Family Foundations & Racial Justice

Leslie Ramyk, 2019 CUE FelloW 

Goal

We seek to shift decision-making power from family foundation leaders to those directly impacted by injustice.

What is the goal of your project?

We strive to move family foundations toward racial justice. Lead staff from family foundations participate in this discussion group to learn more about racial justice, identify ways they can use their access and privilege to make positive change, and support one another in developing new norms in philanthropy. Ultimately, we seek to shift decision-making power to those directly impacted by injustice.    

Why:

If family foundations created by wealthy white families keep all the decision-making power, they are simply replicating a colonial model.

Why is this project important?

The family foundations currently operating in Chicago (with precious few exceptions) were created by wealthy white families with good intentions. But if those families keep all of the decision-making power, even if they fund Black- and Brown-led organizations, they are replicating a colonial model. While it may prove impossible to rectify the built-in racial injustice of white wealth, foundation staff do have influence and opportunities to at least ameliorate the most egregious abuses of power. This discussion group is an effort to figure out how to do that and to support one another as we shake things up.

Who are the collaborators on this project?

Lead staff from family foundations in Chicago, including Seabury Foundation, Conant Family Foundation, and others.

How is this project being completed?

Conant Family Foundation leader, Leslie Ramyk (2019 CUE Fellow), takes responsibility for inviting others, provides an orientation on the purpose and intent, schedules the every-other-month meetings, and facilitates conversations with discussion-starter articles or videos. Participants are encouraged to take turns facilitating and identifying topics.

Outcome:

The discussion group published a letter-to-the-editor in Crain’s Chicago Business against hateful rhetoric from then President Trump.

What outcomes have you seen so far? If the project is still going, what outcomes are expected?

This work is ongoing. In the time since it began (2019), the group has spoken publicly in a letter-to-the-editor, “12 Chicago family foundations: Enough with the hate”, against hate messages from the then-POTUS, one foundation has shifted to a participatory grantmaking model.

 

Seabury Foundation evaluated how many grants were going to groups led by impacted communities and changed its guidelines to specifically ask about demographic representation, to eliminate any parachute-in groups. Seabury has also engaged in a series of Board discussions to entirely overhaul its grantmaking with a goal of shifting all funds to community-controlled organizations.

 

Conant Family Foundation has now completed three years of participatory grantmaking in our Community Organizing for Racial Justice program area.

THE CUE INFLUENCE:

The CUE Fellowship developed my courage as a professional in philanthropy and held me accountable to take action.

How did the CUE Fellowship help you move your project?

The CUE Fellowship helped me see the racial injustice of family foundations much more clearly, gave me the language to explain this to others, developed my courage as a professional in philanthropy to take a stand and invite others to join me, and—most importantly— held me accountable to take action.