2 Place-based equity funders hold up a mirror to examine their power

Colorado Health Foundation and Maddox Charitable Fund discussed their equity work and Power Moves on a recent webinar.

Written by: Reed Young

Date: February 04, 2019

“Do you want to be powerful?” asked Jeanné Isler, NCRP’s vice president and chief engagement officer, as she opened the first deep-dive webinar in a series from The Funders’ Network for Smart Growth and Livable Communities (TFN).

Whether we want power or not, we all exercise it in some form. Be it personal, positional or institutional, it’s essential to examine our power to understand how to utilize it for social change.

Jeanné’s question yielded a thoughtful, honest conversation between Joseph Gutierrez, program associate at the Maddox Charitable Fund and Jehan Benton-Clark, portfolio director at the Colorado Health Foundation.

The conversation drew from and built on NCRP’s publication, Power Moves: Your essential philanthropy assessment guide for equity and justiceJoseph reviewed the draft guide, and Jehan participates in the Power Moves learning group for funders.

Link to watch Power Forward webinar.

Framing the conversation on building, sharing and wielding power

Having a shared definition of power is an important first step. Jeanné gave an overview of the Power Moves framework, whose glossary highlights key terms, informed by sector leaders such as OpenSource Leadership Strategies, CHANGE Philanthropy and the Philanthropic Initiative for Racial Equity:

  • Equity: Achieved when you can no longer predict an advantage or disadvantage based on race, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation or ability.
  • Power: Control, influence or authority. Rashad Robinson of Color of Change said, “Power is the ability to change the rules.”

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Power is the ability to achieve a purpose. Whether or not it is good or bad depends upon the purpose.”

In a social change and equity context, distinctions are made between “power over” and “power with.”

  • White privilege: The concrete benefits of access to resources and social rewards and the power to shape the norms and values of society that whites receive, unconsciously or consciously, by virtue of their skin color in a racist society.

Power at the Colorado Health Foundation

The Colorado Health Foundation (CHF) advances health equity to bring health within reach for all Coloradans.

Power Moves supports the foundation’s equity and inclusion initiatives, to fully operationalize equity and help program officers across the state be more responsive to the communities they serve.

Jehan emphasized that authentic dialogue is required for deeper dives into how power plays out internally and externally in foundations.

CHF staff began their journey with Power Moves by using the glossary to help define power. In line with their existing body of work, Jehan’s team has focused on building power through grantmaking and wielding power by funding advocacy.

Some of the hardest feedback that CHF received was that foundation staff were unapproachable, stemming from program officers not wanting to lead people on about grant opportunities.

The feedback led to conversations about how to build genuine relationships with grantees. To avoid a transactional approach, the foundation will review the roles of program officers to make them more transformational and field-based.

Power at the Maddox Charitable Fund

Maddox Charitable Fund is based in Nashville, Tennessee, and serves a 41-county mid-state region. A few years ago, the fund started asking grantees about the issues they are facing in the community.

In response, they encouraged the fund to focus on sharing and wielding power.

After listening to their partners, Maddox took a stronger stance on issues like Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and water conservation.

They re-envisioned their website to be more transparent, added a database with 5 years of grant history, and changed their technology to include in-person and on-line workshops.

The foundation is still examining how power shows up internally, and building consensus among their 2 staff members and board of community leaders.

Individual and positional power

Power shows up on a personal level. In his closing remarks, Joseph shared that, as a young person of color, he sometimes can’t wrap his head around the idea that he has power in his position as a program associate. As an Asian-American, his life is “lived in the hyphen.”

As he thinks about his power in the roles he occupies, and how to bring his whole self, he notes that fostering collective power, not exercising power as an individual, is his ultimate goal.

For Jehan, a southerner in Colorado, working for a grantmaker is a combination of understanding the context of the foundation and the history of marginalized communities in the state.

She constantly questions how to use her power to support communities who have been stripped of their power.

What power can you wield from your seat?

Continue the conversation with The Funders’ Network! Join TFN for their 20th annual conference from March 18-20 in Miami to explore how philanthropy can leverage its collective power to create communities and regions that are truly sustainable and just.

Stay engaged with Power Moves! Download the guide and catch up on NCRP’s own webinars, including a toolkit overview and deeper dives into building, sharing and wielding power.

Connect with us at powermoves@ncrp.org, and stay tuned for other Power Moves programs in 2019!

Until this week, Reed Young was events and webinars intern at NCRP. Follow @NCRP on Twitter.

Thank you to The Funders’ Network for Smart Growth and Livable Communities for their partnership with NCRP and the Power Moves project.

Power Moves