December 19, 2019

Racial Capitalism, Power and Resistance: Perspectives from the Philanthropic Front Lines

In October 2019, Funders for a Just Economy (FJE) held a breakthrough Racial Capitalism, Power and Resistance Convening that brought foundations together for what many participants said was an unprecedented conversation on the racial and gendered inequality inseparable from US and global capitalism – and what funders can do to address these realities. The FJE program intends to continue the conversation throughout 2020 and integrate the frame of racial capitalism, power and resistance into all of our programming. As part of this process, we held a series of one-on-one dialogues with program officers who attended the event to talk about how how they are bringing the information from the event back to their institutions.

As we close 2019 and in the first weeks of 2020, we’ll post these conversations as a means to ground where we go next as a program. If you did not attend the event, these posts will share the conversations and strategies that emerged among community, philanthropic and academic speakers and attendees. If you did attend, we hope these posts provide insight into what your colleagues are considering as we head into a new year, ready to make change together. 


Racial Capitalism, Power and Resistance: Perspectives from the Philanthropic Front Lines

An Interview with Altaf Rahamatulla,
Program Officer at the New York Foundation

Can you share a bit about your journey to grantmaking?

Part of the reason I came to social justice work is that my personal became my political. I come from a very diverse background—my Dad is Guyanese and my Mom is Italian and Honduran. Growing up in a single mother home, in a low income, immigrant family, issues of race, class, and gender shaped my experiences from an early age. Later, I became a student of history and politics, and I saw my family history and my own circumstances in a broader spectrum of movements for justice and structural change.

After college, I saw policy advocacy as my route – first, starting with economic justice and then moving into criminal justice reform. I wanted to explore that issue as one where I could engage explicitly with issues of race. I was at the Innocence Project for a few years – and it was incredibly profound work.  From there I thought to myself: if I want to work in social justice for my career, I should get to know what philanthropy is like.

I was at the Ford Foundation for almost five years, where I worked on a team focused on criminal justice, immigrant rights, and racial justice. From there, I joined the New York Foundation (NYF), where we support community organizing and grassroots advocacy here in New York City. Our funding seeks to elevate those most affected by different forms of inequality and oppression, develop emerging leaders, and support organizations that prioritize racial and gender justice.

A group of five people seated in a discussion circle at the FJE Racial Capitalism event.

What brought you to NFG’s Racial Capitalism Convening?

I’ve been involved in NFG’s Democratizing Development Program while at NYF and since my time at Ford, so I am familiar with NFG’s work and moved by its leadership. Whenever y’all are doing an event, I’m there!

NFG’s space provides an ideological home for grantmakers who are working in their own ways to advance justice. I thought the Racial Capitalism meeting would be an opportunity to engage more deeply on issues of equity and see how different grantmakers were conceptualizing this context and political moment. I thought it was unique to open with the frame of racial capitalism, and that really encouraged and inspired me to come in and engage at the event.

Are there any key ideas or practices you’ve brought back to your foundation? 

Everything Dr. Ananya Roy shared, really! The conversation really grappled with contradictions of philanthropy, and Dr. Roy’s opening frame of the sector as emerging from twice-stolen wealth [cf. Gilmore 2009] was a dynamic way to start the day. How do we sit with these contradictions, while being champions for organizing and grassroots leaders? One of Dr. Roy’s questions really stuck with me: [referencing Colin Kaepernick,] how do we take a knee in this sector? It was a call to push our work, to be audacious, to be insurgent, and to be more explicit about our values. What I also found interesting was starting with a look into the historical root causes of structural oppression and inequalities and bringing that frame to understand the moment and the work of grantee partners to get a sense of how we move forward as grantmakers.

I was moved by how folks in the room saw the power, value, and need to support organizing and support communities of color. That view is rare in philanthropy, unfortunately. I will definitely be reviewing the article Dr. Roy shared on the political negotiations of program officers by Dr. Erica Kohl-Arenas.  I want to explore this idea about what insurgency looks like in this sector.

I’m fortunate to work at an institution that has historically supported community organizing, and has a deep commitment to equity. We want to be explicit about what racial and gender justice looks like for us. We are working to make that commitment unequivocal in terms of our grantmaking, operations, communications and asset management.

The Racial Capitalism convening’s focus on power dynamics and the inextricable link between capitalism and racism provided an analytical and intellectual foundation to bolster our work here at the Foundation.

People seated several discussion circles at the FJE Racial Capitalism event.

Can you tell us more about your current grantmaking process? 

