AAPIP Voices

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion: Are We Getting It Right?


By Nancy Chan, Director of Community Partnerships, Catalyte.io; AAPIP San Francisco Chapter Steering Committee member

The Northern California Grantmakers’ Peninsula Philanthropy Network and AAPIP recently co-sponsored an animated panel discussion where funders reflected on changes they have made and hope to make with regards to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). Foundations represented on the panel comprised the Blue Shield of California Foundation, The James Irvine Foundation, The San Francisco Foundation, and the Tides Foundation (see below for details on the speakers).

The bottom line is that, while some funders have been galvanized to action by recent changes in the political climate, there is still much work to do, both internally and externally, with respect to DEI. Key funder recommendations emerged from our discussion including:

We should take more risks, move more quickly, and redefine our view of failure. Rapid-response grants are a good start, but we need to do more.

In response to the changing policy environment, the funders on our panel created rapid-response funds in the past year to fund advocacy efforts and other activity, using streamlined application processes (e.g., the grant application consists of one to five questions with a low character limit; grant decisions are made on a weekly basis; grants are awarded on a rolling basis within 30 days of the application submission, etc.). There was some hesitancy around these rapid-response processes, stemming from the tendency of many foundations to conduct due diligence at a much slower pace. To address concerns, one foundation implemented “guard rails,” which included establishing a set of criteria to accept/reject proposals and a small committee to quickly vet rapid-response applications. As a way to mitigate risk, this foundation also chose to fund networks of smaller grassroots organizations, rather than to fund these organizations directly. Another foundation has a set of pre-approved grantee organizations to which it can rapidly deploy funding, as the need arises.

When asked about the outcomes of taking risks to fund these rapid response grants, one panelist replied, “We learned the world didn’t end.” Other panelists agreed that they had no regrets with any of the rapid response grants they have awarded. Funders should also take lessons from rapid-response grantmaking to streamline their traditional grantmaking processes. However, the panelists stressed the importance of using traditional grants to support grantees’ core long-term strategies, while using rapid-response grants for short-term needs.

We also discussed how investments in the private sector are made on a much faster timeline than in the philanthropic sector, carry much more risk, and involve significantly larger sums of money, while still incorporating rigorous due diligence processes. In fact, a venture capital portfolio is considered too conservative if the “failure” rate of its investments is too low. In the philanthropic sector, we need to redefine how we view failure, especially if we want to find solutions that work.

We need to embed community voices into our work. Consider doing a listening tour of community stakeholders, and consider conducting greater outreach to connect grassroots organizations to funding opportunities.

The James Irvine Foundation conducted 14 listening sessions across the state of California with more than 400 people. The purpose of these sessions was to better understand the challenges and dreams of Californians who are working but struggling with poverty, and learn about solutions that could improve their lives. The feedback collected is helping to inform the foundation’s strategic focus and grantmaking to expand opportunity for these working Californians. Learn more about Irvine’s Community Listening Sessions here, and watch the “sizzle reel” summarizing this initiative here.

We should walk the talk, and examine how our organizations incorporate DEI values internally as well as externally.

All panelists stressed the importance of internalizing DEI values and of engaging with coworkers deeply in such conversations. One foundation is intentionally educating its board about DEI issues, including sharing with the board a recommended reading list on a quarterly basis. Another foundation actively considers how to incorporate the lived experiences of its own staff in its grantmaking strategy. A panelist also suggested that funders should screen and select their vendors, suppliers, and other contractors using a DEI lens.

Panelists cited several resources that have been useful as they have sought to incorporate DEI internally:

If you know of other resources, please share them in the comments below.

The panel of speakers comprised:

  • Nancy Chan (moderator), Director of Community Partnerships at Catalyte.io, and formerly Director of Consulting Services at Arabella Advisors

  • JC De Vera, Nurturing Equity Movements Fellow at The San Francisco Foundation

  • Kelley D. Gulley, Senior Program Officer at The James Irvine Foundation

  • Carolyn Wang Kong, Senior Program Officer at the Blue Shield of California Foundation

  • Edward Wang, Director of Corporate Philanthropy at the Tides Foundation

Nancy Chan is the Director of Community Partnerships at Catalyte.io, a tech company which uses predictive analytics to identify people from nontraditional backgrounds with high potential to become software developers. She was formerly a director at philanthropy consulting firm, Arabella Advisors, where she led its work related to DEI and grantmaking practice.