Lisa Salomon, Principal of Salomon Strategic Development: What is the role community and other public foundations play in influencing trends in philanthropy?
Nicole Kyauk, Director of Philanthropic Services at the San Francisco Foundation: Many of you know and have heard of the San Francisco Foundation. We are fortunate to have some incredible community foundations within this local region. Because of our size, and because we boldly stepped out in naming equity as our north star in 2016, we have been seen as a leader in this space. Because of our deep connection in the community, we have certainly been looked upon as … trailblazers, we’ve been called models. And look forward to talking more about that and this dialogue today.
Theary Chan, Director of Director of Partnerships at Urgent Action Fund: I am based in San Francisco on ancestral Ohlone land, my pronouns are she/her/hers. We are a public foundation built on the model of mobilizing rapid response funds in moments of urgency and crisis to feminist women, trans-and gender-nonconforming human rights activists. We are one of four independent SR funds, designed by intention in the power-sharing framework that seeks to disrupt the power dynamics between global north and global south and philanthropy.
Both institutions that I represent serve in the space as intermediaries, as bridges between resources and the frontline community and grassroots initiatives, fighting for social justice. 2020 was a big year for community and public foundations, in the magnitude of events and the amplification of regional COVID Crisis Response Funds. These institutions were able to move quickly to address a public health crisis. The trends that are emerging from 2020 have been things community and public foundations have been advocating for and creating for decades. It is just kind of now being amplified.
Lisa Salomon: Can you speak to the ways in which the funding community has already been shifting to prioritize diversity, equity and inclusion, prior to this past year? In terms of the public ways in which folks have come forward with solidarity statements and attempting to follow through with commitment and dialogue around it. At the San Francisco Foundation, as you mentioned, [your organization] has been doing this work for a while. What is the legacy and history of this work before we got into this past year [of the racial justice movement]?
Nicole Kyauk: As Terry mentioned the moments of history over the last year and a half, with the horrible murders of so many black and brown people and acts of violence across so many marginalized individuals, has called many of us to look at the ways that we are thinking about our work and our lives differently. For those of you that have been in this space for a long time, you heard about equity in different forms. It was either called DEI (Diversity Equity and Inclusion). It was called maybe “equity work”. Within the foundation community, increasingly, we were being called to have our own unique voice and come with an opinion around the things that we think are unequivocally the right things to do for the world that we want to create together. So, you have seen more institutions coming out more boldly.
Those statements that you are referring to Lisa. I have been having those conversations in the boardrooms. I do not know how many of you have had, for the first time, a conversation centered around racial equity and economic inclusion in ways that maybe were not done before. I know for myself, I have been in a board meeting, around putting out a statement and being able to challenge the board and saying, if we don’t truly mean it and [do not] want to carry out those values, should we be putting out a statement? Being able to have these conversations, with board, staff and donors, has been done in ways that I have never really seen before.
Having worked with donors for more than 10 years, I would not be the one knocking on their door saying let us talk about race and how that is centered in your giving. For the first time, donors really are coming to the Foundation because of what they were seeing in the external environment. As I was mentioning, increasingly, more institutions are realizing that they are being called by their employees, by the external community to stand up for what they see is right and just in this world.
Lisa Salomon: What are you seeing in the broader community, not just in grantmaking decisions, but conversations in the boardroom, and conversations within the foundation’s themselves about their own organizational structures and practices? Can you speak about that evolution that has brought us to where we are today?
Nicole Kyauk: I think you will see more folks talking about their own equity journey. Other community foundations and other private institutions are all on their own journeys of figuring out how to center their values and what they are looking to change in the external environment in very different ways. If we looked at other institutions like the National Center for Family Philanthropy, who are beginning to center racial equity in Northern California. It is everything from being more publicly visible in putting out salary ranges to making sure that there are equity practices within hiring, all the way to how we are looking at our grantmaking strategies. I have seen that across all institutions.
Our friends at Silicon Valley Community Foundation, who are now being much more public in the ways that they are talking about what they want. More institutions are stepping into their own voice, really putting out more public statements denouncing police violence, putting forth the visions that they want to see. That is influencing conversations with the board, conversations internally with staff who are grappling with internal equity and inclusion tensions, and our constituents … that means everyone from our grantee partners to other community leaders.
