Despite the heightened awareness that was amplified during the racial unrest that exploded during the pandemic, Black-led nonprofits in Philadelphia are still struggling to connect with the region’s philanthropic community.
This was one of the key findings in a report entitled, Reflecting Forward: Philadelphia-based Black Leaders’ Recommendations for Regional Funders. The report is based on semi-structured interviews with a diverse group of sixteen Black nonprofit leaders with the goal of better understanding their perspective on the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic, the police murder of George Floyd and other Black Americans in 2020 to raise money to support their work in the Philadelphia community, according to Dr. Kelly Sloane, the primary researcher of the report. “The research design for this project intentionally centers the views, expertise, and lived experience of Black nonprofit leaders,” Dr. Sloane said. “The knowledge and perspective of Black leaders and other leaders of color deserve to be privileged – particularly when commitments to institutional, structural, and social change have reached a fever pitch. How can allies know what action to take without recommendations from Black nonprofit leaders?
The report captures three overarching recommendations made by the leaders for regional funders about how they can best support Black-led and Black-serving nonprofits operating in greater Philadelphia:
- Get to Know Us: Many leaders reported significant challenges with developing respectful and fruitful relationships with regional funders and were hopeful that intentional relationship building, networking opportunities, and shared agenda setting are recommendations funders would embrace.
- Embrace “Trust-based Philanthropy”: All the leaders interviewed for this study recommend that regional funders begin or continue breaking with grantmaking orthodoxies and embrace trust-based philanthropy as the sector grapples with COVID-19 recovery and equitable grantmaking practices. Among the tenets of trust-based grantmaking, the leaders in the sample universally reported that regional funders can best support Black leaders and Black-serving organizations with general operating support, including multi-year, unrestricted, and transformational gifts.
- Trust Black Leaders: The overarching recommendation is for regional funders to trust Black nonprofit leaders. The nonprofit leaders interviewed recommend that regional funders stop treating Black leaders and Black-serving organizations as “incompetent” and “risky.”
The release of this new report coincides at a time when Black nonprofit leaders are organizing and committed to pushing for racial equity in the sector, according to Sharmain Matlock-Turner, President and CEO of the Urban Affairs Coalition (UAC) and one of the architects behind this research. “Unfortunately, Black nonprofit leaders continue to experience inequitable dynamics and conditions which stymies our best efforts to reach those with the least and truly realize our nation’s egalitarian ideals” Matlock-Turner said. “We hope this research will enable Black nonprofit leaders to leverage the findings to work with Philadelphia-region philanthropy to make sustainable change.”
The genesis of this research was based on a survey conducted by the Black-owned research firm, Branch Associates, Inc., in 2014-2015 with 145 executive directors of human service-oriented nonprofit organizations operating in Philadelphia. The project also incorporated qualitative research, including two focus groups with Black executive directors and interviews with regional philanthropic leaders. The overarching goal of that groundbreaking project was to develop a better understanding of the challenges faced by Black leaders and the value Black-led organizations contribute to Philadelphia’s nonprofit ecosystem, according to Kelly S. Woodland, Executive Director of the After-School All-Stars who led the effort of the original research as well as this new report.
“In response to the pandemic, regional philanthropy collaborated with the city to create substantive funding pools to support the operations of nonprofits and address the food and housing insecurity crises. During this period, many Black nonprofit leaders asked themselves, ‘how long will this benevolence last?’”, Woodland said. “While the 2016 Branch study created a serious conversation around a set of viable findings, this report is intended to move the needle toward tangible, equitable change.”