Mission Forward 304 with Iara Peng

Philanthropy’s Power Problem with JustFund’s Iara Peng

Getting resources to organizations truly doing front line work involves challenging entrenched ideologies and engaging leadership often marginalized in philanthropy: people of color. And so it is a group of funders and organizers of color who founded the organization, those who know best how to poke at philanthropy's power problem. One of the leaders of this charge is our guest today: Iara Peng, founder and CEO of JustFund.

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"We believe that philanthropy shouldn’t be about barriers and bottlenecks." So says the About page of JustFund, the grant platform transforming giving. But removing bottlenecks is just one way that Just Fund is changing the game. Getting resources to organizations truly doing front line work involves challenging entrenched ideologies and engaging leadership often marginalized in philanthropy: people of color. And so it is a group of funders and organizers of color who founded the organization, those who know best how to poke at philanthropy’s power problem.

And leading the charge is our guest today: Iara Peng, founder and CEO of JustFund.

JustFund brings a new approach to philanthropic grant-making and challenges existing systems in what she calls, "an intervention into the antiquated systems that grant makers have inherited."

Instead, JustFund offers a trust-based, values-aligned approach that can fuel the movement for social and racial equity and they’ve done it in a very short time. The platform is already being used by more than three thousand organizations and is coming up on its first major milestone: moving $100 million in grants from funders to organizers.

It’s easy to call out what is not working about philanthropy. It’s another to build a tool from scratch to address the collective opportunity to transform philanthropy. That’s what JustFund is all about, and that’s why we can think of no better guest to talk about this big idea, and how leveling the philanthropic playing field is not only better for people regularly marginalized in the conversation, but for all of us.

Further Listening

We’ve been lucky to have done interviews with others in seasons past who have provided additional foundation to our talk today. Enjoy these powerful conversations!

Links & Notes


Episode Transcript

Carrie Fox: Welcome to the Mission Forward podcast, where each week we bring you a thought-provoking and perspective shifting conversation on the world around us. I’m Carrie Fox, your host and CEO of Mission Partners, a social impact communications firm, and certified B corporation.

Carrie Fox: This week, Natalie and I take on philanthropy’s power problem with serial social entrepreneur, Iara Peng, whose grant making platform, JustFund, is transforming what philanthropy is and what it can be. JustFund was created by funders and organizers of color to remove the traditional barriers that far too often prevent or limit funders from moving resources to organizations on the front lines. There’s a lot that I love about Iara and JustFund, but here’s something that stuck with me. She founded JustFund with a new approach to philanthropic grant making mind, what she calls an intervention into the antiquated systems that grant makers have inherited. And instead, has built something that is trust based, values aligned, and that can fuel the movement for social and racial equity. In a very short amount of time, the platform is already being used by more than 3000 organizations, and it’s coming up on its first major milestone, moving $100 million in grants from funders to organizers.

Carrie Fox: Here’s the thing. It’s easy to say what’s not working about philanthropy. It’s another to build a tool from scratch to address the collective opportunity to transform philanthropy. That’s what JustFund is all about, and it’s why I wanted to talk more with Iara about her big idea. Not only is this a great conversation, but it’s an awesome build on our conversations from last season with Edgar Villanueva and Anand Giridharadas. There’s a lot to dig into to get at the root of philanthropy’s power problem. And I appreciate Iara’s take in this week’s conversation. So, stay tuned and I’ll see you on the other side.

Carrie Fox: What is JustFund, and why did you decide to start this amazing organization?

Iara Peng: I built JustFund back in 2017, really to build a community of funders who want to re-imagine philanthropy, just to do philanthropy differently. There are so many established and well accepted systems that don’t allow for equity and trust and transparency to be centered in the way we do philanthropy. And I really felt like an intervention that became JustFund was a solution, where we could really come together, streamline processes, take the friction out of the system for funders, for organizations, and just get money out more quickly to groups that need it.

Carrie Fox: I love that you used the word intervention. I think we are all in agreement that that makes sense. And, that philanthropy needs a pretty big intervention. I think it’s also good for folks to know that your background isn’t necessarily in philanthropy, right? You somewhat had a perspective from the outside and said, there’s a big problem there and I want to dig into it. And I’m curious if there was a moment that really drew you to say, I am going to dig into this really big, complicated issue.