Lisa Salomon: Talk about the intersectionality of racial, economic, gender equity and justice in this work. There has been, in this past year, a dramatic focus on racial equity for obvious reasons. You used the word disruption earlier.
Theary Chan: Yes, I like to make good trouble. I think that is the best way to say it. So, I think this is a deep question, right? Intersectionality is a word that we have used in the sector for several years now. Our sector is very good at having the same word mean very different things. So, I am not even going to attempt to try and define it in this moment. Perhaps just kind of paraphrase my conception of it, which is that it is embodied in the phrase, “yes, dot dot dot.” We are intersectional feminists. I think about the impact of what it has meant to us and to organizations like us, with the incorporation of the idea of intersectionality in our community and movement initiatives, but also how philanthropists and how funders have incorporated into their funding models and schemes. I have been a fundraiser for social change for about 20 years.
Early on in my career, we used to try package all our efforts into very focused proposals. We understood that intersectional issues were impacting our communities, but we had to partition and compartmentalize. Essentially [we had to] make a giant Venn diagram and then try to extract the whole circles from these Venn diagrams … as if that was real. And we knew it was not right. We knew that the women’s liberation movement was not wholly distinct from the gay liberation movement, that criminal justice reform was not distinct from economic justice. It was all true. But because funders were especially powerful family foundations, they had very finite focuses on the issues that were important to them, or the ones that they declared to be important to the sector. Out of necessity, we did the same thing. We operated in the same model.
The impact of the idea of intersectionality, in our sector right now is manifesting in the changing of the lexicon and the language that we use to talk about social and systemic changes. Interrogating systems of oppression is [a] very complex Venn diagram, and we are no longer asked to separate the circles out, but we can ask for funding at the intersection. We can fund at the intersection that addresses the harms and the oppression of one identity group, but it does not negate all the other factors that contribute to their oppression. I think it is really complicated, but it is really exciting, right? Because this is a new opportunity for engaging in conversation that feels more holistic; it feels more authentic, especially for fundraisers of color walking through this path and trying to separate out the layers of oppression that are colonialism, white supremacy and patriarchy. Not that everything is given equal weight. But it is saying that where they meet is heavy. And it is time for us to focus.
Lisa Salomon: I have had so many conversations myself, with clients and with colleagues around the idea of being siloed. You are talking about intersectionality necessarily means moving away from these silos that we have created. [These silos] are largely based on systems and ideas that were based in white supremacy and that idea of keeping people and activities separate. Let’s talk about the confluence of the pandemic and the racial justice movement. The wealth disparity is even more evident because of the pandemic — wealth and health. Do you think the confluence of these world events has accelerated giving in the social sector? Or changed the ways in which individual philanthropists are approaching their giving?
Nicole Kyauk: Yes, is the unequivocal answer. I hope many of you have seen an influx in resources going to your organizations. I will say that as we work with clients, this is the rainy day that folks have been waiting for [and] they have been holding on to financial resources. Now is the moment. A time like this happens once in a century, and hopefully not too frequently. But when it does, this is the moment to be able to leverage and accelerate giving. We saw folks double down to organizations like the opera, to really expanding and meeting the urgent needs related to COVID. It was everything from food and housing assistance to access to testing for COVID.
As we entered what we were seeing as racial reckoning and all the uprisings, that meant [donors] centering racial equity in their philanthropy in a way they may never had before.
The other interesting thing is that [the donors] had not necessarily been thinking about issues like policy, structural and systemic changes in their philanthropy. While they were doubling down on their other grants, they were absolutely thinking about basic needs. We were seeing [donors], for the first time, thinking about broader, bigger changes. Some of our donors had never given to organizing and power-building. For the first time, [they] were really interested and thinking about how they can expand the ways that they were giving.
Lisa Salomon: I think one of the one of the common complaints we hear among nonprofits is individual philanthropists and foundations, whether through DAFs [donor-advised funds] or foundation giving directly, continue to focus on the same pool of grantees they have known forever. What I am hearing from you is that there has been some expansion of that recently. How much of that is happening? Where is the perception and where is the reality? How much work still needs to be done in that area? Not just at the San Francisco Foundation, but across the sector?
