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Special feature: Why is diversity important in grantmaking?

August 6, 2009

I was recently invited to be part of a special issue of “Overheard,” a column of the Council on Foundations’ e-journal—Thought > Action > Impact (TAI).  For TAI’s forthcoming September issue, they are exploring themes of diversity and inclusiveness in the philanthropic world.  They have asked several identity-based affinity groups – including SAPP! – to answer the following question on their own blogs, to be featured in the next “Overheard”: Why is diversity important in grantmaking? So, here’s my take on that question – hopefully we’ll stimulate some discussion among the various participants and I’ll try to link back with excerpts from other answers around the blogosphere:

We often think of South Asians in the United States as newly wealthy, super-educated, and professional.  While this is certainly the case for many South Asian Americans (and thus the focus of many of SAPP’s own efforts to stimulate philanthropy), there are also pockets of need within the South Asian American community beyond what we normally think about the population.  Our community faces issues of poverty, class, immigration status, language access, and gender inequality.

For a grantmaker then, diversity in grantmaking means – most obviously – increasing the flow of grants to beneficiaries in need within the South Asian American community.  For this to happen, though, program officers themselves need to be more diverse and connected to the community – intimately understanding its dynamics in relation to the overall health of the larger population.  For example, the South Asian community faces some special needs for funding and services, such as immigration counseling, legal aid, certain types of health care and education (such as heart disease and diabetes), domestic violence care, or small business start up and education.  On the flip side, diverse grantmaking would leverage special talents in diverse communities – in our case, perhaps our strengths in the health care and computer technology fields, our strong connections abroad, or our commitment to education more generally.

But these are the obvious answers, right?  Reframing the question a bit helps to see a bigger issue that I’ve mentioned before when blogging about the Greenlining Institute controversy:  Rather than thinking about diversity in grantmaking only on the grantmaker side, what about thinking about diversity on the grantseeker side too?  There are many agencies that have a long history of successful foundation fundraising that need to examine their own practices when it comes to diversity – here I’m thinking of very established community organizations that are large grant recipients, such as museums, orchestras, private schools.  This may mean diversifying their boards and staffs, but also (more importantly in my opinion), diversifying their outreach to beneficiaries.

Grantmakers can play an important role in promoting diversity by advocating for it as a stakeholder with grantees.  Grantmakers can ask applicants questions like:

  • Who benefits from your programs and services?
  • What is the breakdown of your beneficiaries by race, gender, sexual orientation, disability, etc.?
  • What steps are you taking to reach out to diverse communities in your programming and access to your services (such as language, board representation, location of activities, etc.)?

Finally – a last point.  Our work at SAPP so far has shown that while there are tons of organizations serving the needs of South Asians abroad, there are not too many focused on the population here in North America.  Of those that are,  most are focused on discrete and small-scale approaches – so small-scale that grantmakers may not find them attractive to fund.  There are not that many larger scale organizations providing multi-layered services to South Asians nationally or even regionally (SAALT being the main exception I can think of right now).  Diversity in grantmaking may also mean that grantmakers to diverse communities prepare a different set of criteria for evaluation, consider more seed funding grants, and provide education to small nonprofits about scaling up and replicating their services.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. August 10, 2009 11:40 am

    Thanks, Archana, for sharing this perspective. At SAALT, we couldn’t agree more with the importance of tweaking grantmaking criteria and scope to better understand and incorporate the needs of newer immigrant communities. Often, it falls upon the shoulders of smaller non-profits to advocate for the need for greater diversity in grantmaking. However, it can be challenging and time-consuming for small organizations, especially in today’s downturn, to be able to “make the case” for funding from large institutions. That is why individual philanthropy can make such a critical difference for smaller South Asian non-profits.

    Another resource is AAPIP (Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in Philanthropy) which has been advocating for such a shift in thinking among grantmakers for quite some time. And, SAALT’s report (Building Community Strength) provides recommendations for funders as well from the perspectives of smaller South Asian non-profits:

  2. July 28, 2014 4:27 am

    When someone writes an post he/she keeps the idea of a user in his/her brain that how a user can know it.

    So that’s why this piece of writing is outstdanding. Thanks!


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