Institutional grantmakers – whether government, foundation, or corporate – have always exercised due diligence to ensure grantees will be responsible stewards of awarded funds. Through the application, review, and sometimes interview process, these philanthropic organizations look at a potential grantee’s governance and executive leadership, organizational history and track record, financial statements, and more. Over the past several years, and particularly as social justice and racial equality issues have taken center stage, funders are also examining nonprofit’s diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) practices and factoring DEI into their grantmaking criteria. In fact, in a June 2021 study of U.S. foundations, DEI emerged as the leading topic of interest (Hewlett Foundation, 2021), suggesting that funders are intentionally prioritizing equity with their grantmaking initiatives.

And rightfully so. As nonprofit and social justice organizations committed to bettering society, we must take a proactive approach to challenge and reverse deep-rooted systemic injustices and inequalities. This can come to life in many ways across our organizations. So, what exactly are funders looking for, and how can we commit to advancing racial, cultural and socioeconomic equality in our work? Here are some topics and specific DEI questions funders might ask you to reflect on:

Organizational culture – How does your organization promote equity and inclusivity both internally and externally? It’s one thing to have a written DEI statement, but it’s another thing to carry out those actions at all levels of your organization. This is where policy and practice intersect. How do your organization’s processes, culture, staffing, and onboarding reflect your DEI goals? Has your organization invested in racial equity or implicit bias training for both executive leaders and staff?

Staff and leadership diversity – Funders will ask about the diversity of your governing board and management team, and the aim is to be representative of the communities your organization serves (gender, race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability, etc.). They are also looking at whether organizations are led by diverse leaders, such as BIPOC and/or LGBTQ+ leaders. Additionally, what steps has your organization taken to recruit, retain and support a diverse staff? Even further, what steps is your organization taking to build a diverse pipeline in your field?

Incorporating client and community voice – Beyond the makeup of your staff and leadership, funders are interested in how your organization is creating spaces, platforms, and opportunities to amplify the voices of the clients and communities you serve. Are clients actively involved in program planning and implementation? Have you created formal opportunities for feedback and input? When designing programs, have you consulted with the people or organizations from the communities that are most impacted by your work? Funders are interested in how potential grantees are elevating diverse perspectives when providing community solutions.

Program outcomes – When reviewing a potential grantee’s expected program outcomes, funders are evaluating whether their grant will help to reduce disparities and advance equitable outcomes for historically marginalized or underserved populations. Are your programs moving the needle for these populations, and can you measure that impact over time? Disaggregate data by population to identify trends, patterns, and areas of need.

While funders are interested in learning about your organization’s DEI practices and investments, it’s important to note that they do not expect you to have it all figured out. They are interested in hearing about your organization’s ever-evolving journey, progress and commitment to DEI, no matter where you are in the process. Be honest and transparent with your organization’s challenges, and most of all, remember the WHY. A commitment to equity leads to the betterment of not only your organization, but the communities you serve, and society as a whole.

Need Help? Call My Philanthropy Team!

Advancing DEI can be equal parts daunting and invigorating, but you don’t have to do it alone! Call My Philanthropy Team to learn more about our executive coaching, professional mentoring, board training and staff training expertise. We’ll roll up our sleeves and partner with you to set and achieve the DEI goals you need to “be the change” the world is asking of us all right now.



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