Nicole Kyauk: I have talked to colleagues across the country, and many of them said that a lot of folks have been more expansive in the ways they have been thinking about their giving, and for better or for worse, that has been tied to what they are seeing in the local media and in the national space. We saw much more going into efforts related to elections and our voter rights, and then seeing a spike with the Black Lives Matter movement, and around anti-policing as a specific example. Many of the folks had not given to those causes previously.
My fear is that this is a blip and moment in time. My responsibility as an advisor is to continue to provide educational resources context for the continued urgent need to invest in communities and invest in power-building and supporting the communities that have been hard at work for so long. I see [the] Marcus Foster [Foundation] on the call, it is groups like these who have been at the frontlines, and are those that need to be resourced far longer than this pandemic or this moment in time that we’re seeing these racial uprisings.
Lisa Salomon: What are you seeing in terms of an acceleration in giving and the ways in which individual philanthropists are approaching their giving? Are you seeing greater interest in the intersectional space?
Theary Chan: Yes and no. I am a Libra, so I am always a yes and a no. I think there is a recognition [from] folks who hold wealth, and the experience of crazy [capital] gains in the last year. But the communities that we serve were disproportionately impacted by the pandemic: women, especially women of color, transgender, non-conforming, suffered in deeper ways than many other parts of the community. When you are in an identity-oriented community that derives its resources from institutional funders and private philanthropists, and also the grassroots community, it is a yes and a no. There are some of your participants that do have access to more capacity and can be advised to double down or to contribute or respond in crisis. Then there are others you are trying to just help sustain.
There are just so many different complexities for the way wealth and power and equity manifests itself in the sector. It requires really concerted efforts to have open, honest and transparent conversations. For some of our philanthropists, we recognize this moment was overwhelming because it felt like everything was exploding, everything was happening all at once. There was this public health crisis, a movement against black racism, anti-asian hate was escalating, and our elders were being subjected to increasing levels of violence. And then from the international perspective, because we fund in international spheres in oppressive regimes, using the pandemic, to enact policies that completely shut down civic space and support, that subjected women and trans women to increasing levels of gender-based violence. They were unable to leave their homes and things like that.
People are starting to recognize how our society needs a little bit of constant interrogation. For us to keep looking and keep gazing in this moment, [it] allowed a lot of people to start really staring, and I hope that their gaze holds. I know that has been a long year and it has been a long pandemic. I am tired. I don’t know how many of you are tired, but I am so tired. How many of the conversations [can] I have with people about “Hey, I’m gonna hold your hand, please don’t stop looking.” Because this was always there. It is just the person got pulled to the side, and now [they] see it. This is a moment where we cannot look away.
Audience Question: With this influx in giving to social justice causes, is there value to [nonprofit] organizations trying to build new donor audiences to specifically referenced that in their messaging? For example, to explicitly indicate “if you care about equity, here’s the way you can help” or is that too direct?
Theary Chan: Like intersectionality, equity has so many definitions. It is not too direct because it is one of those phrases that require unpacking. There is a separate conversation about how to address that there are communities who need power, right? We have been [discussing] who has power and who does not have power. We are now shifting into a different dialogue saying there is a community that needs power, because black and brown bodies are being put into violence by the state and how do you amplify those voices.
It is not necessarily drawing this kind of intellectual idea of the theoretical sense of equity, by pointing out that injustice is real. Their initiatives, their ideas and their voices need to be elevated and heightened because waiting for philanthropy to solve the issues of our communities has not yielded much progress for us right now. Now it is time to say “Who needs power? And what can they do with it?” Visibility is power.
Lisa Salomon: I think there is a piece that is important to this question, which is one of authenticity, action and commitment. I think talk is cheap. Anybody can come up with a great tagline or a great marketing pitch around what they are doing for equity. We frequently see these trends, where everybody rushes and says do that because it is being funded. I think it is important that before we get to the messaging, that the [nonprofit] organization is in the right space and ready to authentically commit to doing the work.
Nicole Kyauk: I also think it is absolutely okay and appropriate to lift up the work that you’re doing. [As a nonprofit fundraiser], help make the connections and align on what [your organization] is doing with where individuals are thinking about their charitable giving. As we reflect internally, how are we ceding power, how are we making sure that we are centering others in the decision-making, particularly those that are most adversely affected by policies, structures and systems?
Lisa Salomon: How have leaders in this community and the philanthropic community began to have conversations about reconciling the power, privilege and systems of white supremacy that are associated with philanthropy with a commitment to advancing social and racial justice?
Theary Chan: I will be transparent and admit that our fund has been the beneficiaries of a [very special, unrestricted] elite gift. The conversation that we engaged in to position ourselves for that gift was different, than what I have ever experienced. We were asked questions that centered on not trying to be critical or prescriptive about the models in which we execute, or how we do our work. The hopeful question of “What do you need?” and not “Why do you need it?”
[Previously], we were dancing around the [funder’s] questions and having to justify why we need things in terms of case for support, needs assessments and all these layers that are about exhibiting where we are vulnerable. The ability [now] to have a conversation about where we are strong, where we are making progress, is a very empowering kind of dialogue. It feels very fresh to me in the market. The manifestation of an unrestricted substantial investment in our organization has led to more conversations with like-minded funders who are trying to walk that path.
For some, it is a relatively new journey. And for others, they have been thinking about this for a little bit but could not figure out how to execute it.
Nicole Kyauk: It is one that is both internal and institutional. When you think about the conversation we have with donors, it has been a challenge for individuals to think about their own privilege and power. We have conversations around ceding power and what that can look like. It is breaking down what has been taught as the traditional best practices in philanthropy and thinking about new ways of working in partnership and collaboration.
From an institutional perspective, we hold conversations within our own organization at the San Francisco Foundation about upholding, frankly, white supremacist ways of working. That is everything from getting comfortable with the discomfort of things being perfect or thinking about how everything is an emergency. I remind our team that we are not working at a domestic violence shelter. We are not in the emergency room. How can we then try to break free from the ways that I think many of us have been taught or have been forced to work based on traditional white supremacist ways of culture and ways of working? That is difficult to change when we are in very specific systems. I appreciate this renewed openness and willingness [of our donors] to have the conversations alongside us.
Lisa Salomon: Let’s go deeper into the health and wealth gap, and this idea of elite philanthropy and the expectations of individual donors themselves. How are individual philanthropists responding? What trends are you seeing emerge in the way they are giving to organizations?
Nicole Kyauk: Folks have had a successful year as far as investment returns go. We have been giving recommendations to donors that flexible, multi-year commitment [support nonprofits]. [The donors] are not putting any restrictions in the conversations or requiring onerous reporting that is specific to them. When we think about “trust-based” philanthropy or “community-centric” philanthropy, that is really giving up the power from the donors to the grantees. [It is] less of a requirement to fit in these boxes that historical philanthropy has created. It is not about like checking all of these boxes.
Theary Chan: This is a welcomed space for a lot of folks in the sector: trust-based philanthropy. Trust-based giving, community-centered funding has been embedded in women’s funding for a long time. It has been part of the feminist funding principles for a lot of institutions for a long time. Recognizing that flexible and core funding directed towards those most impacted and most marginalized — to lead the change they want to make and see. Ideas of scarcity weave themselves through our work and in our lives. Philanthropy is one of those interesting places where we do not have to adopt the model of scarcity. We can adopt the model of abundance.
We are seeing interest in individuals pooling their funds. Contributing to not just the rapid response funds for COVID crisis but aligning and partnering in different funding circles to create greater impact. By not acting within silos or as individuals, they are starting to recognize there is a community here and the community is all of us. It is a community-centric way of operating those intermediaries can step into and serve in a different way. We have pooled funding [at Urgent Action Fund] because we know that what we do is not easy. We have 72-hour rapid response grants. For an individual to identify a need, and then deploy quickly. seems insurmountable. We have this pool of funding to respond immediately to any moment of crisis and be in service that is not directive.
The health gap is something we are struggling with. We are typically an advocacy kind of response funder. During this pandemic, we had to take the place of certain direct services and certain direct aid, especially in really impoverished regions: hygiene kits for some of our trans activists instead of being able to create strategies of digital security for their own activism. It has been a different kind of shift. I am not quite sure where we are going to land at the end of this. Do we shift back? Will our donor shift back?
Audience Question: What is the relationship between fully engaging in trust-based philanthropy and measuring impact?
