Insisting on Racial Equity

Why it matters

By 2050, people of color will become the majority in the United States. A diverse, multicultural workforce will be a boon to our economy—increasing the GDP by up to 6 percent by 2028 and by up to $8 trillion by 2050—if we can ensure widespread equity and shared prosperity for all. But currently, in nearly every measure of well-being—income, health, education, safety—the outcomes for people of color are far worse than those for White people. 

There is significant evidence that these inequities are the result of systems, policies and practices that have created barriers to prosperity for people of color. Two examples include:

  • The GI Bill: A discriminatory implementation excluded many African Americans from WWII veterans’ benefits
  • Redlining: Excluded African Americans and other people of color from the home mortgage market, restricting them to segregated communities with limited resources, under-financed schools and insufficient social services

These policies and practices created a more challenging path to higher education which, combined with ongoing discrimination in hiring and housing, has limited the creation of generational wealth for people of color across the country.

The impacts of these policies are clear today:

  • 71% of White families owned homes in 2017, compared to only 46% of families of color.1
  • The median net worth of households in 2016 was $171,000 for White people, but only $21,000 for Latinxs and $17,000 for Black people.2
  • The air pollution exposure index for people of color is 15 points higher than the index for White people, and the index for Black people is 19 points higher.3

The killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer in May 2020 has shone a global spotlight on the racism that exists in our systems and sparked a massive social justice movement. An estimated 15 to 26 million people participated in protests following the deaths of George Floyd and other unarmed Black people,4 and support for the Black Lives Matter movement has increased significantly.5

Insisting on racial equity matters to community foundations because our communities are increasingly diverse, and the persistent racial inequities that exist across the country call for race-conscious strategies that eliminate barriers and build a stronger society for all. Community foundations across the country are speaking out against racial injustices and are acknowledging their role and responsibility in making their communities more equitable places where all can participate and prosper.


Webinar: Insisting on Racial Equity


What we’re finding 

Community foundations are reorienting around racial equity, taking a leadership role, and operationalizing equity internally.

Reorienting Around Racial Equity

Our survey found that the overwhelming majority (82%) of community foundation leaders agreed that economic outcomes are increasingly inequitable. An even higher percentage (92%) believe that economic outcomes, along with social and health outcomes, vary by race. Eighty-one percent agreed that demographic changes have a significant impact in their communities, and 57% said these changes affect their work “a fair amount” or “a great deal.”

Percent of survey respondents agreeing with each of the following statements

Bar graph that depicts the data outlined in the paragraph above about race.
Source: Candid

Community foundations are responding by re-shaping their missions and organizational strategies around racial equity. In 2016, the San Francisco Foundation doubled down on its longstanding commitment to social justice by focusing its entire program strategy on racial equity and economic inclusion. The Brooklyn Community Foundation developed a Racial Justice Lens to ensure that the Foundation considers race as it analyzes problems, looks for solutions, and defines success in its grantmaking, governance, and advocacy.

In our survey, several community foundations affirmed that changing demographics in the communities they serve prompted them to become more involved in racial equity issues. The West Central Initiative, serving nine rural counties in Minnesota, is starting to initiate more diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) efforts, partly in response to the growing racial and ethnic diversity of its communities. The Maine Community Foundation has made racial equity one of its strategic goals, calling people of color a growing, important and vital resource for the state.

Some community foundations, such as the Seattle Foundation, the Jackson Community Foundation in Michigan and the Waco Foundation in Texas, have been engaged in internal equity work for some time, participating in CFLeads’ Equity Network to further their progress with support from their peers. Others have recently joined the CFLeads’ Economic Mobility Action Network, applying a racial equity lens to address economic mobility issues in their communities.

Promising Illustrations

The Chicago Community Trust

Chicago’s most significant challenges are rooted in the wealth gap between Latinx, Black and White households. The Trust has identified closing this racial wealth gap as its “moonshot” and has fully integrated this commitment into its strategic plan.

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Greater Milwaukee Foundation

Milwaukee calls its commitment to advancing racial equity its “North Star.” It frames its community leadership around eliminating the root causes of racial inequities with its Connected People and Thriving Communities strategies, which feature racial equity at their core and seek to catalyze community-driven change.

