change to 990 forms. This bill did not advocate for funding on the basis of minority status.

  2. asridhar permalink*
    January 8, 2009 1:05 pm

    Thanks for your comment, Adam! You are right about the California bill and funding on the basis of minority status – I think Venu and I tended to conflate the California and Florida proposals in our posts.


  1. Special feature: Why is diversity important in grantmaking? « The South Asian Philanthropy Project

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