Iara Peng: I’ve been working in nonprofit startups most of my career. For over 20 years, I’ve been building nonprofits and really focusing on intervening into systems that aren’t working, and innovating, experimenting with different solutions to chronic problems that we have in our country. Whether it’s the fact that young people aren’t given permission to lead, or that media is not diverse, and so our journalism coverage is really grounded in the views and viewpoints of white men. Or, the fact that organizations that are doing critical work just don’t get the adequate funding that’s required.

Iara Peng: And I’ve really enjoyed over the past 20 years breaking down those challenges, and trying to rebuild new systems that just work better. I want to say, in graduate school I took a course that really changed my life. It was an operations management course, and one of the core tenants was around process flow management. And, it really encouraged us to identify bottlenecks in process flows. It sounds sort of boring, but it’s really critical. And, to concentrate resources at the point of friction. So, you eliminate those friction points in whatever system you’re trying to improve. And that concept of process flow management has really driven the way that I’ve built and what I’ve built over the years. In particular, JustFund, really trying to identify those systems in grant making that are just those pain points, and figuring out what can we do to alleviate that pain.

Iara Peng: And, for all the organizations that I’ve worked on, one of the first steps is identifying and raising capital. That’s what you have to do when you’re building a new nonprofit or running a nonprofit. And over the years, I’ve really been struck by what I think are accepted barriers that just are allowed to exist in traditional philanthropy. We don’t question them. They keep disproportionately people of color, in particular women of color like myself, from accessing the capital they need to invest in a new idea, or grow an idea, get it to scale, maximize their impact. Generally, we don’t have the natural relationships with funders. Maybe we aren’t seen as trusted leaders who can manage really complex finances or scale an organization. There’s just not a lot of organic trust that’s been established between funders and generally our BIPOC communities.

Iara Peng: There are so many systemic barriers that I experienced over 20 years along the continuum of philanthropy, that keep really important frontline grassroots organizations, generally run by BIPOC, black indigenous people of color. It keeps these organizations small and unstable, and that’s really what I wanted to fix. I really felt like we could have an intervention and we could fix it. And that’s why I started building Just Fund.

Natalie: Ooh, did you say a bunch of things that resonate for me? As somebody who has founded and grown a nonprofit over the past 17 years, the relationship between nonprofits and funders is often fraught for a number of different reasons. And, one of the things that I am interested in hearing about is, you said something that sparked this for me, I think in a lot of ways funders think of, or at least their boards, let me say that, think of the funders role as being charitable. And because of that, they don’t view the nonprofit organization as a business. Right? And because of that, the demands of being a nonprofit are often not met by philanthropy. So, everything from overhead or indirect costs are questioned as though you don’t really need an office. You don’t really need core infrastructure, and that every penny is supposed to quote unquote, "go back out the door." Is that shifting at all? And, if it’s not shifting, what’s necessary to change that so that we can have more equitable approaches to this non-profit sector?

Iara Peng: That’s such a good question, and two things come to mind for me. One is, I think there’s a mentality, like you said, among funders to buy a service, versus build a movement, invest in the capacity. We just want to buy the thing. Buy the product, get that training out the door, versus what does it take to actually do the thing. So, we have a direct cost mentality in nonprofits that’s in response to the way funders treat us, versus a full cost mentality. We’re out here fundraising these little bits of money when actually the full cost is what’s really required to build, versus buy the one-time thing. I think that’s really important.

Iara Peng: I think the other part for me is, philanthropy I feel was really designed to be that risk capital for us as a society. Not government, not businesses or corporations, but philanthropy. To take the risk and to fund and fuel innovation. It’s designed to do that. And for some reason we have run away from that responsibility to take risks and how we fund, and to actually incentivize it, encourage it in the way that we fund.

Iara Peng: Please fail, and fail again. Learn, repeat, pivot. Let’s figure out what works, but how do we do it? We have to do it by failing, by making mistakes, by learning. And we’re not given permission to do that. We just kind of have to sit here in this constraint and be perfect, which is never going to happen. So then we never can actually … That fear of failure, that lack of risk capital orientation, makes it so that that exploration, the experimentation isn’t happening. Not only are we not curing diseases or whatnot, but we also aren’t, I think, adequately innovating to address systemic issues like economic justice, or racial inequity, or electoral justice. You name it. Philanthropy can really fund to innovate in ways that we need.