Visit Their Website

Taking a Leadership Role

We have also seen community foundations take a leadership role in engaging donors, stakeholders and residents around racial equity. The Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo was an early leader with the production of its report, The Racial Equity Dividend: Buffalo’s Greatest Opportunity, which identified an equity divide that was preventing all residents from moving forward and prospering. Through its Racial Equity Roundtable, Buffalo convenes 250 partners across the sectors focused on targeted systems change to advance an inclusive, expanded economy.

Buffalo is one of several community foundations that have been supported by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation to develop Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation (TRHT) frameworks. From the Kalamazoo Community Foundation and the Community Foundation of Greater Flint in Michigan to the Black Belt Community Foundation in Selma, Alabama, these organizations are promoting new strategic partnerships, advancing dialogue, training, and narrative change, and spotlighting racial equity issues in their communities. 

In Iowa, the Community Foundation of Greater Des Moines is engaging its residents through Conversations That Count, hosting discussions on equity, inclusion and overcoming racial barriers. In California, the Humboldt Area Foundation has established an Equity Alliance of the North Coast to begin a civic discussion around race and equity.

Promising Illustrations

Community Foundation for Greater Dubuque

Inclusive Dubuque is a peer-learning network of partners formed in 2012 in response to community challenges related to diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). In an effort to eliminate bias in the community, the network provides data and information to inform decisions and track progress, facilitates community conversations and equity education and offers a range of resources to promote DEI.

Visit Their Website

Saint Paul & Minnesota Foundation

Saint Paul & Minnesota has identified narrative change and racial healing as critical components of creating racial equity. The Foundation works with news professionals to identify their own biases and change racial narratives in the media, and launched the New Narrative Project designed by and for local African-American males ages 11 to 32 with a focus on racial healing and affirmation.

Visit Their Website

Operationalizing Equity Internally

Community foundations are also beginning to address equity within their internal operations, but there is much more work to be done. Eighty-seven percent of community foundation CEOs across the country who responded to our survey identified themselves as White or Caucasian. This data corresponds with research conducted by the Council on Foundations, which reported that only 12% of foundation executives were “racial/ethinic minorities” in a 2016 study on gender and diversity.

We also found that in terms of policies and guidelines, 63% of community foundations have committed to greater diversity at the board level but lag in other areas, including senior management and vendor selection. Only a minority of respondents had written policies, goals or guidelines for any diversity outside of their board, and 30% of respondents reported not having policies in place for any of the areas listed.

Has your foundation established any specific goals, policies, or guidelines in any of the following areas?

Source: Candid

Randy Royster of the Albuquerque Community Foundation recommends building internal equity practices into foundation bylaws, noting the importance of operationalizing these practices.


If we get most of our information from staff, and they are not diverse, who are we in touch with?
Isaiah OliverPresident & CEO, Community Foundation of Greater Flint

Our survey results indicate that the vast majority (89%) of community foundations learn about community aspirations and needs from their staff’s participation in civic life, making clear the importance of having a team that reflects the diversity of the community it serves. Isaiah Oliver, President & CEO of the Community Foundation of Greater Flint, believes it is critical to have diverse staff from all parts of the community, asking “if we get most of our information from staff, and they are not diverse, who are we in touch with?”

How does your foundation learn about community aspirations and needs?

Bar chart showing that 89% of respondents learn from staff participation in civic life.
Source: Candid

The San Francisco Foundation has taken up this challenge and reports its progress publicly on its website. The Bay Area region has long been one of the most diverse in the nation, with people of color making up the majority of the population since the 1980s. The Foundation has committed to hiring an increasingly diverse staff, adopting more equitable personnel policies and benefits and contracting with diverse, mission-aligned vendors and consultants. Currently, 70% of its staff and 57% of its executives are people of color.

Several community foundations report that younger voices on staff have been pushing for a greater focus on equity internally. Jennifer Leonard, President & CEO of the Rochester Area Community Foundation, cites internal pressure for change as a precipitating cause of new policies around equity. She shared that the Foundation formed an internal, younger structural racism team while a separate extended leadership team went through 18 months of outside training. The younger group came up with recommendations for changes in recruitment, promotion, and professional development that were challenging and important, and led to significant change.

