Philanthropy has an inherent obligation to place marginalized communities at the center of giving.
It’s no secret that in the world of charitable giving strings often come attached. Any nonprofit executive, grant writer or development director can share stories about jumping through hoops to secure funding for an initiative or general operating costs. Filling out extensive applications, sitting in on long phone calls, checking (and rechecking) financial statements, and evaluating programmatic efforts, among many other things, are par for the course when seeking grants that will help sustain an organization.
The due diligence philanthropic institutions conduct is a product of myriad federal and state laws mandating how money should be spent, but is also a function of each foundation’s drive to fulfill its mission. However, in the course of satisfying legal requirements and internal benchmarks, some institutions can find themselves being too prescriptive, making high demands with little or no room for error on behalf of the grant seeker. What’s worse, these expectations may not necessarily align with needed the needed outcomes of the communities that are being served, especially if we’re serving communities that have been marginalized and oppressed.
Engagement for Positive Impact
At the Hyams Foundation, we’re bound by the same laws as any other foundation. And yes, we do have our own mission, vision, goals and theory of change that we hold ourselves accountable to as well as the community partners we fund. However, we temper those standards evenly with a key question that reverberates through every conversation we have: How do we engage and develop these communities in a way that has a significant, positive impact?
As a foundation, we acknowledge that we don’t have all the answers and that the most qualified experts on an injustice are those who’ve lived with the experience day in and day out.”
The foundation provides funding to community-based organization serving people of color in Boston and Chelsea, Massachusetts, on a range of issues that seek to improve racial equity. Grant seekers have worked with the foundation on topics such as increasing the minimum wage, securing explicit legal rights for domestic workers, providing career access opportunities for low-income youth of color, addressing the causes of housing displacement, and several other key areas.
The common thread inherent in our relationships with grant seekers is that we ensure that members of these communities are engaged, developed as leaders, and lifted up in the work.
As a foundation, we acknowledge that we don’t have all the answers and that the most qualified experts on an injustice are those who’ve lived with the experience day in and day out. Low-wage workers living paycheck-to-paycheck, youth of color disproportionately driven out of our schools, immigrants, working-class families facing housing displacement, and other marginalized communities are the best voices to speak about the oppression they experience and can evolve into incredible leaders. We shirk a top-down approach in favor of collaborating with communities and building the leadership skills of their leaders.
Addressing Problems Collectively
In our grant applications, we require grant seekers to discuss how they engage the community, develop leaders, and center disenfranchised voices in discussions. We strive to ensure that those who are suffering from injustice and marginalization are not only heard, but are developed into strong leaders who can continue the work and have an even greater impact on other communities.
When we measure impact, we look at the quantitative and qualitative indicators that let us know that progress has been made. How has implementation of said policy changed disparities within a particular community? Do people of this community have a better quality of life and equitable access because of this change?
Breaking Down the Class Divide
By engaging in collaborative, open dialogues with members of the community throughout the grant making process, we push down barriers and collectively address problems with a shared vision and goal. Breaking down the class divide to collaboratively work with marginalized communities is one of the most effective ways to implement positive systems change in our country and have a lasting impact on future generations.