Trustee Accountability


People in philanthropy working to dismantle racism

In this moment of racial reckoning, we, the undersigned white donors, trustees, consultants, and others working within the philanthropic sector, feel called to name foundation practices that reinforce, rather than disrupt, the white supremacy, anti-Blackness, and structural inequality upon which foundation wealth has been built and is maintained. We use this communication to focus our collective attention on proposed remedies where power is exercised with the most impact — in foundation boardrooms.

When we as white people do not speak frankly and boldly, we leave our colleagues, often Black women and other women of color, to shoulder the personal discomfort and professional risk of naming the harm caused by philanthropic practices that perpetuate white supremacy and anti-Blackness. To counter that dynamic, we share below:

A call to action for all Trustees

We are inspired by the sea change signaled by recent foundation statements and new approaches that promise immediate impact on communities that most need support in this moment. To start to build more trust between foundations and their grantee partners — especially those with Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) leaders and constituencies — it is essential that in the years ahead, trustees fulfill these promises by making systemic changes in their funding and internal practices that are commensurate with the passion of their statements today. Let these pivots signal a new way of working, rather than a temporary fix.

We call on foundation trustees to take concrete steps to share power, and to hold themselves and each other accountable to how their actions impact the communities most devastated by COVID-19 and pervasive racial injustice — communities their foundations were established to serve.

We recognize that shifting institutional practices is a complex process, that each organization has its own particular conditions, obstacles, and opportunities, and that much of the work already being done inside foundations may be invisible to us. And, as white people committed to both following leaders of color pointing the way forward, and doing our part to dismantle racism, we offer the following ideas.

This moment requires both urgent action now and long-term steps to transform your foundations and the field.

First, in the immediate term:

Act boldly. Do better than philanthropy’s response in the last downturn: increase both your total grantmaking and the percentage going to organizing, advocacy, policy change, movement building, and to organizations rooted in and led by Black communities, including those led by and/or intentionally centering the experiences of Black women, girls, and LGBTQ people.

Don’t let the need to do your own internal work at your institution for the long haul stop you from getting unrestricted funds distributed swiftly in the short-term. Whatever your regular program focus, now is the time to fund work to realize the Movement for Black Lives’ National Demands for COVID-19, as well as their new vision of public safety.

Fill the significant gap in funding for BIPOC women and girls’ organizations, particularly given NoVo trustees’ apparent divestment in Black leadership at a critical historical moment. Support those organizations led by Black women and other women of color as part of your investment in Black lives and Black-led movements. Invest in an emerging effort around “Women of Color-Informed Philanthropy” led by Move to End Violence Cohort 4 fellows. Or for other options, connect to Grantmakers for Girls of Color, Collective Future Fund, and Black Girl Freedom Fund.

Resourcing Black women’s leadership in social and racial justice movements now is crucial, because cis and trans Black women and girls are on the frontlines of those movements, and because history has taught us that unless we intentionally center Black women and girls, they will get left behind.

Be transparent and accountable. If you have made a statement regarding the role of philanthropy in healing historical racial injustice, be clear about what can be expected of your organization, and by when. Share how your strategy will be driven by the wisdom of communities most impacted by injustice, and how those communities will have authentic influence over the resources invested in them.

For the long-term

Then, knowing that personal change is needed before institutional change can happen in earnest, and that institutional change is a precursor to structural changes, we invite you to join us in committing to the following steps for the long-term:

At the personal level: We are all called to take responsibility for how we are upholding white supremacy, regardless of the purity of our intentions. For trustees, for example:

At the institutional level: Giving differently is a good start, but it is not enough. This moment calls for adaptive leadership and practices for true accountability, rather than quick fixes. For example:

At the structural level: The rules — or lack thereof — governing philanthropy, and the practices that have become accepted as norms, all serve to keep power where it has always been. It is time to follow the lead of those who are challenging these norms: The Philanthropic Initiative for Racial Equity, ABFE, Justice Funders and Trust-based Philanthropy Project, among others, and to support the leading voices (such as CHANGE Philanthropy, Neighborhood Funders Group, and Exponent Philanthropy) who are pushing harder than ever for new standards that center equity. They and others are calling us to:

Taken together, we believe these shifts will help shore up a philanthropic sector that prioritizes racial equity and the liberation of all people.

A call to NoVo Foundation trustees to clarify their intentions

For over 14 years, the NoVo Foundation has invested deeply in two chronically underfunded fields: Ending Violence Against Girls and Women, and Advancing Adolescent Girls’ Rights in the US and globally, primarily funding organizations that center, and are led by, Black and Indigenous women and girls and other women and girls of color. It is public knowledge that Peter and Jennifer Buffett, the NoVo trustees, recently announced a change in direction. The foundation has also seen the departure of 16 NoVo staff, many of whom are women of color. These sudden changes have had a profound impact on the organizations NoVo has funded, and the communities those groups serve — communities disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as long-standing epidemics of police violence, state violence, and intimate partner violence.

As a practice of accountability, some of us reached out directly to the three trustees of the NoVo Foundation to advocate for transparency and clarity around what core partners can expect in terms of future (or at least wind-down) support. We remain in communication with them since, to date, many organizations are reporting to us that they do not know the NoVo trustees’ plans moving forward. Yifat Susskind, Executive Director of MADRE, enumerates in her letter to the editor in The Chronicle of Philanthropy, the myriad implications of these kinds of shifts in a foundation’s direction, specifically highlighting how profoundly deleterious a course change is in this instance given the dearth of investment by others in the field.