Does your foundation ask grant seekers to provide any of the following types of information about their organization when applying for grants?

Source: Candid

With regard to grantmaking, we found that more than half (52%) of our survey respondents ask grant-seekers to provide demographic or diversity data. Sixty percent of respondents screen applicants for competitive grants for values aligning with their mission and about half of that group do the same screening for recipients of grants from donor-advised funds.


What you can do 

CFLeads is here to help your community foundation dive deeper into these three key action areas. We offer a variety of unique learning opportunities, from light-touch webinars to multi-day peer learning and intensive year-long networks, that have been shown to advance community leadership practice in community foundations of all sizes from all across the country. We are now adapting these learning opportunities and designing new programs to help you insist on equity, amplify community voice and influence policy and systems—and ultimately build more inclusive and widely prosperous communities.

Please take our survey and tell us what would be most helpful to you as you further your knowledge and practice.

Below, we’ve shared a list of key organizations to consult, resources to read and questions to consider as your community foundation starts or continues to do work in this area.

Key Organizations

  • Association for Black Foundation Executives (ABFE): A membership-based philanthropic organization that advocates for responsive and transformative investments in Black communities
  • Borealis Racial Equity in Philanthropy FundBuilds the enduring capacity of the field of philanthropy to advance racial equity
  • Bridgespan: Provides philanthropy- and equity-focused program strategy and design
  • Change ElementalPartners across sectors to disrupt and transform systems of inequity and create powerful vehicles for justice
  • Compasspoint Nonprofit ServicesHelps leaders, nonprofit organizations, and movements committed to social justice realize their full power
  • Interaction Institute for Social ChangeBuilds collaborative capacity in individuals, organizations, and networks working for social justice and racial equity
  • Othering and Belonging Institute at UC BerkeleyBrings together researchers, organizers, stakeholders, communicators, and policymakers to identify and eliminate the barriers to an inclusive, just, and sustainable society in order to create transformative change
  • People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond: A national and international collective of anti-racist, multicultural community organizers and educators dedicated to building an effective movement for social transformation
  • PolicyLinkA national research and action institute dedicated to advancing economic and social equity
  • Provoc: Roots its work in an ever-deepening equity lens, collaborating with clients and partners who believe in social, economic, and racial justice
  • Race ForwardBrings systemic analysis and an innovative approach to complex race issues to help people take effective action toward racial equity
  • Racial Equity Institute: An alliance of trainers, organizers, and institutional leaders devoted to the work of creating racially equitable organizations and systems

Key Resources

Questions to Consider Along Your Journey

If you are just getting started…

  • Have you taken steps to deepen the staff and board’s understanding of racial equity and the history of racism in the United States?
  • Has your board and staff had discussions about racial equity leading to a determination as to how it fits within your foundation’s values, mission and strategies?
  • Have you developed a common definition of racial equity for your foundation?

If you are further along the path…

  • Are you recruiting more board members and staff members who are committed to and have an understanding of how to advance equity?
  • Have you provided your staff training on antiracism, implicit bias and structural racism?
  • Have you begun to develop polices—from grantmaking to vendor procurement to HR—that incorporate your values and equity strategies?
  • Have you developed an equity lens or criteria for your grants?
  • Have you considered how you might go beyond your grantmaking role and engage with community stakeholders who work toward equity outcomes in your community?

If your organization is ready to break barriers…

  • Is your foundation focusing on how to influence the public- and private-sector systems that have led to inequitable outcomes?
  • Are you attempting to embed racial equity throughout the entire foundation, across all departments? For example:
    • Has the foundation developed a thoughtful and deliberate strategy for discussing equity with donors? 
    • Does the foundation embed equity into the management of its endowed assets, make PRI investments with an equity lens, or strive to hire investment management firms that are led by people of color and/or are equity-focused?
    • Is the communications department fully engaged, supporting and helping to  advance the foundation’s equity goals?
  • Is the success of the foundation tied to delivering racial equity results through the foundation’s grantmaking, actions, and investments?