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Diversity at the Rockefeller Brothers Fund

February 1, 2011

The Rockefeller Brothers Fund (RBF) recently released a the RBF Diversity Report.   The report outlines the Fund’s efforts to diversify the organization as well as grant-making.  The effort is interesting in that it is trying to take on the task of changing the organization and in some ways the mission.

Reading through the report, the Fund is to be commended for the effort as well as the transparency about progress (or lack of it).   While I’m all for diverse work places (in fact, it’s what I work on in my day job), on this blog, I’m more interested in giving specifically by South Asians and to South Asian communities.  Towards that end, the Program Working Group of the RBF Steering Committee created the following steps to achieve the goals around diversity:

1. Initiate conversations with grantees about how they think about diversity in their organizations and work. The New York City program included questions about diversity in its request for arts and culture capacity-building proposals. Sustainable Development staff have experimented with discussing diversity with one of its grantees that presents itself as a progressive policy institute but does not have people of color on its board or staff.
Expect diversity dimensions of various grants to be raised in docket preview meetings. Several conversations have been initiated at docket preview meetings about the lack of engagement with the environmental justice community, largely groups representing communities of color and low-income communities that experience disproportionately the effects of environmental contamination and pollution.
Address diversity in program reviews. The Western Balkans and Sustainable Development program teams were able to incorporate more explicit attention to diversity into their program review papers.
Consider options for data collection. Grants Management staff are participating in the Foundation Center’s working group on diversity metrics and have kept abreast of data collection trends in the field of philanthropy. The group also developed a series of custom questions on diversity for the Fund’s CEP grantee and applicant surveys conducted in the winter of 2010 and continues to explore meaningful ways to track diversity and learn from the Fund’s grantmaking.
Continue dialogue with thought-and-practice leaders to better define ideas and promote practices.

The above steps seem to be a good starting point.  The RBF seems to understand the role they can play in creating incentives to push their grantees to be work with and include diverse communities.  There, however, seems to be a hole in the strategies above.  What about actually funding organizations that work specifically with diverse communities and/or organizations run by diverse communities for diverse communities?

I’m not suggesting that calling for diversity among its grantees isn’t laudable, but it’s doesn’t seem to be the most direct way of achieving the goal of diversifying grant-making.  What do you think?

One Comment leave one →
  1. asridhar permalink*
    February 1, 2011 2:00 pm

    I think their steps are good, and so is your suggestion about funding organizations in diverse communities. It’s a two-pronged approach. My concern is more with grantees like the unnamed one they mention that claim to care about diversity or social justice but do not integrate the perspectives of people of color on the board, staff or even in terms of their audience. We’ve written here before about the Greenlining Institute reports – and my concern is how they label many mainstream organizations (like museums etc.) as not-diverse. In my view, RBF and other grantmakers have a huge responsibility to ensure that mainstream organizations serve people of color as much as others – that in itself will be a big step to real diversity.

    On your point about funding diverse organizations, I would add that RBF and other grantmakers (and SAPP someday too perhaps) should do more by way of education around governance – how to run a small, community-based organization, best practices for boards, etc.

    We should send this post to RBF!

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