Natalie: And I think that that is a hugely different mindset and approach, this idea of risk and innovation and trying things and being able to fail, versus what I’ve found in my interaction is, that philanthropy often sees itself as an alternative safety net. So what government is not doing, what the private sector is not doing, okay, we’ll go ahead and provide that safety net for society, but not necessarily take on any of that risk to be able to innovate. So, I think that in and of itself, you saying that indicates perspective transformation in the way that we would see and think about philanthropy.

Natalie: What do you think it would take to bring that to scale? What do you think it would take to create that value shift about risk and innovation, and really embracing that as a sector?

Iara Peng: You need some people who are going to model it first, so we can get comfortable with it and what it looks like. It’s sort of ironic to me. I was talking to a funder the other day, who invested in one of my projects, who was telling me his story. And this was a gentleman who built a really successful online company. And what he told me was, very proud, proudly told me, "I started five other companies that failed before I got to this one. And this was the one where I made it, and now able to give money away." And I just thought, huh, how nice for you? That you are in a system, a venture capital system, where you’d fail, people would continue to invest because maybe you were onto something. Wasn’t quite right, but I think you’re onto something. Keep investing in you and your idea until you get it right.

Iara Peng: I think there is some culture shift that’s happening. I think a lot has to change, in particular in the larger foundations who have more of an academic mindset. So, it’s more like measures and impact, and what are we actually accomplishing? And, let’s write this huge report on what our grantees are doing, what we’re trying to accomplish. And I see a lot of that pivot into risk capital happening more in the individual donors or the intermediaries, the community foundations. There’s more of that appetite to, hey, let’s experiment and let’s try new things. Let’s give people the freedom to be creative, which is our biggest asset, right? And then funding the communities that are actually directly impacted by the issues because they are closer to the solution.

Carrie Fox: I feel like we’re coming in, at least I hope, to a new generation of philanthropy and a new generation of philanthropists. And we have had on this show, Anand Giridharadas, we’ve had Edgar Villanueva. We know that there are people who are really challenging, not just the narrative of philanthropy, but a lot of the basic and understood and agreed upon norms of philanthropy. So, if we are starting to have some folks who are challenging and disrupting the power of philanthropy, then certainly that’s starting to get the conversation going about how much needs to be changed. And what I think you’re all doing at JustFund then, is kind of sweeping in with the antidote. With the tool to say, it’s not just about corporate boards challenging how they work, or donor-advised funds putting a lot of money away and letting it sit there for years as a tax benefit, but for no purpose other than their own self benefit. But, how are we thinking about the distribution or allocation of those philanthropic reasons?

Iara Peng: Yeah, 100%. I think there’s so much change that has to happen philosophically, strategically, and then practically. How do we do the thing? How do we make the change? And, sometimes we get paralyzed because there’s so much we have to solve, and then we just live in this space of inaction. We can’t do that. We have to do something. And really, JustFund to me, I actually was working at a donor network at the time when I built JustFund. And I was seeing process flow management, many bottlenecks to our grant making system where we were getting in 300 proposals, we’d fund 15, and 285 of those groups would literally go in the trashcan. We didn’t have the technology or the intervention to be able to share those lists with other funders, even the donors in our own network, to say, hey, we didn’t fund this as a entity, but maybe you’d like to. And of the 15 that we did fund, we didn’t fully fund them. We didn’t have the tools to leverage additional dollars for those groups.

Iara Peng: And, I just felt like this intervention could really help, and I’ve seen it. If we can streamline the process, first of all, of grant making, that’s going to help so much for the organizations and for the funders. We don’t really need to ask all the questions we’re asking. What do we actually need to know to make a grant? And we just said, you know what, we’re going to try the one common proposal. The thing that everyone’s been trying to build. We just got three funds together who said, yeah, I’m in. Defending the Dream Fund, Solidaire Network, and the Emergent Fund, and said, yeah, we’ll do it. We don’t really need that much actually, and so, let’s go for it. Let’s build this one common proposal and let’s do it.

