Cultivating Trust with BIPOC Changemakers

Black Joy StoryWindows | Emory Douglas | Photo by: Ashara Ekundayo


In the wake of the 2020 killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and other Black people, the staff and trustees of the Walter & Elise Haas Fund wondered how, as grantmakers, we might contribute to meaningful societal change and help dismantle systemic racism.

Our allyship with community partners — those already working on ways to address anti-Blackness and white supremacy — informed our path. We launched a Racial Justice cohort of 11 grantees, with each organization receiving ongoing general operating support grants. We chose community-based organizations that inspire social transformation variously through civic education, community organizing, and participation in the democratic process.

A Meaningful Expansion

In 2021, the Racial Justice cohort expanded to include four more organizations (Chinese Progressive Association, AAPI Force, Asian Pacific Fund, and LUNAR). Committed to building cross-racial solidarity and power by uplifting the unique experiences of Asian American, Black and Indigenous communities, these groups highlight the allyship that has existed over decades.

Further, as a symbol of the Fund’s commitment to shared responsibility and belonging, we began a learning journey with Sogorea Te’ Land Trust, welcoming them as the sixteenth member of the Racial Justice cohort. Through this partnership, we aspire to deepen our understanding of their work to rematriate Indigenous land to Indigenous people, and to acknowledge and honor ancestral histories.

Learnings from the Racial Justice Cohort

BIPOC-led organizations have been and continue to be underfunded. They consistently experience financial challenges related to cash reserves, grants, and property and other assets. Yet, BIPOC leaders have also proven talented at reimagining what is necessary and what is possible for the organizations they run.

Verbal reports collected from the 2020 Racial Justice cohort illustrate both the resiliency of leaders of color and the magnitude of the challenges they face. From these reports, we learned:

  • BIPOC leaders have been leading, innovating, and galvanizing in powerful ways since the start of the pandemic … and they are exhausted. COVID-19 exacerbated preexisting needs, vulnerabilities, and inequities caused by systemic racism. During this pandemic, leaders of color rolled up their sleeves to build cross-racial solidarity, activism, and organizing within their communities to push for systemic change. Notably, many continue to do this while also dealing with the personal impacts and traumas of racism.
  • BIPOC leaders are concerned about the future of their communities. Many leaders of color are concerned about the growing barriers to participation in American democracy and have responded by promoting civic engagement and community mobilization efforts. Some shared a fear that the window of opportunity created by the 2020 protests for Black lives might close, turning the current focus on racial justice and racial equity into a passing trend rather than a sustained focus.
  • BIPOC leaders need philanthropic support beyond crisis funding. Prior to the recent increase in funding for Black-led organizations, philanthropic support for Black communities accounted for only 1.8% of total U.S. grantmaking. Funding designated for AAPI and Native communities still only accounts for 0.2% and 0.4% respectively — a meager percentage that has remained unchanged over three decades. Many Black-led groups reported that foundation support decreased beyond the immediate response to the pandemic, indicating a misalignment between the priorities of BIPOC-led organizations and those of institutional philanthropy.

How W&EHF is Responding to Racial Justice Cohort Learnings

Taken together, and considered alongside our collective experience as a longstanding Bay Area family foundation, we are making the following changes, and invite you to join us in doing so.

  • Champion BIPOC-led organizations. Leaders of color report smaller organizational budgets than their non-BIPOC counterparts. They also face challenges securing financial support from foundations, individual donors, and governments. We will counter this by trusting BIPOC leaders to know what their communities need, and by investing in their organizations with unrestricted support over the longterm.
  • Lift up the wisdom, knowledge, and lived experiences of BIPOC leaders. Leaders of color report receiving fewer, smaller, and more restricted grants than their white peers. This leaves very little room (if any) in their schedules or budgets to tend to their own well-being. We will help by offering BIPOC leaders partnership and support beyond grant dollars. We will hold space for BIPOC leaders to come together, so they can dream, design, and create the conditions that prioritize their ability to thrive.
  • Adopt trust-based practices. Our first priority in designing the Racial Justice cohort was developing a grantmaking practice grounded in learning, relationship building, and mutual respect. Grantees were not asked to submit a proposal. At the end of the first year’s grant, we invited grantees to speak with us about their accomplishments, challenges, and aspirations in lieu of a written report. Grantees’ joy and relief upon learning this was powerful! We will continue this practice.

Next Steps

The Walter & Elise Haas Fund will continue on this learning journey. We are excited to integrate the above learnings and practices across our other program areas, and to help create a more equitable funding environment for BIPOC-led organizations. We look forward to sharing more of what we learn, invite you to join us in adding to the discussion, and hope you’ll also put these ideas into practice.


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