Insight from Systems Change Leaders: How we can show up for frontline leaders

SVPI 11/18/2021

We lift up movement leaders as we reimagine giving. As part of that work, we asked our 2020 Reimagine Fund awardees to share how donors and partners can work towards a more equitable and accountable philanthropy. Brenda Shelton-Dunston, Executive Director of Philadelphia Black Women’s Health Alliance (PBWHA), highlights research that outlines current systemic barriers and shares what individuals with social and economic power can do to support organizations with leaders of color to grow and expand.

Q: What would you like to share about transformative philanthropy and the movement work you do?

Brenda Shelton-Dunston, Philadelphia Black Women’s Health Alliance
Brenda Shelton-Dunston, Philadelphia Black Women’s Health Alliance

A: The programmatic and operational budgets of Philadelphia Black Women’s Health Alliance (PBWHA) reveal the realities of systemic inequities of philanthropy as reflected in the May 7, 2020, article in The Chronicle of Philanthropy: Nonprofits Led by People of Color Win Less Grant Money With More Strings (Study).

The findings indicate the following:

  • The authors found that white-led groups had budgets that were 24 percent larger than those led by people of color. It also found that groups led by black women received less money than those led by black men or white women.
  • Even when nonprofits with leaders of color won grants, differences remained. The research found that the unrestricted assets of groups with leaders of color were 76 percent smaller than those led by whites. Among the groups focused on improving the lives of black men, the unrestricted assets of groups with leaders of color were 91 percent smaller than those with white leaders.

Q: What do you need from philanthropy to achieve change?

A: Collaborative work of leaders from all sectors; community, corporate, public, community, nonprofit, faith-based, governmental, educational institutions at all levels, etc. to develop and implement a strategic plan to address racism as a public health threat/crises, as declared on April 8, 2021, by Dr. Rochelle Walensky, Director of the Centers for Disease Control.

I support the excerpts from Dr. Walensky’s statement as what I also feel is needed for systems change:

“Racism is not just the discrimination against one group based on the color of their skin or their race or ethnicity, but the structural barriers that impact racial and ethnic groups differently to influence where a person lives, where they work, where their children play, and where they worship and gather in community. These social determinants of health have life-long negative effects on the mental and physical health of individuals in communities of color.”

Q: What do you need from individuals with economic and social power, beyond monetary support, to advance the systems change you’re working towards?

A: To participate in the collaborative and commit to planning and implementing strategies within their space of influence: business/corporate, educational institution, community and faith based, governmental, etc.

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