A Different Kind of Foundation: Striving towards equity and justice
This fall, I’ve been participating in the Harmony Initiative, a program of Justice Funders, that seeks to help funders center equity and justice in philanthropy. Through study and inquiry, we’ve examined the inequity this sector is built upon, the harm funders have caused, and efforts to reimagine philanthropy. I’m grateful to participate in this 8-month program alongside my colleague, Sherella Williams, who, like me, shares a background in the nonprofit sector.
In Justice Funders, our cohort of practitioners has reflected deeply on power, wealth and community. Are the communities we serve respected, trusted and listened to? Are communities involved in decision making at our foundation? How might white supremacy and capitalism influence our work culture and the way we treat our partners in community? Will we choose to be traditional funders who hoard wealth and power? Or will we do something different? Will we choose to be part of a growing movement in philanthropy that seeks to acknowledge harm, disrupt the status quo, center community, democratize decision making and shift harmful power dynamics?
These questions are not new to me, since we have discussed them internally at IPMF. But it’s been enlightening to have these conversations with other funders from across the country who work at a range of institutions — from family foundations, to community or corporate foundations. Through our dialogue I get a sense of what is possible, what the barriers are and how folks are navigating those obstacles. I’m also getting a better sense of where IPMF sits in a wide spectrum.
Reflecting on those above questions and my experience over the past two years, and these past six months in particular, I am feeling encouraged by our priorities, our processes and partnerships and our decisions as a staff and board. For example, our board and staff have begun to take a deeper look at our investments, having conversations around responsible investing that does not prioritize wealth building over the well-being of our communities and planet.
IPMF, like many foundations (and wealthy individuals), profited from the market in 2021. Rather than hoard that wealth in hopes of generating more of it, our board members agreed that IPMF should re-distribute that profit into the community. IPMF’s board voted to increase our grants budget twice this year, and the final grants total ($9.3 million) represented about 9% of our assets. This is 4% above the IRS requirement to spend 5%.
In our most recent grant cycle, we supported a range of organizations and media makers who are committed to equity, community and storytelling. From community radio programs and stations to digital equity efforts and independent filmmakers, these funds are going to allow people to express community needs, information and imagination. These grants embody IPMF’s goals to ensure that all communities in the Philly region have the opportunity to connect, create and empower through media and technology.
Some of these organizations are those that we’ve identified as core grantees, who contribute to the community media making ecosystem or the celebration of diverse media. I’m pleased that several of these organizations received multi-year funding and operating support, to help them focus on their organizational goals and their long-term vision. This approach to funding should be common, but for many small organizations or programs, like Spiral Q, POPPYN and the Colored Girls Museum, receiving operating funds or multi-year grants is rare.
Right now, I am particularly excited about our recent round of grants to local filmmakers. Like last fall, these grants came about through a nominations process. We had four nominators from the local film community and two of them are filmmakers who received grants from IPMF in 2020. Their recommendations, like last year, were unanimously approved by IPMF’s board.
For so many filmmakers, the stories on our hearts often get put on a back burner, as we focus on paying the bills. Years can go by, and sometimes we lose sight of those stories. Sometimes the people we’ve planned to capture through a lens leave us. Or the hard drives or SD cards with our precious footage get destroyed. This recent round of filmmaker grants is supporting many creatives who uplift or educate other filmmakers 90% of the time, but also have their own story to tell. Filmmakers like Sannii Crespina-flores, Nadine Patterson, Marcellus Armstrong and Maori Karmael Holmes have been investing in the local filmmaking community for years as educators, curators, organizers, and pioneers in the festival business. I am excited to see them create the stories they’ve been waiting to start or working so hard to finish.
So many times this year I’ve heard from community members and organizations that IPMF is a different kind of foundation. I am glad to hear this, since the efforts of our team are intentional. I hope we continue to live up to this expectation and that community will call us in when we miss the mark. I feel confident that the Justice Funders program will continue to help me, and my colleague Sherella, grow our expertise and bring our learning to the foundation in ways that help us all.
In 2022, I hope we will continue to operate and deepen our commitment to being a different kind of foundation. For me that means we will grow partnerships with other funders who share our values and aren’t afraid to ask tough questions around hoarding wealth and power. It means that we’ll continue to center the needs of our community and planet, that we will expand community involvement in our grant decision making, and that we’ll recognize our blindspots and work to address them.