Listening Out Loud – A Focus on Equity
Listening to nonprofits, grantees, and communities has always been a core value at the Weingart Foundation. We simply believe that funders are more effective when we solicit and incorporate feedback from those on the ground. Listening is especially important to us in this time following the August 2016 announcement of our full and long-term commitment to advancing social and economic equity.
In the announcement, which was released along with our FY 2017 Program Plan, the Foundation stated that we will base all our policy and program decisions on achieving the goal to advance fairness, inclusion, and opportunity for all Southern Californians—especially those communities hit hardest by persistent poverty. For us, equity means expanding opportunity by correcting the imbalances we see across racial, ethnic, and socio-economic lines in our education, health, human service, economic, and criminal justice systems.
With our announcement, we also committed to a year of intensive listening and learning in order to learn how people were responding to our initial plan and hear what suggestions they might have to strengthen our strategies around equity moving forward.
In the months since our equity announcement, we’ve worked hard to promote two-way communications with nonprofits. In that time, we’ve had individual phone calls with nonprofit leaders from across Southern California, and we’ve gone into a number of communities for in-depth listening sessions. We also held a teleconference with 200 nonprofit participants. As we progress in this process, we will regularly share what we’re hearing from community members and how this feedback is informing our work.
What We’re Hearing
- Most nonprofit leaders were not surprised by the Foundation’s commitment to equity. Some noted that it seemed like a natural evolution instead of a radical shift, while others said that it named what the Foundation has already been doing for a number of years. At the same time, people shared that a commitment to equity was a powerful social justice message coming from the Weingart Foundation—one of the oldest philanthropies in the region.
- Our announcement’s focus on the need for systems change and the need to recognize and address poverty were elements in our message that resonated with a number of people. Some leaders shared that they greatly appreciated that we explicitly identify race and gender as factors impacting communities and urged us to continue to highlight racial and gender equity.
- Nonprofits stressed the importance of the Foundation’s continued focus on providing multiyear unrestricted support. Leaders shared that supporting organizational effectiveness and institution-building are critical to building the infrastructure needed to advance equity.
- Leaders appreciated that our announcement was released with a specific plan that detailed our grantmaking strategies under an equity framework.
At the same time, nonprofit leaders also had some questions regarding our announcement. They asked us how we selected our geographic priority areas, what the designation means for grantseekers and how the Foundation will track progress and use data. They also asked us about the new guidelines for the Expanding Opportunity Fund, as well as about the Foundation’s interest in understanding more about applicants’ diversity and cultural competence levels and what this means for organizations.
As a result of this rich feedback, we’ve taken some immediate steps:
- We clarified information about our geographic areas of focus and emphasized that we continue to fund across our Southern California service area.
- We clarified the guidelines for the Expanding Opportunity Fund.
- We added the city of Lynwood to the Southeast Cities included in our geographic areas of focus.
- We enhanced the FAQs section on our website to address some of the commonly asked questions we’re receiving.
- We will also be adding regular “grantee spotlights” on our website to provide concrete examples of what equity means to us.
- We invited a nonprofit leader to interview Fred Ali, the Foundation’s President and CEO, about his perspective on race, diversity and cultural competence. The interview was featured in our November eblast and on our website.
The complex work of advancing equity requires that foundations act with humility and an awareness of our privilege. As our work progresses, we will continue to have conversations and listening sessions with nonprofits to inform our strategies moving forward. In addition, in early 2017, the Foundation will release and ask for feedback on a draft set of planning assumptions that will form the basis for our FY 2018 Program Plan. In the meantime, we always welcome your comments and suggestions, and appreciate your feedback. To send us a message, click here.