Practice What You Preach: Integrating Social Justice into Grantmaking

recent report issued by Funders for LGBTQ Issues revealed that less than one-quarter of 1 percent of all foundation funding was awarded to LGBTQ issues. This reality has meant that foundations like Arcus have to focus support in core areas.

Arcus’ funding strategies need to be smart and responsive at targeting systemic problems impacting the lives of LGBTQ people. To ensure our grantmaking is effective, we tap experts from the field to help us establish or refine funding strategies. For us, this largely takes shape in the form of convenings.

Arcus convenings bring together advocates, thought leaders, and other influencers to explore how the foundation can effectively support a particular need. These facilitated meetings have allowed us to gather valuable intelligence to inform our philanthropy. We often learn of key developments well in advance, giving us the edge in creating timely funding opportunities. Convenings also build trust and goodwill, which results in stronger and more dynamic relationships.

We also strive to imbue our commitment to social justice with our approach to grants management. Arcus instituted the requirement that grantseekers possess a board-approved Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) Policy inclusive of sexual orientation and gender identity. For us, it was a no-brainer: Any organization seeking Arcus support should be aligned with our values.

But this modest requirement has shown impact in surprising ways.

In addition to our support of social justice, Arcus is the world’s largest private funder of ape conservation. Our grantee partners working to protect these animals and their natural habitats are also required to have an inclusive EEO policy. This has allowed us to make inroads in places that remain largely unsafe for LGBTQ people, creating real links between the social justice and conservation movements we support.

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution to integrate social justice into every foundation. But I would encourage grants management staff to think about how they might be able to include their foundation’s belief in and support of social justice into their day-to-day practices. The smallest efforts lead to big change, especially when in concert with others.

This piece originally appeared in Grant Managers Network.