We came together with an idea. We know that Black-led organizations in our state have worked hard with minimal support for decades. Yet they manage to uplift our communities every day. What if we could drive significant resources to those organizations? Imagine what they could accomplish.
The result is the Black Future Co-op Fund, a fund to advance the wealth, health, resilience and culture of Black communities in Washington state. We aim to move $25 million to Black-led organizations, but our goal is not just to create a fund. We intend to turn philanthropy on its head.
August is Black Philanthropy month and we all agree that philanthropy is long overdue for a healthy dose of Blackness. Since its inception in the early 20th century, American philanthropy has been based on a lopsided power dynamic. Donors decide where, how and when they want to give their money away and they offer grantee organizations the “opportunity” to apply for funds.
As a result, philanthropy often tackles the wrong problems with short-term solutions. Grantee organizations — the ones that do the work — are coerced into competition, forced to make programs fit donor wishes and saddled with burdensome reporting. Philanthropy is built around the people who have money and privilege, not the strengths and challenges of the people they intend to serve.
This creates a huge disconnect between what Black organizations need and the way philanthropy works. Byrd Barr Place and the research firm Cardea, with support from Seattle Foundation, recently completed a survey of more than 40 Black-led organizations in King County to determine how they could develop more productive relationships with funders.
The research reveals that most of the Black-led organizations in our county are small and strapped for resources. Of those surveyed, 73% have five or fewer full-time staff, and 72% have an annual operating budget of under $750,000. Yet they manage to be highly effective at running programs that support youth, provide health services, bolster local economies and much more. The keys to their success are strong missions and passionate staff who are deeply rooted in community.
While many of these organization receive some philanthropic dollars, their prospects for getting more funds were very limited. Most reported not having enough staff or time to submit proposals, or they lack connections to funders. Many were frustrated that their grant proposals frequently get rejected, or they cannot access grants to take their work to the next level.
These organizations do great work, but they face systemic barriers to funding because philanthropy, like every other system in America, is built upon racist structures. It’s become increasingly clear that if Black people want philanthropy to work for us, we need to build our own model of philanthropy.
Here are our next steps for piloting this model through the Black Future Co-op Fund:
- Learn: We will replicate what Byrd Barr Place did on a statewide level. It is critical to learn as much as possible about what Black-led organizations need and want — in Seattle, Spokane, Tacoma, Olympia, Vancouver and beyond.
- Flip the power dynamic: People who are most impacted by issues like poverty and injustice know what they need to overcome these challenges. Listening to them is our one No. 1 priority.
- Be patient: There is a lot of urgency around dismantling racism now, but we understand this is a long game. We need to be patient, build relationships and do this right.
- Replicate and share: We want to replicate what’s working and identify where we’re getting stuck and how to move forward. We will share what we’re learning so other philanthropists can follow our lead.
What’s most important is that all of this work be centered on the beauty and boldness of Blackness. Our communities are performing everyday miracles that allow Black people to flourish in the face of seemingly endless oppression. Our grantmaking will celebrate the strength of our leaders, dedication of our volunteers and promise of our children.
August may be a month to honor Black philanthropy, but that’s just one month in a year. We are committed every day of every month, for our whole lives, to supporting Black communities. It is high time we create a new model of philanthropy that does the same.
The opinions expressed in reader comments are those of the author only and do not reflect the opinions of The Seattle Times.