Past Board Chairs, Bill Pitkin and Janice Elliott, and current Board Chair, Katie Hong chronicle the racial equity learning journey of Funders Together to End Homelessness from naming it as a strategic priority to making its Commitment to Racial Equity.
By Janice Elliott, Katie Hong, and Bill Pitkin
The Evolution of Our Racial Equity Learning Journey
2016 was a year of transformation for Funders Together to End Homelessness. The organization was under new leadership with Amanda Andere coming on board as CEO, the board leadership was in transition, and racial equity was coming up in local and national conversations around what it will take for us to end homelessness. In October 2016, Amanda penned a blog post for the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) highlighting why, if we want to end homelessness, philanthropy and the field must address structural racism and racial dipartites that exist within our systems.
In it, she wrote: “Philanthropy can fill in gaps, leverage resources, and use their voice to advocate for real change. Funders Together members want all of that and more. They come together because without systems change, we can't end homelessness as we know it. And if we don’t talk about the structural issues that cause racial inequity in housing, human services, and criminal justice, can homelessness ever be rare, brief, and one-time?”
That was our call to action and our why. And the next step was to plan our how.
Later that month, Funders Together to End Homelessness held a staff and board retreat in which we discussed, and designed a new strategic plan that prioritized the elements needed to support, and lead the philanthropic sector in efforts to end homelessness across the country. We knew that despite all the programs and structures in place to prevent and end homelessness, people of color disproportionately experience homelessness because of historical and contemporary structural racism. And so, unanimously, the FTEH staff and board of directors decided to include racial equity as a core priority. We stated that by 2020, we will engage philanthropy in addressing racial inequities in homelessness, recognizing that unequal access to housing is the biggest equity issue.
And so the work began.
Since naming racial equity in our strategic plan, Funders Together has undergone an internal and external continual learning journey with board, staff, and members. We’ve centered racial equity at our annual Funders Forum and Funders Institute, embedded racial equity into all our online and in-person programming, and ensured we engaged in policy and advocacy efforts with a racial equity lens.
In 2019, we launched Foundations for Racial Equity, our two-year community of practice focused on taking funders on a deep dive into learning about racial equity and moving the needle toward greater racial equity in housing and homelessness. The community of practice has had conversations about: centering people with lived expertise in systems change and in grantmaking; how their peers are talking to grantees about racial equity; how local communities such as King County is working to improve its coordinated entry system to be more racially equitable; and C4 Innovations’s research looking at racial disparities in coordinated entry assessment scores.
We’ve prioritized diversifying our staff and board with currently 57% of board members and 50% of staff identifying as a person of color. The Funders Together Board of Directors committed to participating in a racial equity learning opportunity at each in-person meeting and staff is engaging in ongoing learnings around racism and white dominant culture, including an all-staff book club reading Ibram X. Kendi’s How To Be Antiracist.
But we know, this is just the tip of the iceberg of how we should be engaging in this work.
Commitment to Racial Equity
Naming racial equity as a priority, leading programming with it, and focusing on the continual learning journey is part of the work but we also accept the responsibility to be transparent about what we believe and are aiming to accomplish as an organization and with our membership.
In solidarity with efforts to end homelessness through antiracism work, we are sharing our Funders Together to End Homelessness Commitment to Racial Equity.
In this commitment, we unveil our new mission and vision statements that better represent and align with our belief of embedding a racial equity lens in our work. We also name what we know to be true about racial disparities and racism as the root causes of homelessness, who these root causes disproportionally affect, and what we believe is needed to address the causes and end homelessness.
The statement makes public our commitments and aspirations for this work as we move forward and focus on action. It also gives a tangible framework for how we view racial equity and our unique role in supporting our members and the philanthropic sectors to shift its practice, policy, and grantmaking action.
This public commitment to action on racial equity acts as a pillar for every aspect of the work of Funders Together Each project and program we engage in and every partnership we enter into will be measured up with this commitment to ensure it is meeting the criteria and promises we’ve written.
What This Means for Funders Together, Our Members, and the Field
Our internal learning journey will continue. We recognize that we will never “arrive”, rather this is an evergreen process that shifts and evolves. We will continue to seek out opportunities as a board and staff to further our education on racial equity and the role it plays in ending homelessness, then translate those learnings into knowledge and resources for our members and the movement to end homelessness.
Members will see a continuation of the programming and resources we already offer while also witnessing more dedicated content explicitly addressing structural racism in our systems, racial disparities in housing and homelessness, and the role philanthropy plays in building, investing in, and supporting antiracist programs and practices in communities.
It also means that we will be bold in our words and actions as we work to end homelessness, including explicitly naming racism, advocating for more equitable practices in the field, and holding partners and those that work in intersecting issues accountable.
We deeply appreciate Amanda’s leadership in moving us in this direction and nudging us along, as well as the contributions of our great staff and members who are part of this journey with us. We are proud of what we have collectively accomplished over the past few years, but we’ve only scratched the surface. Antiracist work has no destination but is a continual journey for us to embark on and commit to. Racism is intentionally embedded in our systems and who we are as a country, and so the work to undo it must be urgent, mindful, and courageous. And we, as Funders Together, have a responsibility to both lead and support these efforts if we hope to truly end homelessness.
We also hope you’ll join us on Monday, December 9th at 2pm ET/11am PT as we host a Funders Together member call diving into this commitment, why it matters to the work to end homelessness, and how you can join us in this work. Learn more or RSVP here.
Katie Hong, Raikes Foundation
|Janice Elliott, Melville Charitable Trust
Past Board Chair
|Bill Pitkin, Consultant
Past Board Chair