Theary Chan: I think advocating for unrestricted funds and conversations [with funders] about how restrictions are acts of power. These may yield some of the outcomes we are seeking. Being prescriptive about how and what any institution should or can do is an exertion of power. It is more than the restrictions, right? Power dynamics and conversations is a way that we can educate everyone, not just donors, but [those] involved in the philanthropic sector. To interrogate the ways power has an influence on us, even as a as a resource mobilization person, recognize where the power dynamics affect how I operate, and what I do, and being able to have transparent conversations about that. I think [this] is where trust-based philanthropy really lives. It is not that we are asking for unfiltered trust. It is saying that if we have an honest conversation with each other, if we carry transparency and openness with each other, we can build trust together. We can interrogate the power dynamics that affect our relationship.
Lisa Salomon: It comes back to what you were saying earlier about not having to justify what we need. I have had a lot of conversations recently with folks around impact excellence, who is defining that. Our current ideas of these things are based on systems of white supremacy. We need to have dialogue to unpack and redefine what all these things mean if we are going to work together.
Theary Chan: The measurement of impact has lived for so long in outputs versus outcomes. The movement towards trying to create business sense out of the work, the messy work with social change, has led to metrics that are [based on the] number of grants given as an output. We are now moving into a space where we can really think about outcomes. Those outcomes are rooted in systemic changes. There is a different way to demonstrate impact and a movement towards a methodology more about measuring progress versus digitizing the nonprofit sector.
Nicole Kyauk: Outcomes-based philanthropy is being in relationship and closer proximity to the organizations we are supporting. It is much more of a conversation. I will use one example. We are supporting St. Vincent DePaul, and we asked, “What do you think your outcome should be? What are you tracking? We are not going to impose that on you.
Let’s be in conversation and come to a shared agreement of what we think those measures could look like. It is more [important] to have it as part of a conversation so we can assess how to invest in you to be successful to meet those goals and metrics that you are thinking about, and it is less about us as the funder. It is rooted in those honest conversations, building relationships, and for me, as intermediary to be in conversation around how can I help right-size expectations? If a donor is giving $100,000, should they require a grantee to give a 10 page report? Probably not.
It is my job to help educate and help create the connection so that they can feel that an annual report was enough. I can understand and feel connected to the organization. I [need] to ask the questions, “what are you really trying to get out when you are asking for impact? What are you really trying to understand to be in service to the organization you are trying to support?” Oftentimes, it is less about “were they were able to create those excellent widgets” and more about “I just want to know how they are doing”. [Donors] want to feel connected to their work.
Lisa Salomon: You reminded me of an example about the foundation that for a $25,000 grant expected three printed copies of a 23-page application hand delivered to the organization. Are there other specific examples? What about the ability of mega donors to influence the way other philanthropists think about their giving and their relationships with their grantees?
Nicole Kyauk: We are seeing why [donors] are coming to entities like community foundations or another funder intermediaries — that they may not have all the answers but are connecting with other institutions or organizations that do have the “on-the-ground” expertise, or connections with organizations that are doing the best work to meet the needs of communities that they are trying to make sure that they are able to give back to. When we look at some of our major donors, their decision was to give through the Community Foundation because they knew that we had the trust and relationships in the community — with elected officials and with our grantees. The [donors] didn’t want to have to make those decisions on where it all should go and trusted us as that intermediary.
It is interesting to see more donors who are looking to others who have expertise. We are starting to see that as a way of [donors] ceding power and recognizing where the expertise may lie. It has been a powerful way for us to be in conversation with other intermediaries. If we did not have that expertise, we would look to another entity to make sure that we were meeting the needs of community in a way that really respects and honors what that donor is trying to do, but also centering community in that decision making.
Lisa Salomon: How do you define intermediaries beyond community foundations and public foundations?
Theary Chan: It is a subset of the philanthropic sector that provide provides philanthropic services and it may be different. To the extent that there is not a model for intermediaries, there are often these institutions that act as bridges, and they are resource from a community. Whether it be an identity-based community or a locally based community, there’s space for different kinds of vehicles. All of it in service to the amplification of philanthropy. Bridgspan is a philanthropic services organization — they do a lot of diligence and research. I like to say it is like GuideStar, 2.0 with the availability of information to help people make informed and good decisions about the alignment of their values with the initiatives that they are supporting.
Lisa Salomon: I am seeing, in recent years, the philanthropists themselves taking the responsibility to learn more about the organizations as opposed to making the organizations jump through hoops to fit in their predefined box. There has been a shift in focus [by philanthropists] on communities that they want to serve as opposed to specific projects or specific standards and metrics within a [philanthropy] portfolio. Does that, does that resonate for you?
