Insights from The Mechanics of Working Through Grantmaking with a Racial Justice Lens - A Workshop Led by PRE

Tuesday, December 6, 2022

Insights from The Mechanics of Working Through Grantmaking with a Racial Justice Lens - A Workshop Led by PRE

What does it mean to use a racial justice lens in your grantmaking? And what internal barriers need to be dismantled to advance racial justice? In a workshop led by Philanthropic Initiative for Racial Equity (PRE) Executive Director Lori Villarosa, our members surfaced the power dynamics at play for foundation staff in working to advance racial justice within their institutions.  

Kicking off the discussion, Villarosa outlined ways in which grantmakers can deepen their commitment. A focus on racial justice builds on a racial equity grantmaking framework, adding critical new components for the path an institution can pursue:  

  • Understands and acknowledges racial history; 
  • Creates a shared vision of a fair and inclusive society; 
  • Focuses explicitly on building power by those most impacted; 
  • Emphasizes transformative solutions that impact multiple systems. 

While both racial equity and racial justice funding are critical, Villarosa described the need to impact both current and longer-term change: “Racial equity addresses the prevention of harm, while racial justice seeks to build power.” 

Participants shared a common ambition of wanting to move the sector to a next level of action but agreed that there are common barriers in shifting the focus from racial equity to racial justice. While many foundations and corporations declared commitments to racial justice, PRE found in its 2021 report that the investments in both racial equity and racial justice were drastically less than headlines and even prior reports originally shown. 

“There had been a relatively steady increase in this type of funding for over a decade before 2020,” explained Villarosa. “In reality, if you are not doing this work, you are not as much in the mainstream as you think.” 

Participants were asked to come to the session having identified concrete challenges they had experienced in managing a shift in funding priorities, practices, or giving, which they then workshopped with peers. Philanthropic staff described efforts that had stalled, as well as internal dynamics they needed to navigate. “It’s frustrating to hold yourself back from the beginning,” one grantmaker described. 

One common barrier was the sense from philanthropic leadership that “this type of funding” didn’t fit historical giving or current program focuses. When thinking about integrating racial justice funding into existing program areas, one participant described a nuanced dynamic, “We don’t want to marginalize racial justice funding, but now are we going to dilute it?”  

Together the group discussed tactics offered in PRE’s Grantmaking with a Racial Justice Lens that can support staff in navigating these dynamics, including: 

Develop explicit, shared, and tested language: By using concrete language and creating a collective view of root causes and proposed solutions, philanthropic staff can more easily move forward with a shared understanding of proposed grantmaking.   


Let the data prove the point: Philanthropic institutions are natural homes to data and insights. By using tools like Building Power, Self Assessment Data Tools, and other supportive data, staff can build a case for delving into new program areas in a way that allows decision-makers to integrate racial justice funding more easily. 

Don’t make assumptions: Funders should be honest about assumptions about their own audiences. Recognizing who to re-center while also serving as a messenger to broader audiences, can pave a path to racial justice.  

Share stories: By utilizing examples from the field as well as peers who are a few steps ahead in moving in this direction, allows philanthropic leadership to situate themselves, and the role of their own institution, within the broader movement for racial justice. 

Villarosa summed up the strategy behind these tactics, “In every part of your mission there is a choice point that can either perpetuate the status quo or shift towards racial justice. The goal is to understand how racialized lack of investment detracts from mission areas.” 


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