Philanthropy Roundtable’s Debi Ghate Featured in The Economist

The Philanthropy Roundtable’s Vice President of Strategy and Programs Debi Ghate recently was featured in The Economist discussing how some in the philanthropy sector have an over-narrow focus on equity, and it’s leading grant-makers astray. To learn more about the Roundtable’s work on this topic, please visit:

Below are excerpts from The Economist article titled “The Woking Class: American Philanthropy Turns Left”:

Charitable giving was expected to be walloped by the pandemic. The opposite happened. Fidelity Charitable, America’s largest administrator of grants on behalf of donors, handed out $9.1bn last year, up from $7.3bn in 2019. A study in 2020 of more than 250 American foundations showed that a majority were increasing grants for the year, by an average of 17%.

Amid this welcome rise, philanthropy is veering left. In July the MacArthur Foundation said that it would give $80m to “combat anti-Blackness, uplift Indigenous Peoples” and otherwise advance “ethnic justice”, including through reparations. In April the Ford Foundation announced $1bn in funding for social justice. The month before Goldman Sachs, a bank, trumpeted $100m in grants to curb bias against black women. The Mellon Foundation, traditionally a big arts and humanities supporter, announced last year a “major strategic evolution” to prioritise social justice. PolicyLink, an Oakland think-tank, tallies $1.5bn in grants awarded for racial equity in America last year: nearly half the total for the previous nine years.

Some outfits are more blunt. One is the Miami Foundation, which is partly funded by Facebook. Its strategy adviser, Charisse Grant, says applicants of colour are generally better at serving poor communities. If you choose whites, she says, “you’re not necessarily getting the best.” She sees growing political support for this view. The Philanthropic Initiative for Racial Equity, a publisher of grant-making guides based in Washington, dc, writes that mostly-white organisations should be subject to “far more rigorous” vetting than usual.

Such practices have boomed in the past two years. Most big foundations now require detailed reporting on ethnicity, says Debi Ghate of the Philanthropy Roundtable, a non-profit organisation in Washington, dc. She argues that the newfound focus on group identity can divert attention away from scrutinising the charity’s performance. Asking if diversity is always visible (as opposed to things that cannot be seen, like sexuality or religious orientation), she adds, is now “outside the guardrails…you will be called a racist.” The Philanthropy Roundtable, she says, is regularly contacted by charity professionals who say they lost their jobs “because I don’t fit the checklist”.

Where is this heading? Naomi Schaefer Riley, a philanthropy expert at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think-tank, reckons nowhere good. Ms Ghate gives the example of a charity doing work with ex-prisoners. Though the white woman running the charity, who had herself been to prison, was producing results, the charity’s funder shifted funding to other organisations led by people of colour. “This is no longer about the community: it’s a new issue of what the leadership looks like,” she says.

Please continue reading “American Philanthropy Turns Left” in The Economist (paywalled).

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