Check-Up Clinic: Foundations Respond to Pandemic and Police Killings

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64 Black Foundation Leaders Tell Philanthropy to Go Big in Response to Pandemic and Police Killings

by Alex Daniels

Sixty-four Black foundation leaders, including the heads of the Open Society and Ford Foundations, this week urged philanthropy to take bold action in response to both the coronavirus pandemic, which has hit people of color especially hard, and the killing of Black people by police, which has generated a nationwide outcry.

The letter was organized by ABFE, which was founded as the Association of Black Foundation Executives, and provides a 10 step course of action for foundations to follow to reduce disparities Black people face in treatment by police, the provision of health care, and many other indicators of well-being.

The association was in the process of drafting suggestions for a philanthropic response to the Covid-19 pandemic when the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police spurred protests against police brutality across the country.

“As the Black community struggles to manage these overlapping pandemics, we challenge philanthropy to be bold and be inspired by the courage of the protesters who are risking their well-being for the sake of defending Black lives,” the letter states.

Susan Taylor Batten, ABFE’s president, said the executives who signed the letter planned to meet every two weeks to discuss how promote the practices and measure progress. The group is currently in discussions with several national philanthropy organizations, including Change Philanthropy, the Council on Foundations, and Grantmakers for Effective Organizations, aimed at introducing the plan to a broad audience of grant makers. ABFE is also gathering regional Black philanthropy organizations including Chicago African Americans in Philanthropy and the Southeastern Network of African Americans in Philanthropy to spread the word.

“Our work now is to help the sector understand that the disparate impact of Covid is directly related to the disparate impact of police brutality,” Taylor Batten said. “It’s all related and intertwined.”

Seeking Wide Participation

The letter was signed not just by foundation executives but also by heads of regional grant makers, such as Shanaysha Sauls, president of the Baltimore Community Foundation, and Brennan Gould, president of the Charlottesville Area Community Foundation.

In the letter, the foundation leaders called upon all foundations, not just grant makers under Black leadership, to target their grants on efforts to transform the lives of Black people. They sought support for efforts to use data to track the spread of Covid-19 and tamp down outbreaks as well as to develop a plan to emerge from the pandemic with a healthy economy. The leaders wrote that they needed allies in philanthropy. Similarly, the response to police brutality should not fall solely on Black-led organizations, the letter said.

“The uprisings across America in response to the police murder of George Floyd have demonstrated the power of multi-racial alliances, led by Black voices, to bring about change,” the letter states. “This level of solidarity by allies is needed in philanthropy to create a movement that supports all communities.”

In addition, the letter suggested foundations increase the percentage of assets they distribute annually and focus program-related investments such as low-interest loans on efforts that advance Black people. To ensure well-intentioned policies do not exacerbate racial disparities, the letter suggests philanthropy work to connect policy makers with Black leaders and residents.

“This is a marathon, not a sprint,” the leaders said, “and we need all of us in philanthropy to be in it for the long haul.”

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