Author Archives: Padmini Parthasarathy

  1. Results of the Fund’s JEDI Snapshot

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    At the Walter & Elise Haas Fund, we know that when we invest in programs and policies that benefit those experiencing the worst inequities, we not only improve people’s lives; we also improve outcomes for whole communities. Research, practice, and the lived experience of those closest to the issues also teach us that structural change moves the needle towards equity and justice most effectively. Philanthropy, however, has not yet fully embraced and acted upon this clear evidence.

    We aim to change that, starting with a JEDI (Justice, Equity, Diversity, Inclusion) snapshot of our grantmaking.

    Taking a Deeper Look at our Grantmaking

    Profound social inequities and inequitable distribution of philanthropic resources significantly affect the Bay Area. This challenge, as well as the urgency of the current pandemic and racial reckoning, motivated the Fund to examine its own grantmaking using a JEDI lens. We took a snapshot of our current grantmaking, to collect and analyze data on the following indicators:

    • JEDI approaches;
    • Grant subject matter;
    • Grant strategies;
    • Population served by age, race/ethnicity, gender, faith, and ability;
    • Grantee leader demographics;
    • Organizational budget size;
    • Organizational funding history with W&EHF; and
    • Grant duration.

    We examined grants the Fund awarded in 2019 and 2020 in the Arts, Creative Work Fund, Disaster, Education, Economic Security, Jewish Life, and Safety Net program areas; in 2020 for COVID-19 Rapid Response grants; and from 2016 through 2020 for Capital grants (including more years here as we award only a small number of Capital grants each year).

    Snapshot Findings

    The snapshot revealed several important findings:

    • Over half of the Fund’s grant dollars supported equity approaches, with smaller proportions supporting diversity (46%) and inclusion (42%), and the smallest proportion of dollars going to justice (21%).
    • Only 30% of dollars went to policy and systems change. Organizing/power building accounted for just 17% of our grants. In the program areas where grantmaking strategy has been intentionally designed to support a larger amount of policy and organizing efforts, a higher proportion of funding went to justice-focused work.
    • Almost one-quarter of funding focused on Black, Indigenous, and other people of color (BIPOC); 7% centered on women, girls, and gender expansive individuals; and 17% went towards people with disabilities.
    • Organizations with annual budgets of less than $1 million received 16% of W&EHF’s funding, with most given as single-year awards.
    • Most of the COVID-19 rapid response funding supported organizations taking equity approaches to their work. Additionally, a large majority of the funding (80%) went to direct service efforts. One-quarter of funds supported youth-focused efforts.

    What This Means for the Future

    This JEDI snapshot suggests several implications for the Fund’s grantmaking.

    Organizing/power building and policy and systems change are two primary strategies that drive justice and equity. These data suggest we need to increase funding to these strategies.

    We also see a need for greater collaboration in areas where the Fund’s program areas overlap in terms of addressing justice and equity. Dismantling barriers often requires more creative strategies and more substantial resources. As structural and cultural changes require a long view — and thus sustained funding over time — the Fund also needs to make more multiyear grants (currently 39% of grantmaking).

    We see that the intention we take in regard to policy and systems change investments should also be applied to how we address populations of focus and organizational leadership in our grantmaking. Though we far outperform the Bay Area philanthropic sector in terms of percentage of funding going to BIPOC communities (33% vs. 2%), we are still far short of proportional and equitable funding; people who identify as BIPOC make up 60% of our region’s population. These communities have faced the greatest historical oppression and have the poorest outcomes on many indicators of health and prosperity.

    Our JEDI snapshot also revealed where the Fund needs to improve its own data collection practices. For example, we had sparse data on the race and ethnicity of our grantees’ leadership, staff, and clients. This made it difficult to adequately assess how well we are supporting BIPOC-led nonprofits. We will consider requesting this information via our grant application, while sharing our reasons for doing so. A survey by the Center for Effective Philanthropy found that only 31% of leaders are asked by their funders about their staff’s demographics, even though 88% reported that their funders ask about the demographics of the populations they serve. In addition, 87% of these leaders reported that they would be comfortable sharing this information, with respondents expressing their desire to learn how their funders will use these data.

    This deep look at our progress towards justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion in our work has set a vital baseline for the Fund. We will continue to share with you what we learn as we use these findings to improve our grantmaking policies and practices and more effectively support our grantees to advance equity and justice in the Bay Area and beyond.

  2. How Child Support Really Works in California


    What—and who—do you think of when you hear the phrase “child support?” Is it so-called “deadbeat dads” who resist paying support to their families? Or do you imagine an essential system that helps keep children housed, clothed, fed, and ready for school?

    The truth is that both of these visions of the practical effects of California’s child support system are based on misconceptions. The most common reality is quite different; 40% of child support payments in California instead go to pay off debt owed to the government.

    California’s child support problem

    Here’s the problem: state and federal laws require families that enroll in public benefits to sign their rights to their child support funds over to the government. These payments then “pay for” benefits that are already publicly funded. So, if you need child support and public benefits—as many child support recipients do; tough. The current system won’t allow you to receive Medi-Cal, CalWORKs, or other public support and child support payments to care for your own children at the same time.

    The bulk of the money a parent sends to help cover the costs of raising their children—whether they send it willingly or under duress—doesn’t arrive. The family only receives the first $50 of each payment; the government takes the rest.

    This throws families into increasingly deeper cycles of poverty. Parents with low incomes can struggle to make payments in the first place. Then, if they succeed, they likely do so by racking up debt. So, trying to do right by their children, they incur one debt to pay off another, and their kids find their families in even worse economic straits. The Walter & Elise Fund and its partners, such as the San Francisco Financial Justice Project (a longtime grantee of the Fund), believe that every cent of what parents pay in child support should go to their children.

    Spreading the word

    On May 11, Truth and Justice in Child Support organized more than fifty organizations across California, including the San Francisco Financial Justice Project, to produce and launch a three-minute video that brings awareness to this problem. The short, Everything You Think You Know About California Child Support is Wrong, narrated by W. Kamau Bell and Robert Reich, advances the coalition’s call for 100% of all parents’ child support payments to go to their children.

    W. Kamau Bell and Robert Reich

    The pilot project featured in this video found that if we relieve parents’ government-owed child support debt, then all of parents’ payments go to their children, the regularity of parents’ payments increases, and all members of the family benefit. The Walter & Elise Haas Fund is proud to have supported this pilot, providing the funds used to pay down parents’ debt. Tipping Point Community supported the evaluation of the pilot, which was conducted by Urban Institute.

    COVID-19 and child support

    Families served by the child support system are disproportionately families of color with low incomes. These are the same people experiencing the greatest challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic: high rates of infection and death, job loss, lack of health coverage, and challenges accessing the internet for digital learning and work. Even at this time, both federal and state COVID-19 relief policies allow the government to intercept cash relief payments to pay off child support debt.

    Reforms to California’s child support system are more urgent than ever. Watch the video. Share it with your networks. And sign up for updates from the Truth and Justice in Child Support Coalition, which is advocating for reforms. Now is the time to work together to ensure Californians’ child support payments go where they’re needed most, to their children.


    Thank you to Jacob Kornbluth Productions, W. Kamau Bell, Robert Reich, and all of the members of Truth and Justice in Child Support for creating this powerful video. Thank you also to our video funding partner, the San Francisco Foundation.

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