NYF’s grantmaking process is open and collaborative. We accept proposals three times a year. Any organization can apply based on our guidelines. From that point, as a program team, we review each application, and based on our criteria, select a set of groups to explore in more depth. We do research, site visits, connect with trusted partners either in the philanthropic space, among grantees, or with board members who might be familiar with the groups. We then come back as a team to collectively decide on organizations to recommend to our Board, which has final decision-making authority over our grantmaking. We are a small foundation and unfortunately, we can only fund a limited number of grants each year. We primarily offer general multi-year support, and we place emphasis on startup organizations and those with limited access to other sources of funding. We provide up to five years renewable general support for startups, and three years for more established groups.

What role do you think FJE can play going forward in this conversation on race and capitalism? 

FJE can continue to be an ideological home – there’s power in cultivating a network of solidarity, strategy, and collaboration. Providing a space to elevate racial and economic justice, the importance of community organizing, and learning on funding efforts and campaigns across the country is really valuable.  It’s a space to have intense conversations on the issues that folks may not be able to have in their own institutions or with their Board. That’s how I’m seeing its value – that’s created through the bold programming NFG offers – through webinars, conferences, specific policy explorations, and site visits.

Thank you to Altaf for sharing his thoughts, time and energy with Funders for a Just Economy!

May 4, 2021

Introducing Philanthropy Foward: Cohort 3


We are excited to announce the launch of Philanthropy Forward's Cohort 3 in partnership with The Aspen Institute Forum for Community Solutions!

Philanthropy Forward is a CEO fellowship community for visionary leaders who center racial and gender justice and community power building to disrupt and transform the future of philanthropy. This fellowship brings together CEOs of foundations who are supporting racial & gender justice and community power building to make deeper change at the individual, organizational, and philanthropic field levels.

  • ALEYAMMA MATHEW, she/her — Collective Future Fund
  • AMORETTA MORRIS, she/her — Borealis Philanthropy
  • ANA CONNER, they/she — Third Wave Fund
  • CARLA FREDERICKS, she/her — The Christensen Fund
  • CRAIG DRINKARD, he/him — Victoria Foundation
  • JENNIFER CHING, she/her — North Star Fund
  • JOHN BROTHERS, he/him — T. Rowe Price Foundation
  • KIYOMI FUJIKAWA, she/her — Third Wave Fund
  • LISA OWENS, she/her — Hyams Foundation
  • MOLLY SCHULTZ HAFID, she/her — Butler Family Fund
  • NICK DONOHUE, he/him — Nellie Mae Education Foundation
  • NICOLE PITTMAN, she/her — Just Beginnings Collaborative
  • PHILIP LI, he/him — Robert Sterling Clark Foundation
  • RAJASVINI BHANSALI, she/they — Solidaire Network & Solidaire Action Fund
  • RINI BANERJEE, she/her — Jessie Smith Noyes Foundation
  • TANUJA DEHNE, she/her — Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation
  • YANIQUE REDWOOD, she/her — Consumer Health Foundation

learn more about each Fellow!

With a framework focused on liberated gatekeeping, accountability practices, and strategic risk taking, Philanthropy Forward is a dedicated space for leaders to organize together and boldly advance the transformed future of the sector. This growing fellowship of visionary CEOs from progressive philanthropic institutions is aligning to to disrupt and transform the future of philanthropy.

Philanthropy Forward is a joint initiative started in 2018 by Neighborhood Funders Group and The Aspen Institute Forum for Community Solutions. Learn more about the fellowship here.

March 17, 2021

How Philanthropy Can Move from Crisis to Transformation

Dimple Abichandani, Executive Director of the General Service Foundation, urges grantmakers and the philanthropic sector to take concrete actions to defend democracy and speak out against racist attacks on people of color. This post was originally published here by the Trust-Based Philanthropy Project.

Dimple was part of the first Philanthropy Forward: Leadership for Change Fellowship cohort, a joint initiative of Neighborhood Funders Group and The Aspen Institute Forum for Community Solutions. General Service Foundation, which partners with grassroots organizations to bring about a more just and sustainable world, is a member of NFG.


Dimple AbichandaniIt was just a year ago, and yet it feels like a lifetime.

Last March, I was dreading a hectic month packed with too much work travel. Long before we had heard of Covid-19, many of us had been preparing for 2020 to be a consequential year, one in which our democracy was on the line.

My mother had generously traveled from Houston to help with childcare during my travels. Her two-week visit turned into three months, and our worlds as we knew them changed.

Covid happened.  

Then the racial justice uprisings happened.

The wildfires happened.

The election happened. 

And then an armed insurrection to overturn the democratic election results happened.