Iara Peng: And back in 2017, we ran those three grant cycles. And in so doing, populated the portal with about 600 organizations. And now we run over a hundred grant cycles. We have almost 5,000 organizations and we’ve moved nearly 100 million dollars. There is some scale here. And you can make it really easy for funders. You can make it easy for organizations. And you can take that time and convert it into the relational philanthropy that we need to see, really allowing people to do the work they love, which is to be in relationship with each other.

Iara Peng: And I think that’s so important, because what I’ve learned in philanthropy is, we move money at the speed of trust. You can’t get into a trusted relationship with someone unless you have the time to put into that relationship. And if you’re spending time collecting proposals, applications, doing all the transactional, really gets in the way of that transformative. So, we’re really here to take that piece of the process flow off of people’s plates, to free them up to do the part we need them to do, which is to be in trustful relationships with each other.

Natalie: Well, it’s interesting this concept and this piece around trust, because trust and being in relationship is often dependent upon network. So, who’s in your network and who’s not in your network? And how does that then play out, particularly in the communities of color or under-resourced communities? What’s the likelihood that they’re going to be in relationship with these philanthropic entities?

Natalie: So, related to that, years ago, I was asked to write a white paper on making recommendations to a fairly large funding entity who said they wanted to do something different. And one of the recommendations that I made was that, in essence, and they had a place-based focus, and every time they were going to invest in this major city, I recommended to them that when they were funding what they consider to be anchor institutions, that they would fund 50% for something like a program, but that 50% would be used to build an endowment. All right? See if you follow this.

Natalie: Let’s say for instance, it’s $100,000 a year. 50% of that, the nonprofit would operationalize through some form of programming. But the other 50%, $50,000, with the support of the foundation, they would invest to build an endowment, and that they would do that year over year. And the goal being that, that entity at some point in time would be able to self-fund core capacity. The response that I got was that they could not be trusted to have that endowment.

Natalie: So, this issue of trust is huge. And I wonder, I understand working on the side of philanthropy to shift thinking and perspective, what do you think needs to happen to create that trust in advance of when the RFP comes out? How do we do that? How does philanthropy do that? How do community-based nonprofits, and nonprofits in general, how do we go about building trust?

Iara Peng: Yeah, it’s such a good question. I think, because the power is really held in philanthropy right now, philanthropy has to take a lot of the action to build that trust. That’s just the way power dynamics work. And I think the systems currently are so extractive. Just for example, the length of these proposals, for these groups. Who can actually access the opportunity to apply for funding when it’s 15 questions, multiple pages, what are your benchmarks and impact?

Iara Peng: Now, if you think about the organizations that are really on the front lines of social change, are they going to have a grants manager? Probably not, because they probably have a half time ED, who’s doing everything. So, how are we going to get money to them in that way? We have to start building trust, and this is where the risk comes in. Like you were saying earlier, we need to get more comfortable in that space of taking risks with each other, and I think there’s ways you can do it in a way that feels safe.

Iara Peng: I think part of it is expanding your network, building new relationships with folks. You can do grant making in different ways, maybe where it doesn’t feel so risky. Collaborative funds are one of the new things that funders are really leaning into now. Hey, Natalie, Carrie, let’s go in together on a fund, and we’re going to mitigate our risks that way.

Iara Peng: What we’re seeing also in philanthropy is a lot of leaning into activist-led decision making, or cross class giving. It’s not the funder making the decisions, but it’s activists who are closest to the issues actually deciding where the money is going. I think the collaborative funds, the pooled funds model, these kinds of intermediary options for funders are a great way to start dipping your toe into something that feels a little risky. And doing it together, so it feels safer. I think we need to do more of that.

Carrie Fox: I’ve got to imagine too, that removes some of the bias, whether folks realize it’s there or not. Because I think after all of the years that I’ve been in this space, how many times I’ve heard someone say, oh, that organization, they’re the darling of philanthropy right now. Everyone wants to give to them. And it begets itself. If one organization is the darling, they just keep getting more. Not to say they shouldn’t be, but they’ve used their social capital to move into a position where people know of their work and are therefore getting more. Whereas, so many organizations who to your point are doing amazing and important and essential work, they don’t have yet the same social capital, or the capital just with the established philanthropy.

Carrie Fox: And it gets to that same question of, how do we get philanthropy to start to break out of their own silos and bubbles to have a better, deeper understanding of their full community?

