Native Voices Rising: Critical Leadership in Institutional Philanthropy
Earlier this year, I received news that Valorie Johnson, a program officer at the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, was planning to retire. As one of the few Native Americans working at a foundation, I celebrated her many accomplishments in the philanthropic sector. But I also grieved the impending loss of one the few Native influencers in philanthropy.
Why are there so few of us working in philanthropy? Who's addressing the issue? And, most importantly, why is the inclusion of Native voices so critical to effective philanthropic leadership?
A recent article in the Nonprofit Quarterly described philanthropy's disappointing attempts at diversity: "[N]either the numbers in terms of diversity of staffing and governance nor the dynamics of this landscape has changed much since 2008. The pipeline is still not working to move people of color into philanthropy, or to move women and people of color up in hierarchies, as quickly as white men…."
Philanthropy has invested millions of dollars in various initiatives to increase diversity in the field, including the D5 Coalition, a five-year effort to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion in the philanthropic sector. Eighteen affinity groups and organizations, including Native Americans in Philanthropy (NAP), founded the coalition in 2010, and while there has been progress in tracking much-needed data and advocating for increased Native representation in philanthropy, a significant amount of work remains to be done.
It's true that the small number of Native Americans working at foundations is related to the broader barriers to diversity in the field. But I would like to offer a few additional insights for your consideration:
- When foundations seek to diversify their staffs, they often look to hire talent from the populations that benefit from their funding. Very few foundations focus their giving on Native American populations, so hiring Native staff may not be seen as a priority.
- Native Americans are still dogged by stereotypes and myths. For example, some of you might be thinking: "Wow! I didn't know Edgar was Native American. Does he live on a reservation?" A foundation leader even confessed to me her fear of hiring Natives because she believed Natives were incapable of getting along with members of other minority groups.
- Philanthropy is hardly a new concept for Native communities, many of which embrace a culture of reciprocity (as opposed to professionalized giving). As a result, Natives may not seek out foundation jobs. And many Natives prioritize working within our own tribes or communities instead of large, mainstream, and mostly white-led organizations.
- Institutional philanthropy for the most part is the product of affluent white men, some of whom earned their wealth through business practices and/or policies that were harmful to Native populations. The lasting impact of colonization has resulted in the majority of Native families in the United States living in dire poverty far from the ivory towers of philanthropy.
The ugly cycle of philanthropic divestment has been compounded by the lack of Native representation in the field, which only Native Voices Rising: Critical Leadership in Institutional Philanthropy | Schott Foundation for Public Education: