Can it really be the week before Labor Day? It seems like just yesterday we hosted our 2018 Grant Award Celebration, announcing the recipients of grants from our Pooled Fund as well as our commitment to establish new grant making criteria focused on increasing equity and reducing disparities for 2019. As I mentioned in my July Letter, this summer, we have been drafting and refining new focused criteria with greater specificity and clarity to increase the transparency of our process.
We knew that this process would not be easy and are grateful to our Strategic Planning Grant Leadership Task Force, which met again in July to develop our first set of draft criteria as well as working definitions of “equity” and “disparities.” From a literature review conducted by staff, we discovered that there is no one agreed upon definition of “equity” for the philanthropic community. It’s been an open debate for several years (see Stanford Social Innovation Review’s “What the Heck Does Equity Mean?” from 2016). Most academics and practitioners who write on the topic agree that each organization should have an agreed upon definition of “equity,” but almost none of them share what their own organization’s definition is.
Therefore, in the spirit of helping build an over-arching shared language, we decided that for the purposes of next year’s grant cycle, we would adopt Philanthropy Northwest’s definition of equity:
Equity is the condition that would be achieved if one’s identity no longer predicted how one fared in life.
We also created a definition of “disparities” that is based upon the past work of our own DEI Task Force, now co-chaired by members Ann Kumasaka and Donna Lou:
Disparities are differences in life experiences and outcomes based upon an individual’s race or ethnic group, national origin, immigration status, religion, socio-economic status, gender identity, age, mental health, cognitive, sensory or physical disability, sexual orientation or other characteristics historically linked to discrimination or exclusion.
In addition to sharing these definitions with the members who attended our first Transforming Together 2020 Q&A Session last week, we “workshopped” the definitions and the first draft of our new criteria with nonprofit and Foundation leaders from our community. We convened these community focus groups this week, because our Strategic Framework 2020 includes a commitment to engage community voices in all aspects of our programming and grant making to ensure that community priorities are centered in our work. We are so grateful to the community leaders who spent several hours with us in these focus groups. Participating nonprofits included:
- Denise Louie Education Center (2018 Education Merit Award Recipient)
- FEEST (2017 Health Grant Recipient)
- King County Sexual Assault Resource Center (2009 Health Grant Recipient)
- Northwest Immigrant Rights Project (2013 Human Services Grant Recipient)
- Para Los Niños (2017 Emerging Issues Partner Grant Recipient)
- The Seattle Globalist (2017 Arts & Culture Grant Recipient)
- University of Washington Foundation
- Wing Luke Museum (2017 Arts & Culture Merit Award Recipient)
Our Strategic Framework 2020 also includes a goal of partnering in collaborative learning and grant making with the local funder community. For this reason, we also invited a group of local funders to review our draft criteria to see where it might align with the work that they are already doing or are aspiring to do. Participating funders included:
- King County Executive’s Office of Immigrant & Refugee Policy
- Marguerite Casey Foundation
- Medina Foundation
- Northwest Children’s Foundation
- Potlatch Fund
- The Raikes Foundation
- Renton Community Foundation
- Satterberg Foundation
- Social Justice Fund NW
- Social Venture Partners
- United Way of King County
Overall, the feedback was incredibly positive, and Washington Women’s Foundation was applauded by both groups of leaders for embarking on this difficult but important work and doing so in a transparent and authentic way. That is not to say that there wasn’t a fair amount of critique shared – we asked for it and encouraged candor! Now Aviva and I are focused on incorporating the feedback into our next drafts, which will be shared with our 2019 Grant Leadership Team next week.
I wanted to share with you several messages that were uniformly agreed upon by all of the participating nonprofit leaders and funders:
- An equity-based approach to grant making requires grantee organizations to be accountable to the communities they serve.
- Always acknowledge the power dynamics in philanthropy and the privilege that philanthropists have.
- Washington Women’s Foundation must be explicit about a commitment to racial equity.
While I know our drafting committee was attempting to show an understanding of intersectionality, one foundation leader specifically criticized our definition of disparities as being “everything plus the kitchen sink.” A nonprofit leader remarked, “It [equity] cannot happen if we don’t have a conversation about race.” So now we know there is not a specific roadmap toward equity that we can simply adopt and follow, that the philanthropic sector’s concepts and ideas are continuing to evolve, that racial equity is important to call out in our work, and that our legacy of being a learning organization, willing to test, try and adapt, will continue to serve us in good stead as we go forward on this journey. Thank you for being on the journey with us.