Recent global events have brought equity back to the top of the agenda. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought into focus the disproportionate impact of the crisis on vulnerable and marginalized groups. Equality and equity are not the same. Systems and structures of power and inequality within our society mean that treating people equally will not necessarily result in fair outcomes.

Grantmakers operate from a position of privilege in our society and have often benefited from the very structures and systems that act as barriers to marginalized and disadvantaged communities. If grantmakers are not conscious of these barriers when doing their work, they risk unconsciously perpetuating the very structures and systems of inequality they are trying to address.

Structures of bias, disadvantage, and inequity in our society stem from dimensions such as, but not limited to race, religion, ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, and disability, or a combination of all or any of these.

Equitable grantmaking is about being conscious of the barriers faced by disadvantaged groups as a result of the inequitable distribution of power and resources along the lines of those dimensions and incorporating the notion of equality or equity into grantmaking organizations and practices.

How well do the demographics of your organization match those of the communities you serve? How diverse is the leadership of your organization? How many women and people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds do you have on your board or in your executive leadership team?

Here are ten tips you can employ to ensure equity in your grantmaking practices:

  • Engage with communities. Broadening your networks beyond your usual contacts and engaging directly with target communities and organizations run by those communities will help you to better understand the ways in which inequities contribute to the issues you are trying to address and to design your program accordingly.
  • Use data. Equitable grantmakers collect data and disaggregate by race, ethnicity, gender, etc to enable identification and analysis of the barriers preventing disadvantaged cohorts from achieving equitable outcomes. Collection and analysis of data enable measurement of outcomes and facilitate a continuous improvement process.
  • Bring people along: embed equity from the bottom up. Good leaders know that change isn’t something that is done to people; rather, it’s a journey that you have to bring people on. Leaders looking to embed a culture of equity need to find ways to engage people in the process, build culture and drive change from the bottom up.
  • Embed equity into corporate policies. An organization’s internal policies are an expression of corporate values and are also important drivers of culture.
  • Keep language simple. Use simple language to ensure clarity, particularly for new applicants.
  • Remove or explain buzzwords. Define all organizational lingo or acronyms so that anyone can follow your application prompts, regardless of experience level.
  • Provide application assistance. For some individuals, this may be the first time they’ve applied for a grant or scholarship. By making application assistance available, you help provide a more equitable experience.
  • Clearly define criteria. As you review your evaluation criteria, don’t leave room for interpretation. Provide your reviewers with a detailed definition of each criterion, so they’re reading each application through the same lens.
  • Be transparent. Visibly share the selection criteria and members of the review committee with applicants so everyone understands the measures by which they will be evaluated.
  • Review application and promotional materials.  Ask people from diverse backgrounds to review your materials for tone and barriers. They should be reflective of diverse communities. You may also consider translating your materials into other languages.

There is no silver bullet for addressing unconscious bias. However, organizational strategies to build an equity culture, embed equity principles into policies and procedures, and increase diversity will help. Increased engagement with people from a diverse range of backgrounds can also help to challenge commonly-held biases.

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