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Opinion: Why do grants ask for DEI?

𝗚𝗿𝗮𝗻𝘁 𝗺𝗮𝗸𝗲𝗿, 𝗰𝗼𝘂𝗹𝗱 𝘆𝗼𝘂 𝘀𝗵𝗼𝘄 𝘂𝘀 𝘆𝗼𝘂𝗿 𝗗𝗘𝗜. I have developed a few opinion pieces for Black History Month related to philanthropy. Today, let’s talk about the elephant in the room.

If you have recently applied for a grant, you may have noticed a relatively new trend since the summer of 2020. Almost every Grantmaker and funder, from the large established organizations to the more recent giving circles, want to know the racial and sexual orientation of nonprofit staff, leadership, and Board members. You may even wonder if this practice is ethical and legal.

𝗜𝘁 𝗶𝘀 𝗮𝗴𝗮𝗶𝗻𝘀𝘁 𝘁𝗵𝗲 𝗹𝗮𝘄 𝘁𝗼 𝗱𝗶𝘀𝗰𝗿𝗶𝗺𝗶𝗻𝗮𝘁𝗲 𝗯𝗮𝘀𝗲𝗱 𝗼𝗻 𝗿𝗮𝗰𝗲 𝗮𝗻𝗱 𝗼𝘁𝗵𝗲𝗿 𝗽𝗿𝗼𝘁𝗲𝗰𝘁𝗲𝗱 𝗰𝗹𝗮𝘀𝘀𝗲𝘀. 𝗥𝗶𝗴𝗵𝘁?

In my view, Grantmakers have a right to ask for this information and use it to build equity into their process. However well-intentioned, I believe it is a misguided attempt at Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.

𝗪𝗵𝘆 𝗮𝗿𝗲 𝘁𝗵𝗲𝘆 𝗮𝘀𝗸𝗶𝗻𝗴 𝗳𝗼𝗿 𝘁𝗵𝗶𝘀 𝗶𝗻𝗳𝗼𝗿𝗺𝗮𝘁𝗶𝗼𝗻 𝗻𝗼𝘄? It seems like a reaction to the nation’s calls for racial justice and equality that grew loud during the pandemic. How were the government, Corporate America, and philanthropic organizations (aka funders) addressing racial injustice? And what were they doing about it?

Fair enough. However, instead of looking ----> inward <-----at their practices, these organizations started asking intrusive questions about nonprofit staff’s racial makeup, sexual orientation, and disabilities. Yes, that information does give a window into how an organization works. 𝗕𝘂𝘁 𝘄𝗵𝗮𝘁 𝗵𝗮𝗽𝗽𝗲𝗻𝘀 𝘄𝗶𝘁𝗵 𝘁𝗵𝗶𝘀 𝗶𝗻𝗳𝗼𝗿𝗺𝗮𝘁𝗶𝗼𝗻, 𝗮𝗻𝗱 𝗵𝗼𝘄 𝗶𝘀 𝗶𝘁 𝘂𝘀𝗲𝗱?

I recently saw a post in a membership community where a grant writer was wondering if they should omit information about their client- a white, cis-gender male from an application for fear they would not be selected solely on their race and not the merits or quality of their work (it was an arts grant by the way). 𝗜 𝗵𝗮𝗱 𝗺𝗶𝘅𝗲𝗱 𝗲𝗺𝗼𝘁𝗶𝗼𝗻𝘀 𝗮𝗯𝗼𝘂𝘁 𝘁𝗵𝗶𝘀.

On the one hand, pouring more into Black-led nonprofits is overdue. But, on the other hand, it seems these practices do the opposite-further alienate and divide us and have Black-led organizations wondering if they are “Black enough” to get funded.

Furthermore, what about organizations such as hospitals and healthcare groups? They are the nexus to so many services for Black people. They also need more Black practitioners. But they also need to walk a narrow path of expanding their candidate pool without violating EEOC (US equal employment opportunity commission). Should they be excluded?

Or better yet, what about inclusive organizations, such as Collectives, that don’t want their staff to label themselves?

Throwing another layer to it, what happens when we don’t fit into the [boxes] and labels the Grantmakers give?

𝗜𝘀 𝗮𝘀𝗸𝗶𝗻𝗴 𝗳𝗼𝗿 𝘁𝗵𝗶𝘀 𝗶𝗻𝗳𝗼𝗿𝗺𝗮𝘁𝗶𝗼𝗻 𝗽𝗿𝗼𝗯𝗲m𝗮𝘁𝗶𝗰?

Maybe, maybe not. I am not a lawyer or a politician.

But I observe and try to advise my clients on the best path forward, given their beliefs and constraints.

So, for Black History Month, instead of asking nonprofits what their staff looks like- Grantmakers. Could you show us your DEI?

If you’ve come across these questions about race and sex in grant applications, what did you think/ what did you feel? Then, let’s discuss this in the comments.

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