Saturday, June 22, 2024



Nonprofit AF: 12 ways ‘all lives matter’ manifests in nonprofit and philanthropy

May 10, 2021 Category: FeaturedLongPurpose


This guest post by Vu Le was originally published at Nonprofit AF. You can subscribe there to receive Le's blog post in your inbox directely every Monday.

Hi everyone, before we get to this week’s topic, thank you to those of you who voted on the new name of our annual sector-wide event where nonprofit and philanthropy leaders get together to get snacks and hang out to help break down some of the pervasive power dynamics between us. (We’re changing the original name — BEER, Beverage to Enhance Equity in Relationships — to be more inclusive of colleagues in recovery). We got over 1500 votes! The clear winner, with nearly 40% of the votes, is PEEP — Party to Enhance Equity in Philanthropy. So there you have it. Some of you are hilarious, providing suggestions like Party to Enhance Equity, and Party to Open Others to Philanthropy.

Anyway, I hope you’ll host a PEEP event sometime around mid-June. If you plan to have one, please fill out this form, so that I can help promote your event. And so help me MYGOD (Multi-Year General Operating Dollars), if you call it a “PEEP Party” (like “ATM Machine” or “PIN Number”), I will rain hellfire on you and your communications team.

Over the past few years, many of us in the sector have learned to understand the harm caused by All Lives Matter, the clueless, oftentimes racist response to Black Lives Matter.

We have arguments at the ready like “All lives matter is not possible until Black lives do” and “If I say ‘we need to find a cure for cancer,’ do you go ‘all diseases matter?!’ Or if I say, ‘Happy Mother’s Day,’ do you go ‘Happy All-Parents Day’?! Do you, Ted, do you?!”

It’s great to push back against people who still insist on ignoring the systemic anti-Black racism pervasive in our society. However, the all-lives-matter philosophy manifests in ways many of us don’t often think about. It happens in our sector all the time, everywhere. If we’re going to advance equity, then we need to examine the myriad, often subtle ways we are perpetuating the all-lives-matter credo in our work:

  1. “All Grant Applications Matter!”: This is the philosophy that forms the basis for much of philanthropy, this belief that organizations all matter the same and so whoever writes the best grant proposals and have the best relationships get funding. It leads to 90% of philanthropic dollars going to white-led organizations over the past several decades. If we are to advance equity, our sector must prioritize funding organizations led by and serving Black, Indigenous, Latinx, AAPI, LGBTQIA+, and disabled people. This means funders need to focus more attention and resources on these organizations. And it also means large, white-led organizations need to be thoughtful and supportive of these smaller grassroots orgs, including occasionally refraining from seeking funding.
  2. “All Donors Matter!”: Traditional fundraising insists all donors matter, and that we should all advance a culture of philanthropy and become one big happy family working to building a better world. While well-intentioned, it erases the problematic nature of fundraising and philanthropy. As the Community-Centric Fundraising movement points out, a significant percentage of wealth is built on slavery, stolen Native land, internment camps, and other horrific historic injustices, along with ongoing tax evasion. Believing all donors equally matter ironically leads to us giving special treatments to certain donors (mostly wealthier white ones), including allowing them to ignore examining the inequitable origins of their wealth.
  3. “All Fundraising Tactics Matter!”: We tend to think all fundraising tactics are good as long as they bring in donations. This too is problematic. Fundraising practices are not all equally awesome. In fact, many perpetuate white saviorism, poverty tourism, and the very injustice we are raising money to fight. Every once a while, for example, I get into arguments with people in our sector about whether staff should be asked to donate to their organizations. I am firm in the belief that asking staff to donate is inequitable, as it is rife with power dynamics and disproportionately punitive to staff of marginalized backgrounds, because they are collectively the ones with the least power and resources in our sector.
  4. “All Opinions Matter!”: We need to stop operating as if all opinions are equally valid. They are not, and they shouldn’t be. The people who are most harmed by injustice, their opinions must matter more in situations that affect them most. For example, in a conversation about disability, disabled people’s opinions must be valued significantly more than the opinions of non-disabled people. On Twitter I sometimes see disabled people say something about being disabled, and some abled person chimes in with “uh, can we say ‘people with disabilities’ instead of ‘disabled people’?” This identity-first vs person-first discussion is important, and we need to follow the lead of disabled colleagues.
  5. “All Research Matters!”: Along with the belief that “all opinions matter,” many of us often think that all research strategies and findings equally matter. Research that does not disaggregate data such as race, ethnicity, disability, etc., may lead to findings that are skewed and possibly even be harmful when published. If you disaggregate, you may find that survey respondents of color, for example, may have opinions completely different than that of white respondents, and this is extremely important if we’re talking about equity issues. Our sector is majority white, and certain fields within it (like fundraising) even more white, so disaggregation is vital. If you don’t disaggregate, or if you share data that is not disaggregated, you may promote findings that could intentionally or unintentionally be weaponized to further entrench inequitable practices in our sector.
  6. “All Job Candidates Matter!”: We insist on treating all job candidates the same, internalizing this illusion that if we just create an “objective” hiring process, we’ll get the best candidates. Nope. Hiring is rife with inequity. We still require formal education, even though people of color, low-income people, and neuro-diverse people are disproportionately affected by education inequity. We often require a driver’s license and working vehicle, even though this would cause hardship for disabled or low-income candidates who don’t have a car. We gravitate toward extroverted candidates. We have implicit biases against Black candidates. So no, “all job candidates matter” can’t happen until we account for all the job candidates from marginalized communities who are disadvantaged by our default hiring practices.
  7. “All Employees Matter!”: It has been considered best-practice to come up with policies and practices and apply them uniformly across every employee. Unfortunately, when we default to this “all employees matter” way of being, it often erases the pay gaps and other inequities affecting POCs, women, disabled people, and other marginalized people. All employees currently do not matter equally. To balance this out, we need to prioritize employees from marginalized backgrounds. For example, if you are considering giving out bonuses but can’t afford to give to all staff, think about who are often the most underpaid, and likely it will be lower-seniority staff, who are disproportionately people of color and disabled people.
  8. “All clients matter!” I wrote earlier about a colleague who told me she didn’t understand what race had to do with her cancer organization, since cancer affects everyone regardless of race. Even those of us who are further along on the equity continuum can still have this “all clients matter” philosophy without realizing it. Whether we serve all low-income, or all POCs, or all LGBTQIA clients, etc., we should remember that clients have differing levels of access, resources, support communities, etc. and prioritize those who are currently most affected by injustice.
  9. “All Vendors and Consultants Matter!”: We often do competitive bids and then contract with the vendors or consultants that provide the most economic value (aka, that are cheapest). That ignores the fact that business opportunities are not equitably distributed. Marginalized people are constantly exploited in this capitalistic system. This is why there are programs focused on supporting women- and minority-led businesses. Let’s follow suit. We need to prioritize vendors led by marginalized people, and pay them equitably even though it often costs more.
  10. “All volunteers matter!”: Volunteers can be amazing and our sectors would grind to a halt without them. However, they’re not all the same and should not be treated that way. I’ve seen volunteers—usually those who are from outside the communities being served—sometimes causing harm because they have not done the work around their power and privilege. Meanwhile, there are volunteers who come from the communities we’re serving, in which case they would likely make the most impact, but they often also encounter the most barriers to volunteering. We need to focus more resources on those volunteers.
  11. “All Board Members Matter!”: This perspective that board members are all equally valuable but have differing skills is one of the reasons why boards continue to be so glaringly white. If you want more diversity on your board, you must prioritize board members from marginalized backgrounds, including figuring out what barriers are preventing them from joining and what incentives may entice them. It includes ditching ancient practices like 100% board giving or “give or get” policies, as traditional boards’ hyper-focus on money has been a barrier to many.
  12. “All Missions Matter!”: This “mission-driven” philosophy incepted into all of us stems from this belief that all missions equally matter. They don’t, and they shouldn’t. At certain times, some missions are more urgent and important than others. Right now, for example, with the police continuing to kill Black people, anti-Asian violence continuing to rise, Indigenous women continuing to be missing or murdered, suppression of Black and brown votes ramping up, kids still in cages, the horrifying covid death rates in India, climate change being irreversible, etc. those organizations working on those issues are more critical and all of us need to be supporting them. This may mean we shift resources — by not applying for funding, for example — or put the spotlight on these missions.

Anyway, you get the idea. We can’t look down on people who still don’t understand why All Lives Matter is a harmful philosophy, while we perpetuate similar beliefs and practices in our own work. Let me know your thoughts and other examples you can think of.

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