Every turn in this tumultuous year reaffirmed the reality that justice is a matter of life and death. 

Our democracy survived, though barely. But more than half a million Americans did not, and this unfathomable loss, borne disproportionately by communities of color, is still growing.

Across the philanthropic sector, funders stepped up to meet the moment. We saw payouts increase, the removal of unnecessary bureaucracy, and commitments to flexible support from not only public and private foundations but also individual philanthropists who gave unrestricted billions.

A year ago, we all faced a rapidly changing reality — one that it made it hard to know what the next month, or next year might hold.  Now, we have turned a corner in a most consequential time in American democracy, a time that has been defined by the leadership of Black women and grassroots movements for social justice that are building the power of people — and these movements are just getting started. There is momentum for change, leadership that is solidly poised to make that change, and broad-based support for the bold solutions that will move us towards a more just and equitable society.  We are in a dramatically different time that continues to call for a dramatically different kind of philanthropy.

As we look back on this year of crisis, and see the opportunities before us now more clearly, how are funders being called to contribute to the change we know is needed?  To answer these questions, I point to the truths that remained when everything else fell away.

We have the power to change the rules.

In the early days of the pandemic, close to 800 foundations came together and pledged to provide their grantees with flexible funding and to remove burdens and barriers that divert them from their work. Restrictions on funding were waived, and additional funds were released. These changes were not the result of years-long strategic planning; instead, this was a rare example of strategic action. These quick shifts allowed movement leaders to be responsive to rapidly shifting needs. Grantees were more free to act holistically, to mobilize collectively, make shared demands, and achieve staggering change.

Today, our grantees are coping with the exhaustion, burnout, and trauma from this last year, the last four years, and even the last four hundred years. Recently, many of us have begun to invest more intentionally in the healing, sustainability, and wellness of our grantees. Systemic injustice takes a toll on a very individual human level, and as funders, we can and should resource our grantees to thrive.

Ash-Lee Woodard Henderson, Co-Executive Director of the Highlander Research and Education Center, has urged philanthropy to, “Fund us like you want us to win.” Last year, we learned that we are capable of doing just that — and doing it without delay. Let’s build on funding practices that center relationships and shift power to our grantees.

White supremacy got us into this mess; racial justice will get us out.

Racial justice went mainstream in 2020 as the multiple crises exposed deep inequities and injustices in our midst. In the months after the world witnessed a police officer brutally murder George Floyd, many funders responded with explicit new commitments to fund Black-led racial justice work. These standalone funding commitments have been hailed as a turning point in philanthropy — a recognition of the importance of resourcing racial justice movements.

As we move forward, we must ensure that these newly made commitments are durable and not just crisis-driven. Movements should not have to rely on heartbreaking headlines to drive the flow of future resources. We can build on new funding commitments by centering racial justice in all our grantmaking. As resources begin to flow, let’s ensure that our frameworks are intersectional and include a gender analysis. To demonstrate a true desire to repair, heal, and build a multiracial democracy, philanthropy must do meaningful work in our institutions so that, at all levels, there is an understanding of the root causes of inequality and the importance of investing in racial justice.  Rashad Robinson, President of Color of Change, captured the centrality of this when he said, “We don’t get racial justice out of a true democracy. We get a true democracy out of racial justice.”

We know how to be “all in” when it's important. In this next period, it’s important.

With crisis as the rationalization, many endowed foundations were inspired to suspend a practice that our sector has long taken for granted: the 5% minimum distribution rule. In the face of compounding threats to our lives and our democracy, 64 individuals and foundations pledged to increase spending to 10% of the value of their endowment in 2020. And for the first time in years, the philanthropic sector is giving meaningful attention to the topic of spending decisions and the problem of treating the payout floor as though it is the ceiling.

To take full advantage of this once-in-a-generation opening for transformation, funders must put all the tools in our toolbox behind our ambitious missions. Social justice philanthropy can build new spending models that are not only more responsive to the moment, but also set our institutions up to better fulfill our missions — today and in the long-term.

This past summer, 26 million people marched in the streets of their small and large cities to proclaim that Black lives matter. It was the largest mobilization in our country’s history. Last fall, despite numerous efforts to suppress voters, social justice organizers mobilized the largest voter turnout we’ve ever seen. Now, as a result, we are in a moment that holds immense possibility. 

In big and small ways, we are all changed by this year. 

Our sector and our practice of philanthropy has changed too.  Let’s claim the opportunity that is before us by reimagining our norms and adopting practices that will continue to catalyze transformation.  The old philanthropy has been exposed as unfit. The new philanthropy is ours to create.