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Doing good in a crisis can’t afford to be colorblind

  • April 30, 2020
person's face with a COVID mask

For the entirety of 2020, the world has been living in crisis due to the widespread COVID-19 virus. We have all been seeking information and discerning truth as we try to make decisions that will impact our health, safety, livelihood, and sense of normalcy.

The news cycle on the topic is unending. It is a mashup of data, daily briefings, political theater, stories of desperation, grief and fear, celebrity-led campaigns, feel-good stories about essential workers, tips on cooking, health, wellness, and the hottest TikTok videos. Yet across all these data points, sound bites, and conversations, the intersection of COVID-19, race, and inequity lags.

Since crisis reached the United States, Candid has been tracking and monitoring philanthropy’s response to it. Our data shows that as of April 28, 2020, funders have committed $9.1 billion toward COVID-19 response, established approximately 587 funds, and distributed more than 2,200 grants. You can find additional information on funding support, news, and data by visiting our coronavirus pop-up webpage.

Although the numbers are impressive, does that sense of awe hold when we apply a race and equity lens? Does the response meet or exceed the need experienced in communities that are overrepresented in incidence and mortality, namely Black people? Are the resources reaching the bank accounts and neighborhoods of historically oppressed communities of color, and does the planning for the new normal put equity and economic and social justice at the center?

Early indications of the data, along with historical insights on past responses to crisis and recovery in the U.S., say, “NO,” in capital letters viewable in 4K and 3D.

Current reported data does not identify which grant recipients are minority-led organizations, a limitation that needs to be fixed. We can, however, identify organizations with a stated focus (based on their missions) on minority populations (i.e., all ethnic or racial minorities or immigrants or migrants). The result? A fraction of a percent (about 0.1 percent) of COVID-19 funding has been awarded to organizations with this focus. Stated plainly, only 64 of the 1,952 grants (3.3 percent) we’ve identified so far for COVID-19 have an explicit focus on minority populations.

Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Philanthropy is commendable, but it must not cause the philanthropist to overlook the circumstances of economic injustice which make philanthropy necessary.”

The amount of good will and rapid response to COVID-19 across the social sector is encouraging. Yet altruism, a charitable heart, and doing good in general alone haven’t solved the inequities that exist across all facets of our society, including philanthropy. An ongoing criticism and vulnerability of philanthropy is its lack of diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Candid reported that in 2016, only 10 percent of domestic funding—grants over $10,000 from the 1,000 largest U.S. foundations—went to people of color.

Nonprofits ranging from grassroots to legacy organizations are all feeling the impact of COVID-19. The realities of increased demand and decreased revenue; shrinking workforce; program and service disruption; and financial instability are common. Most organizations have less than three months’ operating support. The strain and stress they feel is real and has a ripple effect across the communities and populations their missions serve.

These stressors are felt exponentially by organizations that are minority led and minority serving. Lack of investment and diversity in nonprofits weakens the social sector overall. In times of crisis, it can be debilitating.

Remaining colorblind during the pandemic will undoubtedly give way to further conscious and unconscious bias influencing giving and distribution of resources among minority-led and -serving organizations; will expand tone deafness among boards who still haven’t evolved the representation of their trustees to reflect the communities most impacted by the issues they address; and will ultimately widen the access gap experienced by minority-led organizations, thereby preventing growth, including increases in budgets, talent, technology, communications, and data.

Although disparity and inequity have walked among us for generations, the COVID-19 pandemic has further illuminated the gaps in wages, transportation, employment, access to health care, housing stability, technology, and more. A New York Times article reveals the overrepresentation of non-white women holding essential jobs.

The nonprofit ecosystem is dynamic, complex, and vital. The inequities that burden society’s most vulnerable requires courageous and strategic response, coordination, cooperation, and investment and an unapologetic focus on root causes, including structural racism. Although pathogens don’t discriminate, the facts show that people of color (POC) disproportionately feel the burden of this crisis, whether they are working to combat it or are victims of it.

In fewer than 90 days, the United States has proven the depths of its financial resources through organized philanthropy (including the black community), four historic stimulus and economic recovery bills passed by Congress, and the individual acts of kindness and generosity expressed by humanity. So how do we connect resources to will and policy to ensure that inequity and colorblindness to the impact this crisis is having on POCs is no longer ignored, nor deepened?

Crusaders in the struggle for justice, equity, and inclusion have strong recommendations that philanthropy, government, and business should embrace to inform current and future decisions.

Policy Link has put forth principles for a common-sense, street smart approach to recovery, captured on its new platform, COVID-19 & Race.

The NAACP has issued a resource guide to officials responsible for addressing health, economic, social, and other impacts.

The Southern Poverty Law Center continues on in its mission of fighting hate and bigotry and seeking justice for the most vulnerable members of our society.

Funders in many ways are leading and breaking free from archaic rules that may have been established with good intention but benefited few and penalized even more. Funders are changing the way they do business during the pandemic. They’re allowing grantees to repurpose grant funds, relaxing reporting requirements, and more. I—and many of my colleagues throughout the nonprofit sector—urge them to remove the colorblind glasses and add an equity lens to their grantmaking, both now and after this crisis is over.


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  • Joyce Thompson says:

    May 9, 2020 4:54 pm

    Thank you for this wonderful article and always pointing out facts about the disenfranchised. Grassroot minority agencies need to stick together and recognize the divide. I really love the part about being economically enlightened and knowing this pandemic calls for a new way of doing business. We all have to adapt to a new normalcy after we figure it out. Thanks you.

  • Susan Taylor Batten says:

    May 9, 2020 4:49 pm

    Yes Teleange. Thank you for getting this data out there. Rapid response, with no equity analysis, further exacerbates inequity and disparities. It does more harm then good.

  • Maria Imperial says:

    May 7, 2020 7:39 am

    This article is excellent. Thank you, Teleange Thomas, for pointing out the need to be color bold rather than color blind.