The blog of the Urban Institute
June 14, 2021

The Biden-Harris Administration Vowed to Prioritize Racial Equity, Philanthropy Can Help

June 14, 2021

Promoting racial equity is one of the Biden-Harris administration’s primary goals, as evidenced by the Executive Order on Advancing Racial Equity President Biden issued during his first week in office. With many philanthropic foundations also working to support racial equity in their roles as conveners, grantmakers, agenda setters, and data producers, philanthropy can help the administration advance its equity goals.

Proactively centering equity can ensure organizations of color are included

In moments of urgency, equity commitments can fall to the wayside, as institutions often turn to trusted partners with the capacity to move quickly and at a large scale, instead of prioritizing equity. Last year, an Urban Institute team chronicled the Greater Washington Community Foundation’s efforts to balance speed, equity, and impact in their COVID-19 emergency response funding.

The Community Foundation recognized that basing funding decisions on reach, scale, and efficiency would result in support for white-led anchor institutions, rather than smaller organizations led by people of color, and would potentially affect the long-term composition of the region’s nonprofit landscape.

Instead, the foundation publicly committed to racial equity in the grantmaking process, asking applicants about their leadership’s racial composition. As a result, about half the foundation’s grants were made to organizations led by people of color. Other place-based grantmakers had similar experiences prioritizing equity in their community during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Philanthropy promotes equity in the federal government through its experience and networks

Like the Greater Washington Community Foundation’s approach to prioritizing equity in their grantmaking, philanthropy can help the Biden-Harris administration balance advancing racial equity and accomplishing aligned policy objectives. One current opportunity is the Office of Management and Budget’s request for information (RFI), which solicits methods and practices the government can use to advance equity and support communities.

Philanthropy can play two key roles in this RFI process to ensure a robust response by the July 6 due date.

  1. Sharing their own racial equity experiences. As the Greater Washington Community Foundation showed, some foundations are already integrating racial equity into grantmaking and throughout their institutions. Like government, philanthropy sets strategic priorities, convenes conversations, and provides grant support and technical assistance. Lessons from the approaches most and least successful in philanthropy might help inform the administration.
  2. Facilitate the participation of others, especially people of color, through raising awareness and removing barriers. Smaller foundations, donor collaboratives, and grantees, especially at institutions led by people of color, with lived experience facing racial barriers or operationalizing commitments to racial equity may have useful strategies for the administration but might not know about the opportunity or see a benefit to participation. Philanthropy infrastructure organizations can spread the word to their networks and make personal appeals to those who might be the least inclined to respond to the RFI. Philanthropic organizations can also reduce barriers to submitting input on behalf of people with knowledge to share. Foundations can offer staff to write up responses on behalf of partners, delay current projects to free up time to participate, or directly compensate the partner through an honorarium or grant.

The RFI represents one of many opportunities for philanthropy to use their access, power, and privilege to promote public-philanthropic partnerships that advance equity. Beyond the RFI, philanthropy can speak up on behalf of partners at meetings with administration officials and advocate for their inclusion in future conversations. Philanthropy can successfully assist the administration with advancing racial equity by elevating the voices of those whose lives and livelihoods have the most to gain from achieving racial equity.


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