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Key takeaways from ABFE 2022 Harambee: Let’s All Pull Together

Pete Buttigieg in conversation with Susan Taylor Batten at ABFE

ABFE held their annual conference “Harambee: Let’s All Pull Together” recently with a mix of in-person and hybrid sessions. Several Candid team members attended, including director of research Grace Sato who presented at the session “Historic Partnerships, Historic Change: Using Philanthropy to Transform HBCUs and their Impact on the Black Community”; and senior director of research Cathleen Clerkin and senior research analyst Mantin Diomande who both spoke at “Black-led Nonprofit Organizations: What Does it Mean to be Black-led in the Nonprofit and Philanthropic Sector.” Research specialist Sarina Dayal and communications and outreach manager Adia Colar attended virtually. 

But whether in person or online, we were encouraged by the sessions, speakers, and other attendees and felt inspired by the overall theme of pulling together to support, strengthen, and empower Black communities. We each had many reflections from the conference. These are six key takeaways: 

1. Racial equity is having a moment in philanthropy, but it needs to be a movement.

There was much conversation about how 2020 and the murder of George Floyd has shone a spotlight on racial (in)equity within philanthropy, and how many funders previously not involved in racial equity are now proclaiming to focus on it. Many Black and BIPOC organizations talked about the unprecedented funding they received in the last two years and the impact it’s made. At the same time, there is concern that this recent surge in funding will be a blip, not a trend, and thus will not result in lasting change. Speakers pointed out that much of the racial equity funding were one-time gifts. Others noted that the urgency around racial equity already seems to be subsiding, or that funders seem interested in verbally supporting racial equity, but less interested in the systemic shifts required to achieve it.  

2. Funders need to think about giving to the life of an institution, not just the health.

During the session “Historic Partnerships, Historic Change: Using Philanthropy to Transform HBCUs and their Impact on the Black Community,” Dr. Paquita Yarborough (Thurgood Marshall College Fund) encouraged funders to “think about giving to the life of the institution, not just the health.” She explained that giving to the “health” of organizations often shows up as small, one-time, restricted gifts —the equivalent of buying vitamins or paying for a doctor’s appointment. However, many Black-led organizations, such as HBCUs, need major surgery if they are to survive long-term. A few ways to support the “life” of organizations include giving annual donations, providing unrestricted funds, and building endowments to sustain organizations during tough times. 

Speakers also shared that no matter what your interest or strategy is, there’s always room to support a cause or an organization besides financial support. For example, even if an organization works in a different community, people can share about what HBCUs do with their own community. Another strategy to promote sustainability is for individuals to encourage family members to add HBCUs to their school wish list. Even just wearing an HBCU sweatshirt helps sustain their operations. 

3. Racial justice requires building the endowments of Black-led organizations.

The session “Endow Now: A Game-Changing Strategy for Investing in Racial Justice” focused on the small endowments of Black organizations. During the session, Dr. John Jackson (Schott Foundation) described how and why our sector needs to approach sustainability differently than before. Trust-based philanthropy requires that funders not only provide unrestricted support—it also requires that funders provide sustainable funding by building organizations’ endowments. “Racial justice organizations are doing more with less. They can do more with more,” Dr. Jackson said. “Movements are in it for the long haul. Their resources should be too.”  

 4. Change moves at the speed of trust.

In the session “Justice 40 Accelerator: Centering Racial Equity as a Way to Radically Reimagine the Federal Resource,” there was a panelist discussion about how philanthropy can support frontline organizations. Speakers encouraged philanthropy to put in the time and effort to build trust with the community and community leaders to better understand what they do.  Philanthropy should encourage relational organizing, providing frontlines workers with the technical connections and capacities they need.  

One panelist, Stacey Grant (Justice40 Accelerator) pointed out the “fundamental contradiction” with how funding works—you must prove you are the most effective, strategic partner, and at the same time, you have to prove that you are the most vulnerable. 

5. Organizing is the foundation of our democracy.

In the session “People, Policymakers & Philanthropy – Keys to Stronger Communities,” Christine White shared several points, particularly about how “organizing is the foundation of our democracy” and the impact organizers have in engaging and empowering communities. 

In the session “Our Vote Won’t Be Denied – Defending Democracy For Our Futures,” Damon Hewitt said, “If we, together, are in it for the long haul together, we can get wins.” Cliff Albright (Black Voters Matter Fund) emphasized that we should believe in ourselves and our ability to cause change. Tiffany Cross, host of MSNBC’s “The Cross Connection,” stressed, “You do have power. The fastest way we lose power is not recognizing we have power.” 

6. Black liberation and migrant justice are linked.

In the session on migration and racial justice, speakers encouraged funders to understand the intersectionality between racial justice and immigration justice. They stated that when funders talk about immigration programs, they mainly talk about Latinx communities, and they fail to realize that many Black immigrants are at the intersection of xenophobia and racism and are viewed as optional constituents. Funders should understand that Black liberation and migrant justice are linked, and Black migrants should be counted in the movement for Black liberation. Funders should put Black power and migration justice at the center of the agenda as opposed to the margin. 

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