Iara Peng: Yeah. And I think, Natalie, you also said this earlier, that we fund our own networks. And Carrie, this is the point you’re making. So, if we’re funding our own, how are we going to build our network and not do it in an extractive way where we ask the organizations to do the work for us? We need to take on that work ourselves. Philanthropy needs to take on that work themselves of identifying and growing networks.

Iara Peng: What I love about JustFund is, everyone’s using a grant management system. You’re using a grant management system, whether it’s collecting emails, collecting your proposals over email and Google drive, or using a really established grants management software. You’re doing something to collect the information.

Iara Peng: Why not do it in a way where we all can see? And I can see what Natalie’s funding. I can see what my colleagues are funding. And I can search and find things that might be interesting to me, but out of my network. We’ve really got to, I think, facilitate that people are interested. They want to grow their networks. They want to find bi-pop organizations, especially now, and smaller community organizations. But, where do I start?

Iara Peng: I think this technology, what I love about JustFund, is you can come on in and find something to fund. Use one of the 26 filters, and find something that you might like to learn more about. And by the way, you can see who else is funding that organization. I think that part’s really important, of we got to grow our networks, get out of our comfort zone, meet new people, and fund out of what’s comfortable.

Carrie Fox: Natalie, it actually reminds me a lot of what we talk about with how we consume our news, that we get comfortable and sit inside our zone. We know what we know. And if there’s not a channel for us to understand and learn what we don’t know, we just stay in that comfort zone.

Natalie: Well, I think what you’re describing is more porosity of silos, because these philanthropic entities have traditionally been very siloed. So, how do you create that porosity and in that, allow in, and step out of those bunkers and that bunker mentality, because at times it is almost seemed competitive. And that sense of competition seems to have gotten in the way of collaborative grant making, certainly. And, I know in work that I’ve done specifically with foundations, where they’ve asked for help changing internally and capacity and strategy, I think the other piece is, there’s a tension about whether or not they know what’s happening on the ground. They think they know what’s happening on the ground, kind of thing. Do they really know what’s happening on the ground?

Natalie: And that driving decision making, who do you think is really doing this well? Who do you think is actually doing what you’re describing and doing it well, by being in relationship, and having that openness, and to some degree humility in their grant making?

Iara Peng: Yeah. That’s such a good way to describe effective grant making. The humility, the listening to movements, and letting that be the definition of what’s good philanthropy. I love that, Natalie.

Iara Peng: There are actually a lot of folks that I have the opportunity to work with who are doing things differently, and it’s really exciting to see. And maybe we can dive into some of the things that I’m seeing that’s different. But, I really love Donors of Color Network, which is a new network of donors of color, the first of its kind, ever, in the United States to exist nationally of foundations and individual donors. Where, Ashindi Maxton, who to me is like the gold standard of building equitable systems for grant making, she designed the Emergent Fund system and Donors of Color system, where it’s a cross class giving process between activists and funders. It gives general operating support, can give multi-year grants, quickly can move money. These two that I’m mentioning use JustFund as well. I think the Emergent Fund is really an amazing model.

Iara Peng: I have to disclose that I was part of the team that started Emergent Fund, but I had nothing to do with what it’s doing now. That’s all the amazing team that’s there now. And what they’re doing now, is moving money fast. They have a rolling grant cycle, they just move the money, it’s the one common proposal on JustFund, and they just go. And the money just continues to move. I think that’s really important, this idea of general support dollars, of not restricting the funding, not collecting reports, really short proposals, doing multi-year when you can, these quick grants, big grants in some cases, and of course moving a majority of your funds to BIPOC-led organizations.

Iara Peng: Those are two entity that I think they’re doing a great job. I think Way To Rise is doing a great job. And there are a lot of foundations really pivoting. They may not be able to move the whole ship, but they’re doing these smaller initiatives, restricted funds, or short-term funds, that are following this model of what’s become known as trust-based philanthropy out there in the world.

