The Pittsburgh Foundation

A New Grantmaking Fund for Racial Justice

PITTSBURGH, PA, Sept. 21, 2020 – The Pittsburgh Foundation is building upon its longstanding commitment to racial justice by establishing the $1.5 million Grantmaking for Racial Justice Fund to provide grants quickly to organizations that are led by and serve people of color.
Fifty-three Allegheny County-based nonprofits were invited to apply for grants, which will be awarded in early November. To receive support, organizations must have as their main mission one or both of the following:

  • Meet the needs of low-income residents; 
  • Work to accomplish systems change that eliminates differential outcomes by race and socioeconomic status. 

“Today, we are confronted with the undeniable reality that the harmful impacts of systemic racism are omnipresent in the lives of our Black and Brown colleagues, friends and loved ones  and, as we have seen in recent months, represent a persistent crisis in our nation,” Foundation President and CEO Lisa Schroeder said in announcing the fund. “As the staff and board of a community foundation concerned with the well-being of all children, families and communities in our region, we recognize that we cannot provide the best quality of life for everyone in this region unless we dramatically increase our efforts to provide equitable support and fight for racial justice.”

Schroeder said that the foundation sector in general and The Pittsburgh Foundation specifically are looking at past initiatives, and realize we must go much further to address issues of racism that were brought to the foreground so poignantly in cities across the country, with the police killings of people of color. “Those of us in philanthropy have had it plainly put in front of us that we need to redouble our efforts to eliminate systemic racism and the economic inequities that stem from it.” 

The Foundation, which imagines a world in which race is no longer a determinant of who thrives in our society, uses the definition established by the Philanthropic Initiative for Racial Equity, which states that racial justice is the systematic fair treatment of people of all races through the proactive elimination of policies, practices, attitudes and cultural messages that reinforce differential outcomes by race. 

The $1.5 million fund will provide for grants of up to $100,000 to organizations that previously received funding from The Pittsburgh Foundation, as well as grants of up to $50,000 to organizations that haven’t yet received funding from the Foundation. The grants will:

  • Strengthen and expand the capacity of Black- and Brown-led and serving organizations that operate within a racial justice framework. 
  • Support efforts in communities of color to build civic, cultural, economic and political power.
  • Support efforts to identify transformative solutions that impact multiple systems, such as alternatives to police response for assisting individuals experiencing a mental health crisis.
  • Foster deeper relationships between the Foundation and communities most impacted by racial injustice.

Based on counsel from an advisory committee of racial and social justice activists, Foundation staff are proactively working to identify as many organizations as possible in the region that are engaging in this work. The Foundation is also adapting grant-making processes so that they are more accessible to nonprofits led by people of color. 

The Pittsburgh Foundation’s focus on this issue aligns with a national movement in the philanthropic sector to examine and address racial disparities in grantmaking. A 2017 analysis by the Philanthropic Initiative for Racial Justice found over the period of 2005-2014 that, despite demographic changes and increased social awareness of the harm of systemic racism, funding for people of color has remained stagnant at 8.5% and funding for Black communities has hovered around 2% of philanthropic support.  

The new fund is the latest in a series of actions taken by the Foundation toward achieving racial equity and racial justice in its grantmaking. A review of the Foundation’s grant-making portfolio from 2015 to 2019 revealed that grants to small nonprofits and to organizations led by people of color were far fewer in numbers and amounts than grants to larger, white-led nonprofits. The findings were alarming to staff, given the Foundation’s decades-long track record of grantmaking to address systemic racism. 

The Foundation has launched a series of programs that target small, community-based nonprofits, many of which serve and are led by Black and Brown people. These include the Small and Mighty grants program, which launched in 2016, and the Social Justice Fund in 2017. Together, these two funds have awarded about $1.5 million to 74 organizations in Allegheny County, with 65% going to nonprofits led by people of color. These initiatives demonstrate how foundations can reimagine their processes to provide small nonprofits led by people of color with access to the funding and relationships that larger, white-led organizations have long enjoyed.

The Foundation also is continuing to grow its investment in the Advancing Black Arts in Pittsburgh program with The Heinz Endowments to ensure that the region’s cultural ecosystem supports Black artists as fully as possible. Since 2010, that program has awarded $6 million to Black artists and organizations for exhibitions, performances, residencies and operating support.

Recognizing that COVID-19 disproportionately affects Black and Brown people, racial equity was one of the guiding principles for the Foundation’s Emergency Action Fund, which awarded $9 million for coronavirus relief over a 15-week period this year.

More initiatives are planned, including diversity, equity and inclusion trainings and education sessions on racial equity for the Foundation’s donors.

Reflecting on the Fund, Pittsburgh Foundation Board Member and Secretary Walter H. Smith, Ph.D., said, “Society would be wise to learn more about structural racism and its effects, which show up over and over again as negative outcomes for people of color. We need to understand what the data shows about systems of oppression that impact African Americans and other ethnic groups, and we know that our commitment must be both long-term and deep. As a  community foundation, we need to boldly show leadership and do more than just talk if we are to improve local outcomes in racial justice and in achieving racial equity and inclusion.”
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