For me, it is the little things that challenge mental health and will send you straight to therapy, the microaggressions that masquerade as jokes, and structural racism that manifests itself in unconscious bias and entitlement. It’s always having to try to figure out and do the calculus of whether you are confronting structural racism and microaggressions or if it is just a joke. It is always the little things.
– Roderick Jenkins, Program Director, New York Community Trust
During our latest forum, Funders Speak Out: The Impact of Race and DEI on Mental Health, five extraordinary program officers shared their experiences as they navigate issues of race, DEI, and mental health in their own organizations and with grantees.
The conversation, co-hosted by Hello Insight and Youth INC, was the fourth in our series Elevating Youth Development: A Series of Discussions about Race and DEI Across the Nonprofit Sector. These conversations evolved out of meetings with field leaders who are passionate and committed to creating community spaces to address these issues. We set the stage for the series by amplifying young people’s voices at Youth Speak Out: The Impact of Race and DEI on Mental Health on January 14, 2022. From their perspective, the intersection of race, DEI, and mental health is a central issue affecting their lives and those of their peers. We continued the conversation on March 26, 2022, with frontline staff and on May 25, 2022, with executive leaders. On October 4, 2022, we ignited a discussion with funders. We are grateful to capture recommendations, key takeaways, and a call to action that came out of this conversation.
- Roderick Jenkins, Program Director, New York Community Trust
- Pamela Lawrence, Director of National Community Strategies, The Annie E. Casey Foundation
- Jackie Murphy, Director of Programs, The Collins Foundation
- Albert Maldonado, Senior Program Manager, The California Endowment
- Jenny Negron, Senior Program Officer, The Pinkerton Foundation
- Marc Fernandes, Director, Impact Evaluation, Youth INCKim Flores, Co-Founder and CEO, Hello Insight
1. Listen to the needs of grantees
Each funder shared examples of how listening really shifted their grantmaking processes and areas of focus. Pamela shared that listening to youth voices helped them realize how much they needed to “show up and be part of the change.” Jenny shared a similar sentiment: “If we just listen to what they have to say all the time, we would be better partners to them.” And Roderick highlighted the value of listening to and talking with others regardless of their position or politics:
I talk to everybody. I could care less what your views are. I’m from the school where you speak to everybody and hope to find a new central place. You can’t cancel anybody. I believe everybody has something to offer.
Jenny pointed to our Speak Out videos as useful resources for grantmakers, saying that they give them an opportunity to hear from youth, frontline workers, and executive leaders in an uninhibited format.
2. Engage the community in grantmaking processes
Much of the panel shared unique approaches to this type of community engagement. Jackie's board opened three new seats to create more community representation. Albert’s organization, The California Endowment, developed a President’s Youth Council to guide their work. Similarly, The Casey Foundation is institutionalizing youth and community engagement through its community leadership engagement team. Pamela emphasized how these practices need to be assimilated into foundation work:
It's no longer a nicety. It's now integrated into decision-making and policy setting that will influence the funding for the next 10 years. And so our goal is to integrate it into our fiber, just like we have with race, equity, and inclusion so that it becomes business as usual.
3. Support a community healing infrastructure
Creating sustained infrastructure that supports DEI and mental health is critical to both individual and community healing. Albert and Jackie both work in partnership with other foundations in their communities to develop and support this infrastructure. They also use their power as funders to leverage additional private and public dollars to support their grantees:
We have to be self-aware and minimize barriers for our partners to access our support. We also need to think about how to leverage other resources for them—philanthropic as well as public funding. That sustainable infrastructure is really critical to meeting the scale of trauma and just healthy youth development. – Albert Maldonado
Other panelists developed new types of funding streams or grantmaking strategies to address DEI, issues of race, and mental health:
When it comes to mental health, Pinkerton never really funded it in the past. But when the pandemic hit, a lot of our grantees asked for funding to support staff, not only for their own mental health but also for the people they work with. And that was something that made us think differently about our work and the way we support our grantees. – Jenny Negron
This infrastructure requires new areas of support. These funders are supporting initiatives that include
- Wellness spaces
- Traditional talk therapy
- Circles of healing
- Communities of support led by people of color
- Community initiatives led by youth and community members
4. Develop new measures of success
Rather than tracking traditional successes, panelists discussed measuring outcomes like “the love that the community puts into the work” and documenting challenges and learnings. Collectively, they were interested in pushing themselves to think outside the box:
How do we document the love that community organizations have for their community and the extra work that they're putting in? I'm guilty of overlooking this myself. I just think about how we challenge ourselves, look at ourselves in the mirror, and really push for alternative practices. – Albert Maldonado
I recently updated our application and one of the questions we had was “How do you know your project is successful?” As a team, we started talking about how intimidating that question is. Like if you're not successful, you can't come to ask for funding. Or, if you're not a success, you didn't achieve your goals? So we wanted to go back to our languaging and really show trust for our grantees. We wanted to know how to do this work better. So we ask, “What are the challenges?” and, “What do you want to learn from this work?” – Jackie Murphy
5. Educating donors and board members
Integrating DEI and racial equity into the fabric of their own foundations can be challenging. All agreed that more donor and board education was critical to building an understanding of the communities:
I think we all need to get our boards and donors out of offices and into the community we serve. That's the big thing that we try to do here. And it works. Every year we take our board members to a different borough. We've taken our board to Rikers Island. We're gonna walk through Hunts Point. So people on our board and our donors have a chance to understand how people live in a community that is beset by huge health disparities and how we are working through our grants to make this an equitable society. – Roderick Jenkins
6. Advocate for other funders to engage in these practices
Jackie underlined the importance of advocating for their grantees with other founders, donors, and government agencies:
As a foundation partner, we've got to be able to stand in our truth, be willing to step out, and hold other foundations accountable. We need to really look for those other colleagues on the field. And then, for those who aren't ready, we need to guide them. And we need to not be scared to be explicit in what we mean.
Funders Call To Action
At the end of our discussion, the panelists were eager to craft their own recommendations to other funders. Their call to action echoes and builds on what they discussed in the forum:
- Support nonprofit executive leaders and staff as they navigate DEI, race, and mental health issues in their organizations.
- Promote measures of ongoing learning rather than just success or goal attainment.Create more alignment around DEI practices and policies across the field of philanthropy.
- Understand that one-size does not fit-all and that we need to customize our approaches based on the needs of individual grantees and communities. Do the work, listen, learn, engage, validate, and ask questions. Don’t get comfortable in your assumptions.
- Realize that no one owns the problem. It is going to take all of us working in concert to solve these issues. And we must work with government, politicians, and funders.
- Stopping racism is part of our job and not doing so is a dereliction of duty. We need to build a practice around abolitionism.
We hope this series provides a space for the greater youth development community to listen, learn, and grow together. Our next series event, Beyond Speak Out: Taking Action Together, will take place in early 2023. During this discussion, we will advance the conversation from speaking out to taking action. Please be on the lookout for an invitation!
Take a look at all the Speak Out Sessions