Iara Peng: And I think 2020, to me, was really unexpected. I thought at the beginning of 2020 with the crisis that we were facing, that philanthropy is going to pull back, and it didn’t. It did the exact opposite. It expanded in really powerful, I think, and impactful ways that I hope we keep. We saw all of these multiple crises reaching these inflection points and philanthropy stepped up. They threw out the playbook of traditional philanthropy, and started to move money in these different ways, like general support, no proposals, really reducing the friction. That’s kind of overly simplified, but I think there’s generally now this willingness and a recognized need that we can change our grant-making practices over the longterm, and we should. So, I hope we see this as the norm and not just a crisis response.

Natalie: Well, a lot of philanthropy talks about wanting systems change, systemic level change, and so on. And, I’m curious about what you’re seeing with regard to length of funding, because I also think that that’s really important to organizations to understand from a revenue standpoint. What’s the trend? Are we talking single year investment? Are we talking about multi-year investment? Does there seem to be a trend right now?

Iara Peng: Yeah, I think that’s a great question. I think a lot of philanthropy is thinking about this. One person who I know is thinking about this a lot, is Anna Fink over at Amalgamated Foundation, who we partner with her at JustFund. And she was explaining to me, because she does the distribution side of the grants, that we should be advocating that funders not do multi-year grants, but rather recurring grants. So, it’s not on the books for that nonprofit in 2021 for two million, but you spend it out over time. It’s just really difficult bookkeeping, especially if you don’t have a full-time accountant. Like this concept even of recurring grant. We’re going to give you a $100,000 grant a year, just worded differently and it just hits our books differently.

Iara Peng: But I do see that trend. It’s one of the best practices of trust-based philanthropy and people are moving in that direction. I think, Natalie, they use the funds or the collaborative funds as a way to meet the organization and date a little bit. And then once that relationship is building, then they can move them into the foundation portfolio to actually do that kind of longer-term relationship building. And you’re right. It’s so critical for these organizations to be able to plan and think and have spaciousness, and invest not in one-time infrastructure like laptops, but actually in the long-term infrastructure, like key critical leaders, to actually continue building with you. It’s so important.

Carrie Fox: A lot of this conversation has focused on what, to me, feels like big philanthropy. We’re thinking about foundations, and the power that those foundations hold in the decision-making and in the grant making. But, for folks who are listening, there are going to be a lot of folks who are considered philanthropists at a lot of different levels. Some folks may have donor advice funds. Some folks may have family foundations. Some folks may just give what they can in any given year. So, if we think about this from maybe an individual perspective and practical perspective, as we’re winding down here, knowing the intersections that we all work on, thinking about how do we build more equity in the communities that we work in, are there questions that either one of you would pose to individuals who are considering how to make their grant making more equitable? What might some of those questions be that you would challenge our listeners to think on?

Iara Peng: I would say, number one, what percentage of your giving is going to Black Indigenous People of Color-led organizations? Take a look at that. Donors of Color Network just issued a challenge to funders saying, and in the environmental justice spacing, 30% of your portfolio should be going to black indigenous people of color, BIPOC-led organizations.

Iara Peng: Some of these major foundations are like, whoa, we’re at 1.2%, so that’s going to be a big lift. But, whether you’re a big foundation or a small individual donor moving money through a DAF, or through your own pocketbook, just think about how much of your money is going to black indigenous people of color led organizations. And let it be a majority of your funding that’s going that way. I would ask the question, in addition to the BIPOC-lead funding that you’re doing, what’s the way you’re giving? What does that look like? What’s the process you’ve put in place, and can you simplify it? Even with simplifying it by one degree, can you make it a little bit easier for an organization to find you, and for you to move the money more quickly?

Iara Peng: Let’s look at the composition of what you’re giving to, and let’s think about your process of how you’re giving. And to Natalie’s point, can you make a commitment to that group? Can you hold their hand for five years, say I’m with you. I’m going to make sure you have this set capital to invest however you want over the next several years, so you can really build. I think that’s really important.

Iara Peng: And then I think, as you’re thinking about building equity into your grant making, how are you listening to people on the ground, really listening and learning to people. I think there’s this widespread misconception that when you have access to wealth, you have wealth, that you’re more knowledgeable somehow about the issues on the ground. Like, oh, I know more, because I have more money. That’s just not true. And the people who are closest to the issues actually have the solutions, too. So let’s listen, and then be able to respond after we’ve done that really true active listening.

