Needing More Than a Fresh Coat of Paint

For more than 25 years, I worked with nonprofits providing affordable housing. We were always on the hunt for a house or an available apartment building. I learned to love the smell of fresh paint but also knew to bring an experienced inspector with me.  New paint looks good but frequently covers a myriad of structural issues.  Only by looking beneath the veneer of fresh paint could we know the integrity of the house’s foundation and framing.

On the surface, Maddox has made progress living into our racial equity imperative. Our 2021 grant analysis reveals that we are supporting partners with more diverse boards and more organizations led by and for BIPOC communities (Black, Indigenous and People of Color).  We have added partners committed to the movement building essential to systemic change.  Even our Opportunity (out-of-cycle) Grants have grown to be more responsive to the unique challenges faced by Black and diverse leaders.  Our 2021 Young Professional Scholarships at CNM will focus on BIPOC leadership development.

But upon deeper inspection, the Maddox Fund’s policies and practices have perpetuated racial inequity. Examining our most recent 5-year comparison, we found that:

  • The 5 organizations that have received the largest cumulative levels of funding since inception are all white-led organizations
  • Out of the 9 organizations receiving more than $200,000 in total funding, none are BIPOC-led*
  • Out of the 33 organizations receiving more than $100,000 in total funding, only 3 of them are BIPOC-led

In addition, the amounts granted to BIPOC organizations over the past five years have remained relatively flat, despite Maddox’s growing awareness of the additional difficulties these organizations face.  Our pattern of giving reflects a philanthropic ideology that gives preference to established, predominately white-led organizations with “pedigreed” boards and unqualified audits. Maddox has walked safely on the tried-and-true path of Southern philanthropy (charity focused. transactional, ROI minded with power held close).

The impact of the chronic underfunding of BIPOC-led organizations cannot be fully measured.  Most obvious are the challenges of building strong infrastructure or developing pipelines of experienced BIPOC leaders.  Lack of funding also thwarts program innovation. But less obvious is how a lack of trust, resulting in underfunding and misplaced funding requirements, zaps the vision of BIPOC leaders—the ability to imagine a world that is yet to be and then to apply bold strategies to lead us toward shared liberation.

The Maddox Fund is in the early stages of an internal racial equity audit, but one thing is clear; it will take more than a fresh paint job to repair the damage of our chronic underfunding of BIPOC organizations.

By looking at these structural issues, we can see that rebuilding the Maddox house as a strong anti-racist organization will require dismantling certain mind-sets, assumptions, practices and policies.  Our racial equity imperative compels us to move beyond window-dressing toward transformative change. As one Maddox Board member put it, “We need change that is more than performative.”

This work will be undergirded by several of our core organizational values:

  • We believe education and knowledge are transformative 
  • We engage our work with humility and curiosity 
  • We celebrate courageous leadership 

The Maddox Fund is a learning organization.  We believe in the Cycle of Transformation–awakening, wandering, releasing, reimagining, rebuilding and reawakening—all guided by the North Star of liberation.  This cycle of learning is continual.  I remain thankful for the Maddox board and its courageous leaders, who approach this work with humility and curiosity.

Most of the 2021 Maddox grants are 2-year partnerships designed to give us time to reimagine and repair or rebuild our grantmaking practices. We confess that we probably won’t get it right the first time but, as a learning organization, we will continue to strive for real racial equity in our three areas of focus—education, youth and wildlife conservation.

Our Next Steps:

  • Completing our first equity self-assessment (equity audit) with North Star statements to evaluate ourselves again in 3 years.
  • Increasing diversity on the Maddox Board (currently, 63% of board members identify as BIPOC).
  • Exploring participatory grantmaking through a Youth Philanthropic Advisory Board.
  • Offering Young Professional Scholarships to Center for Nonprofit Management focused on BIPOC leaders.
  • Joining other funders to support nonprofit capacity-building through Center for Nonprofit Management, CEO Circles and video trainings.
  • Reimagining grantmaking.

Maddox has been in the midst of listening meetings with our nonprofit partners.  They have asked that we communicate more about what we are learning and more of our thoughts along the way—so here it is. From our 5-year data we have learned that our giving is more diverse but not more equitable. 

If knowledge is transformative, we stand ready for more than a fresh coat of paint.

*BIPOC-led for this purpose was defined as either an organization that is led by a person of color and has a board with at least 33% of its members being people of color or an organization with over 50% of people color on their board

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