Theary Chan: It is like layers of relationships. The intermediary often has a very direct relationship with the community grantees that we’re engaging with and we act as an intermediary so sometimes the question of power gets a little bit diminished there, right? We are helping to diffuse and make sense of some of the complex relationships when it’s a direct funder to an organization, especially if it is representative community that is severely marginalized. The power gap gets even bigger but having the space and service partner who can help advocate for grantees in a different way. We are being bridges; we’re always being partners. That is the space of intermediaries, an additional layer of partnership.
Lisa Salomon: Let’s talk about generational shifts. We’ve have Millennials and Gen Z. How are we seeing them engage as philanthropists? What is different from the way their parents and grandparents engaged and what seems important to them?
Nicole Kyauk: I really admire and appreciate the next gen; they are calling us out and calling us in ways that are shifting the conversations within their own families. The challenge is that they are not always easy. I will share one specific example. We had an opportunity to provide philanthropic consulting for a private family foundation, and the next gen were grappling with their grantmaking strategies for the family foundation. We had the opportunity to be the facilitator and help think through the shared commonalities, values and vision for what the family could agree upon.
We talked about how their grantmaking strategies were complimentary to one another, and maybe not so divergent as they thought. It was bringing up deep and sometimes difficult conversations around race, privilege, equity, gender, and power, and who had the decision-making power. We are hearing from our next gen folks this desire to be more deeply engaged — they are going out at marches and rallies or learning more on their own [through] podcasts or the articles. They want to be near the organizations they care about. I have many donors who might be volunteering, and your organizations do not know they are the big donors. They do not want to be treated differently. They may give through their Donor Advised Fund.
They want to be able to keep that same relationship they have with you, as the nonprofit, to support your work. They are asking us for ways to be able to feel connected deeply to your organization. Sometimes you get emails from the Family Foundation saying, “Hey, can you share a story or is there a story that is on your website that helps demonstrate your work?” They do not have as much desire to have strings attached with specific outcomes, but really wanting to have that deeper personal connection.
Lisa Salomon: Are you seeing a lot more anonymity from these generations of philanthropists?
Nicole Kyauk: For the Next Gen donors that I am working with, who volunteer within organizations, they either want to be anonymous or I have a conversation with a nonprofit asking them not to share they are the donor. I serve on the Advisory Committee of 21/64, and they just recently surveyed 100 Next Gen’ers on this very topic, and all of what I highlighted coincides with what they saw in their survey.
Theary Chan: One of the strangest and best conversations I had was with a group of next gen philanthropists that inherited wealth. They recognized they inherited this wealth through certain economic conditions that they did not make and that others, by virtue of birth, were not allowed the same opportunity. They are engaging in what it means to inherit wealth and what it means to be a holder of wealth in a society that is becoming more and more unequal. One of the most interesting phrases that someone threw out was philanthropy is reparations. I say it sometimes, but I did not expect to hear from them. I think it is really bold and exciting that there is a generation of folks who are not only adopting the idea of reparations as a way to reconcile their privilege, their opportunities and the systemic inequalities they benefit from that make philanthropy necessary. But, that there is a movement towards communities that would benefit from being made whole again, and we can’t ignore that being made whole is a very difficult, ambitious, but necessary idea to pursue.
Lisa Salomon: What can the folks in this room do to advance a stronger and more inclusive culture of philanthropy in our communities, whether it’s a nonprofit organization, an advisor, a consultant? What are some of the things we should be thinking about doing in terms of taking action?
Theary Chan: Can I be a broken record and say if you could enter conversations and relationships in consideration of power and power dynamics, I think that will be beneficial to donors, organizations and activists alike. It is one of those conversations that will really build the next level of progress for the social change that we want to see. For too long, we shied away from talking about power — from understanding the influence of power in our relationships, in our organizations, as it manifests throughout the nonprofit community, and nonprofit sector, there is a racial reckoning in the nonprofit sector right now. That is from the lack of conversations about power in a way that is generative, instead seeking to hold on to it and identifying its scarcity. [Instead], recognize there is opportunity to find alignment and move in a direction that is generative and equal and can make space for deeper progress than we have seen. I do not want to wait for the next generation to solve these problems. We can do things now and I hope that there is opportunity for you in your conversations and your relationships.