Natalie: So, Carrie, I’m going to build on some of that, and I think say something that I know is certainly uncomfortable for me to say, but it’s what I do. One of the big things for me is, I think philanthropy has to be honest about its staffing. Too often, I am seeing people of color tokenized, often at the highest level of foundations, quite frankly, and they are completely strapped down. And, they are expected to show up in alignment with a white dominant culture, as opposed to being able to stand in the fullness of their own identities. And so, often they are figureheads who are put in positions that are untenable and unfair, and does not allow them to really move forward the cause of equity within the context of their own experience and identity. And I think that is something that has to be looked at and dealt with in a very honest way.

Natalie: The next piece, I think, is to really call into question their criteria. The criteria that they are setting for worthiness, the criteria that they’re setting for readiness, how is that either equitable or inequitable? And how can they change those criteria to allow for new and different people to become a part of their network and to be in relationship with them?

Natalie: The other piece I would say is certainly the idea of investing in leaders who are people of color, and what does that actually mean to invest long-term in a leader? And figure out within the context of your philanthropy, how you can support leaders of color who are on the ground, who are often carrying an additional burden, who very rarely have had investment in their leadership, but they have decided to show up in these spaces regardless, because we are at risk of losing really good people on the ground.

Natalie: And then, this is a really small thing, but the last thing that I’ll say. Written applications are only one part of the story, and we have encouraged foundations to use video whenever possible, because quite frankly, not everybody has a professional grant writer. And unfortunately in the RFP and grant writing process, what we end up doing is elevating and reinforcing a language of oppression, and we need to stop it. So, rather than putting out an RFP and then asking non-profits to reflect everything back that they’ve said in the RFP, can we allow people to tell their story through video in a way that is authentic for them, and is captivating and engaging and real?

Carrie Fox: Wow. I love that. Agree 100% with what both of you have said. And, what I might add is, for our white-led or white-dominant philanthropy or philanthropists, to check your power and check how you’re showing up. And think about how you do business and the cultural norms that may be baked into that, that you may think you are listening. But, are you creating spaces where folks can actually share, and from their place of expertise, versus going right back to where we started, creating a system of charity. There is so much that is lost when we think about philanthropy through a lens of charity.

Iara Peng: Absolutely. And it’s not sustainable. So, I think that’s really important, Carrie.

Carrie Fox: Well, Iara, that went fast. I am so thankful for you to be here with us today, and in conversation. It feels like we’re just wetting folk’s palate with a very deep, complex situation. So, we’ll put a whole bunch more in the show notes for the show, and hopefully we can have you back on and keep this conversation going.

Natalie: It’s so nice to meet you and to hear about what you’re doing, and thank you for sharing it. I’m excited. We need this type of work in the world, and I can’t wait to even see more of what JustFund does. So, just thank you.

Iara Peng: Thank you so much, Carrie. Thanks, Natalie.

Carrie Fox: Thanks for listening to this episode of Mission Forward. If you liked what you heard, please share this episode with a friend, and check out other episodes and subscribe. And if you’re willing, please leave us a rating or a review. They mean a lot to us, and they can help the show grow. Mission Forward is produced with the support of Nimra Haroon and the Mission Partners team. Engineering by Pete Wright. Music this week is Reborn, by Elad Perez. Thanks for your support. And we’ll see you next time.

In season three of Mission Forward, Carrie Fox welcomes Natalie S. Burke explore the state of our collective health in the wake of the pandemic and what's necessary to bring us back together. They talk with experts, truth tellers, and firebrands who work and move among us to see what lies at the intersections of identity, value, and power.

Natalie S. Burke

A nationally-known speaker, “equity evangelist,” strategist, master facilitator, and public health leader, Natalie provides executive leadership for CommonHealth ACTION whose mission is to develop people and organizations to produce health through equitable policies, programs, and practices. Natalie joins Carrie as co-host for Season 3 of Mission Forward.

Natalie
Carrie

Carrie Fox

Carrie Fox is the founder and CEO of Mission Partners, a woman-owned strategic communications firm and Certified B Corporation that guides high-potential nonprofits, foundations, and socially responsible corporations in realizing their greatest social impact. Since launching her first firm in 2004, she has guided hundreds of organizations around the world to lead with purpose, fueling organizations and their missions forward in new and more impactful ways.