Our pledge as consultants and other non-trustees working in philanthropy

Calls for accountability also apply to those of us who work in, consult to, or otherwise support the philanthropic sector. All of us must deepen our own practice of anti-racism, assess roles we take by whether or not they will perpetuate or challenge racial injustice, and encourage foundations to follow the leadership and strategies already developed by BIPOC leaders — guidance documented in ABFE’s call to action, Movement for Black Lives’ Vision 2024, the National Agenda for Black Girls 2020, and Solidaire’s love letter to the movement.

These are our pledges and best hopes for this transformational moment for philanthropy.

What are yours?

Mike Allison, Michael Allison Consulting
Bess Bendet
Ashley Blanchard, Vice President/Trustee, Hill-Snowdon Foundation
Liz Bonner, President/Trustee, Hill-Snowdon Foundation
Karie Brown, Board Chair, Hidden Leaf Foundation and Principal, KB Consulting
Susan Colson, Organization Consulting
Emilie Cortes, Trustee, Compton Foundation
Amanda Coslor, oca fund
Vanessa Davenport, Board Chair, Compton Foundation
Shannon Ellis
Laurie Emrich, Board Member, Global Fund for Women
Eileen Farbman, Board President, Kolibri Foundation
Leo Farbman, Trustee, Kolibri Foundation
Steve Farbman, Trustee, Kolibri Foundation
Mark A. Finser, Co-founder and Trustee for RSF Social Finance
Jason Franklin, Board Chair, Proteus Fund, Steering Committee Co-Chair, Solidaire Network
Radha Friedman Consulting
Robert Gass
Michael Gast, Donor Organizer and Social Justice Fundraiser
Michelle Gislason, Consultant and Coach
Molly Schultz Hafid, MSH Consultants
Paul Haible, Executive Director, Peace Development Fund
Hildy Karp, donor advisor
Kim Klein, Klein and Roth Consulting
Andrea Lynch, Consultant
Abraham Lateiner, Solidaire member
Casey Llewellyn, Transformational Coach
Jaimie Mayer, Board Chair, Nathan Cummings Foundation
Nancy Meyer, donor
Susan Mooney, Consultant
Paula Morris, Consultant
Maggie Potapchuk, MP Associates
Alan Preston
Stephanie Roth, Klein & Roth Consulting
Lisa Silverberg
Dara Silverman, Consultant and Coach
Isaac Lev Szmonko, Gelman Giving
Adene Sacks
Jane Segal
Alexandra Toma, Trustee, Compton Foundation
Rye Young
Beth Zemsky
kristen zimmerman

…and the list of signers is growing, you can sign too!

Shiree Teng
Chandra Larsen
Phela Townsend
Deborah Barron
Shira Saperstein

Rachel Humphrey, Sr. Program Director, Justice Funders
Cory Pohley, Consultant
Emily Goldfarb, GoldRio Consulting
Cheryl Gooding, Gooding & Associates LLC
Caitlin Brune
Susan Schneck Sawyers. Chocolaté Milk & friends
Margarita Rozenfeld, Incite International
Jen Astone, Integrated Capital Investing
Melinda Fine, Fine Consulting
Victoria Wigodzky, organizational strengthening consultant
Mandy Van Deven, Philanthropy and Communications Consultant
Fleur Larsen Facilitation
Laura Livoti, Spark Lab: Philanthropic Advising and Nonprofit Consulting
Mary Heffernan, Consultant, Portland, Oregon
Jeffrey Tiell
Amy Mandel Solidaire member; Founder and Funder Tzedek Social Justice Fund
Aparna Rae, Founder — Moving Beyond
Meredith Fenton, Consultant
Alyssa Wright, Consultant
Belen Gonzalez, Gonzalez Consulting Group
Beth Applegate, MSOD, CDLF, President Applegate Consulting Group
Jocelyn Ban, Consultant
Aaron Dorfman, National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy
Ellen Toups
Dr. Norma Tan
Christine Cavalieri, ACC, CDTLF, Board of Directors, ICF Philadelphia
Ritu Sharma, Radiant International, global development consultant
Holly Delany Cole
Alison Traina
, Alight Coaching and Consulting
Diane J. Goodman, Diane Goodman Consulting
Amy Bartleson Balcam
Carla F Wallace
Jean K. Ries
Wendy Todd
Steven LaFrance, Learning for Action
Leigh Rae, Board Co-Chair, Women’s Fund of Western Ma
Catherine Gund
Russ Gaskin, CoCreative
Heather Equinoss, CoCreative
Camille Ramani, Ramani Consulting
Renee Rubin Ross, The Ross Collective
Lydia C. Watts
Camille Ramani, Ramani Consulting
Pete Helsell — President/Trustee Satterberg Foundation
Maggie Williams, North Star Fund Board Member & Individual Donor
John Esterle, Trustee, The Whitman Institute
Belinda Lyons-Newman, Lyons-Newman Consulting
Catherine Lerza
Miriam Messinger, consultant with Interaction Institute for Social Change
Tema Okun, Racial Equity educator and activist
Lucy Sturgis French
Ellen Schneider
, Active Voice Lab
Dipti Pratt
Marlene Engelhorn
Lisl Schoepflin, Board Chair Panta Rhea Foundation
Kimberly Otis
Jean Iannelli Craciun
Jennifer Cate
, Consultant — Cate Collaborative
Mandy Giles, Consultant, Cate Collaborative
Felicia Rosenfeld, FARconnector
Adam Cutsinger
Rebecca Van Sickle, Managing Partner, 1892 consulting
Marsha Davis, Tzedek Social Justice Fund
Mijo Lee, donor organizer / philanthropic consultant
Susan Feit
Susannah Bien-Gund
Charlotte Buhr-Gund
Supriya Lopez Pillai, Trustee and Executive Director, Hidden Leaf Foundation

You can take action now:



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