Lisa Salomon: Often I have gone into board rooms and board conversations where there is still a lot of resistance to even acknowledging privilege and power and systems of white supremacy. Do the work yourself first, and then help others to see it.
Theary Chan: Sometimes conversations about privilege and oppression get complex because it’s not binary, and you’re on different scales and graphs of oppression and privilege. I am privileged in some ways, and I am oppressed in other ways. And that can sometimes lead to very emotional, defensive conversations. Moving into a conversation that is more about the outcome of those privileges and oppressions that is centered on power and the dissemination of it. I think that helps alleviate some of the defensive mechanisms that can come into play when we are trying to figure out where we stand in the world in terms of “I’m privileged here, and I feel discriminated here.”
Nicole Kyauk: I am always very conscious of who is and [who] is not in the room, who is being included and who do we need to call in and invite. I am conscious and aware of my own power and privilege. My responsibility is to be always in a space of learning. What are the things that I can do individually? What can I do with my team that I’m working with to support them? You all can be in conversation with your colleagues, your board, your donors, or your clients. I have been thinking through these very difficult conversations, some of the richest conversations I have ever had, while very difficult, have been the most meaningful because you start to get in very deep conversations around values.
Audience Question: In the foundation world, the big assets that we hold and are sitting both in Donor Advised Funds and foundation [fund], are you investing in ESG portfolios or some type of socially responsible investments? How do you talk to your donors and funders about how the money you hold is invested?
Theary Chan: I can say that ESG is not enough. I recognize the field of impact Investing. I think it is really interesting where different dimensions are being evaluated. I have a group in Germany that is looking at investing in LGBTQ entrepreneurs. There are women’s rights frameworks to some of the more socially responsible investment firms. Finding information about them is difficult and confusing. I had donors who wanted more options for their investment funds, and I [said] “Well if I had a robust financial research team that isn’t just me, googling, I would be able to help direct this in that way.”
My hope is that community foundations, whether they have Donor Advised Funds or other philanthropic vehicles that they are no longer trying to measure their success and their impact under that “assets under management” line. [My hope is there is] more focus on the ratio of funds going out, [versus the] ratio of contributions coming in. For me, there was a lot of pressure to maintain a certain level of assets under management. In my heart, I just wanted to give it to a bunch of different organizations and be an advisor, that helped people be generous and altruistic in ways that was not about that line. But if anyone is aware of socially responsible indexes, or other investment options that don’t harm the planet and don’t oppress people, and aren’t creating perpetuating systems of oppression and inequities, we will talk.
Nicole Kyauk: Because of who we are, and the donors that we have, we absolutely want to make sure that we are using more than an ESG screen and centering equity in our investments. We are looking at the equity lens and highlighting other alternatives. We have a Community Impact fund where loans are going out to support organization development, that allows a donor’s funds to be invested and then returned to their fund. They may not be ready to make those grants right now, but it can still be deployed into community and then returned. We have been looking at creative ways that support what the community needs and has been used quite successfully. Fairly significant housing developments in San Francisco, for example, and allows for that flexibility and a triple bottom line, if you will.
Audience Question: 2020 was such a tough year and this feeling [among nonprofits] of just trying to pour sand in a hole that keeps filling and getting bigger and bigger. How are funders working at this systemic level?
Theary Chan: A trend that might be interesting to explore is public private partnerships – like government and specific nonprofits. It felt like they were separate spheres for a long time. A lot of philanthropic funders are moving in coordination with government now, recognizing that either was not enough, and maybe together move in more concerted ways. It is always complex when it comes to government funding, in terms of the ability, the flexibility and the requirements. In California, we had an undocumented immigrant’s relief fund that was privately funded by certain philanthropists and the state kicked in some funds. Then it was managed and distributed by community organizations. I think we can as a society seek to explore those partnerships, there no longer this binary between funder and recipient and beneficiary
Nicole Kyauk: We want to influence the way resources are distributed and so you’ll see The San Francisco Foundation boldly coming out in stance of certain propositions. We have made decisions internally so that we do that more. You will see a lot of the foundations are engaging in more regional efforts in ways that are much bigger than I have seen in the past.
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