Hope – and action – grows in Brooklyn

Written by: Ben Barge

Today NCRP celebrates the announcement from the Brooklyn Community Foundation that going forward, they will ensure that “at least 30 percent of all grants–both in discretionary grantmaking and across Donor Advised Funds” to “explicitly benefit Black communities,” with priority given to Black-led groups focused on systemic change. We also commend the Foundation, one of our 2015 Impact Award winners, for its promise to share its demographic grant data with the public.

NCRP has increasingly called on foundations to embrace parity and transparency. Last year, we highlighted this gap in reports that covered the constant underfunding of immigrant and refugee groups, as well as the insufficient amount given explicitly to Black communities. These are not new conclusions: similar reports by our friends and colleagues have noted how the amount of funding that Asian American, Latin@x, Native American and LGBTQ communities is not close to representative of their proportion in the U.S. population.  

Why BCF’s Announcement is So Important 

Proportional funding is just the start of the equity conversation, not the end. Funding Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPoC) communities at a rate commensurate with their relative size is a floor for equitable funding, not a ceiling.

Given this reality, the Brooklyn Community Foundation’s commitment is unprecedented among community foundations for several reasons:

  • It’s long-term, rather than a temporary grant announcement.
  • It promises parity, with giving explicitly to Black communities that matches the community as a floor, not a ceiling.
  • The pledge covers discretionary and donor advised funds, recognizing the responsibility community foundations have in setting values for their donor community.
  • Finally, it includes transparency, with an invitation for the community to hold the foundation accountable to this vision.

A Model of Action for Others

To be sure, other promising steps have been made since last summer’s uprisings for racial justice in the wake of the police murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and so many others. The Cleveland Foundation, for example, adopted a hate group policy and launched a racial equity investment pool, among other changes to their financial policies. The Pittsburgh Foundation has continued their journey around demographic data transparency and new funds, increasing discretionary dollars for BIPOC-led groups in the process. And the California Black Freedom Fund promises $100M over 5 years for Black power-building and movement-based organizations. NCRP commends those important, overdue steps towards justice. And we thank the women of color and Black women specifically leading the way, out front and behind the scenes.

Yet the gap between what communities should and do receive remains unfilled. We know that bigger, long-term commitments are needed from philanthropy in order to meet the long-standing demands of movement leaders and Black communities to truly reckon with racial justice and with philanthropy’s complicity in racial injustice. Individual new funds, while important, often represent small percentages of a foundation’s total grantmaking, especially when donor advised funds at a foundation are omitted from the equation. Past philanthropic responses to crisis also tell us that without sustained attention, one-time commitments fade – even the promises made during a global pandemic.

That’s why NCRP is so energized by the Brooklyn Community Foundation’s public commitment. We hope that it spurs similar actions across the country from philanthropy, and from community foundations in particular. NCRP invites and calls on community foundations to follow BCF’s example by:

1) Committing to parity in grantmaking for Black communities: Commit that the percentage of their discretionary and donor advised dollars intentionally benefitting Black communities at least are on par, if not exceed, their percentage of their community that is Black, with a priority to Black-led power-building work.

2) Providing Transparency: Share their demographic grant-level data with the public, via Candid’s e-reporting process or another mechanism, so that the community can understand what grants the foundation counts toward that commitment.

3) Continuing to explore parity for other communities of color and groups: We also encourage foundations to consider making similar, additional commitments for more marginalized communities. A strong stand against anti-Blackness does not preclude commitments for Latinx, Native American, AAPI, LGBTQ communities or women of color, immigrants and transgender groups.

Yes, in 2021, action like this remains astonishingly rare. Yet we hope that this announcement will be the first of many, as community foundations further explore how their mandate to serve their entire community equitably can be fully recognized.


Ben Barge is NCRP’s field director.