How is one of the country’s largest community foundations responding to the needs of its residents?

Written by: Lisa Ranghelli

Date: June 22, 2016

Updated: 6/22/2016, 11:45 EDT

Our newest Philamplify report looks at Oregon, a state founded on racial exclusion that today has increasingly vibrant, diverse communities across its urban and rural landscapes.

Nearly 25 percent of Oregon’s residents are people of color, and an estimated 5 percent identify as LGBTQ. These communities are fighting effectively for justice and to end discrimination and disparities of all kinds. But they need more resources to turn the tide. Only 5 percent of philanthropic giving in Oregon directly serves these populations.

The Oregon Community Foundation is the largest foundation in Oregon and the 8th community foundation largest in the country, holding $1.5 billion in assets. Unlike most community foundations, OCF has statewide reach through regional offices that engage government, business and community leaders, residents, donors and volunteers.  It can leverage these relationships to be a champion for equity.

How is OCF responding to the pressing challenges faced by Oregonians and what can we learn from it? 

After examining OCF’s giving and feedback from its constituents, we found that OCF is trying hard to embrace equity, diversity and inclusion in all its operations and grantmaking. Yet many leaders of color and LGBTQ leaders don’t see signs of progress yet. 

My colleague Caitlin Duffy and I share our analysis in Philamplify’s The Oregon Community Foundation: Can It Build a Statewide Legacy of Equity and Inclusion? released today.

Our additional findings offer valuable insights for other community foundations and place-based grantmakers:

  • OCF’s innovative use of regional leadership councils and volunteer grant evaluators is effective at fostering connections with communities across the state, but these bodies need to be more diverse and inclusive to support communities of color.
  • OCF offers responsive grant programs and also runs strategic initiatives to tackle systemic issues such as education and dental health – often in collaboration with other foundations.
  • OCF has expanded its Latino Partnership Program to respond to the growing and diverse Latino population in Oregon. Yet overall, grants for nonprofits led by people of color, LGBTQ leaders and others organizing for justice are still a small percentage of the foundation’s giving.
  • OCF is changing its risk-averse reputation to become nimbler and bolder as an advocate and public leader.

Numerous nonprofit leaders and peers of The Oregon Community Foundation characterized OCF as a slow-moving ship that knows where it wants to go but is taking a long time to get there. Given the critical issues that Oregon is facing such as widespread homelessness, racial inequity and public underfunding of education, many from Oregon’s nonprofit community are impatient to see OCF respond more decisively.

How can OCF boost its impact?

To build on its strengths and help move the needle on the critical challenges faced by Oregon’s vulnerable communities, we urge The Oregon Community Foundation to:

  • Direct a higher proportion of grant funding toward groups facing disparities. Publicly share OCF’s equity, diversity and inclusion goals, benchmarks and data on its progress.
  • Fund more grassroots organizing and advocacy to advance equity and other systemic goals aligned with the foundation’s strategic priorities.
  • Be bolder in taking public stands, especially on equity-related policy issues. Partner with constituent-led organizations fighting for equity when deciding which issues would benefit from OCF’s advocacy.
  • Expand OCF’s efforts to diversify donors, engage them on equity issues and connect them to organizations led by people of color and other constituent-led groups working for systems change.

Read about our full findings and recommendations now.

What do you think of our findings and recommendations? Agree or disagree, and comment on the report. Also, don’t forget to take our latest poll and share which foundation you think we should Philamplify next. Remember, you can do all these anonymously!

With your input, we can provide OCF and other foundations with the feedback they need to be more effective partners of nonprofits and communities in making this world equitable and just for all.

Lisa Ranghelli is director of foundation assessment at the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy. Follow @NCRP on Twitter and join the #Philamplify conversation.

Images by Michael Silberstein, van Ort and Eli Duke, adapted under CC license.