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Exponent Philanthropy’s new publication, Racial Equity in Lean Foundations: Closing the Gap Between Intention and Impact, reveals that a greater percentage of leanly staffed foundations see racial equity as very relevant to their mission than in the preceding years.

The publication centers on the relevance of racial equity to foundations’ mission and their board and staff demographics. It also describes how racial equity relates to good governance, grantmaking and investment practices.

Exponent Philanthropy, a partner of CMF, is a national membership organization with programs and resources designed specifically for funders working with limited infrastructure.

The publication highlights Exponent’s most recent findings through its annual Foundation Operations and Management Report (FOMR), surveys and interviews with members. 

We’re sharing key data points and takeaways from the publication.

Key takeaways on the behavioral practices of funders surveyed:

  • 37% of foundations reported racial equity as being very relevant to their mission compared to 31% in the previous year. 
  • 27% of foundations shared that they do have an institutional commitment to addressing/eliminating inequities.
  • 24% of foundations shared that their employees completed training and/or self-assessment on racial equity topics like cultural competency and implicit bias. 11% of foundations shared that their board completed this training.
  • 13% of foundations shared that they provide intentional support to the staff to address racial and ethnic equities and 10% provide support to their board.
  • 64% of foundations shared that their board and staff have authentic relationships with members of the community.
  • 40% shared that their board and staff have a strong understanding of the social, environmental and structural determinants of racial and ethnic inequities.

The publication highlights the findings collected from the 2022 FOMR on the board and staff demographics of participating leanly staffed member foundations:

  • 91% of foundation board members identify as White while 9% of foundation board members identify as Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC).
  • 72% of foundations have boards entirely made up of people who identify as White.
  • 68% of staffed foundations surveyed have no paid staff members of color.
  • 13% of participating foundations with full-time CEOs indicated having someone in that role who identifies as BIPOC.

Lean funders shared key insights when asked about the lessons they learned from adding diversity to the foundation’s board and staff:

  • Aspire to be a representative board and staff: Intentionally seek to hire staff and recruit board members that are both representative of your service region and have lived experience in the area.
  • Promote diversity by placing term limits for board members: Consider implementing or shortening term limits for board members to help create new opportunities for new board members to join the foundation.
  • Recruit board and staff members intentionally: Approach hiring and recruiting using a specific racial equity lens. Funders also recommended bringing in multiple board members at once instead of one at a time which can be critical when bringing BIPOC individuals onto a historically all-White board.
  • Consider changing from an all-family board: It can be challenging for family foundations to add racial diversity to the foundation board but by revising the foundation’s bylaws to allow for non-family board members, the foundation can bring in board members who are active in and knowledgeable about the communities the foundation seeks to serve

The publication also offers questions for foundations to consider when reflecting on their board and staff demographics.

Lessons learned from lean funders about operationalizing racial equity:

  • Embrace creative, catalytic philanthropy: Streamlining your processes, focusing your work, collaborating with other funders, convening nonprofit partners to learn from them and engaging in advocacy can help support your foundation’s racial equity work.
  • Focus on relationships: Creating strong relationships will promote feedback from your nonprofit partners which can be a great learning opportunity for funders to continue to evolve in their work.
  • Racial equity work is a long journey: Be persistent and keep working to find new opportunities to incorporate racial equity into your foundation’s work. Continue learning and building strong relationships with your nonprofit partners and other funders aligned with racial equity, and seek their guidance on how you can grow and improve.

In conclusion, the publication states that lean funders are increasingly focusing on racial equity. The findings show that the demographic makeup of a foundation’s board relates to how that foundation approaches racial equity. And how a foundation views racial equity is explicitly tied to how it chooses to support its nonprofit partners.

Want more?

Download the full publication.

Explore our curated equity stories featuring CMF members who are on their own organizational equity journeys across different foundation type, sizes and geography.

Visit our growing Equity Resources collection on CMF’s new website to connect with tools and discussion guides to support your own equity journey.