In response to the racial reckoning of 2020, foundations have responded in a variety of ways, seeking to expand their grantmaking, but also to diversify their staff. Some are hiring and elevating new leaders; others have launched innovative programs to recruit more people of color into philanthropy. Creating a more diverse sector remains a work in progress: Some staff members question the commitment of organization leaders, and when we interviewed a range of funders and nonprofit leaders earlier this year, most were hopeful but agreed that results are mixed. (See this IP explainer to find out more about how philanthropy is addressing DEI).
Toya Nash Randall has worked in philanthropy for over 20 years, and in that time, she has seen the role of Black women in the sector evolve—but not enough. She created the website Voice. Vision. Value. Black Women Leading Philanthropy as a forum for Black women in the field—a place to share ideas, research, support and inspiration. The site recently published a report, “Centering Ourselves,” in partnership with Frontline Solutions, to explore the role of Black women in philanthropy, how they lead, the impact of that leadership, and the challenges they face.
Randall, who calls herself the “curator and catalyst” of Voice. Vision. Value., is also senior director of community initiatives in the office of the CEO at Casey Family Programs. We caught up with her recently to learn more about her work, the challenges and opportunities facing Black women in philanthropy, and what makes her hopeful.
Can you talk about Voice. Vision. Value., its origins, and the gap you see it filling?
I describe Voice. Vision. Value. as a multimedia narrative platform, which allows for the sort of expansion and enhancement of ideas that come from women across the talent pipeline. As someone who came into this field unintentionally and worked for 13 years in a community where I was the only Black woman working for a philanthropic organization, I didn’t see myself a lot. For me, creating Voice. Vision. Value. was my way of acknowledging that for many of us, that truth remains constant: not seeing ourselves, not having an opportunity to center our stories and our relationships and the unique ways in which we move through this work and the impact of that.
The goal of the narrative platform is to honor the Black women who have created these pathways to opportunity for us; it also documents their stories by commissioning special research and disseminating that research. So our report, “Centering Ourselves,” is the first report of its kind. We’re working to understand Black women’s identity at the intersection of race and gender, to ask the question: What does it look like to more holistically develop Black women as professional leaders, given the unique challenges we face? And lastly, the goal is to figure out the tools and curricula that can grow out of that, the tools that could have helped Toya 20 years ago. Because there’s no place out there that is looking at leadership through the unique lens of Black women. I wanted to create a place to have that conversation.
What are some ways philanthropy can attract more Black women, and increase and encourage their leadership?
Actually, there are more Black women working in philanthropy today than at any point in the past 50 years. And I use 50 years as a sort of time stamp because 2021 marks the 50th anniversary of the Association of Black Foundation Executives, which was founded in 1971. So I don’t want to discount the fact that Black women are the largest community of color in the sector today. We’re the majority minority. Still, it can feel very isolating. Voice. Vision. Value. is looking at how we substantiate our leadership presence in a way that will help our representation continue to grow, and to increase our understanding of what it takes to stick and stay in this sector.
This work is about creating an equitable and inclusive space for all Black women—not just Black women CEOs and vice presidents. Because while we are the largest community of color in the sector, the majority of our representation is on the administrative side. And that’s where the real heavy lifting happens, if we’re honest. Those are the unsung heroes all over: the administrative folks in every sector.
One of the things that I’m thinking about for our next research project is to look at examples of philanthropic institutions who have women in positions of leadership. The Skillman Foundation in Detroit, for example, has had three consecutive Black women CEOs. That’s unprecedented. Three white men CEOs, that’s status quo. Three Black women CEOs—that’s historic. So I think it’s worth studying the strategies that were deployed and developed to cultivate a pipeline of leadership. There are examples out there that can help us understand, and it’s going to take a research agenda and time and the attention to see what those lessons are.
It’s also important to invest in professional development. Giving Black women access to executive coaching, and sponsorship and mentorship—not just at the CEO level. I had a coach three years into my career—but that’s unheard of. You’ve typically got to reach a certain level to be developed, which doesn’t make sense. We’ve got to change that practice. We need to see the possibility and the potential, and if someone is hungry and desiring development opportunities, we need to invest in that.
Finally, philanthropic institutions need to work on themselves. That means developing learning agendas and a commitment for their boards and staff to interrogate and understand how to reduce the hostility and the sort of toxic environments that are perpetuated every day. You can innovate and create internships and things of that nature to create more diversity, but there is also a learning and a cultural shift that has to be happening for the folks inside the field.
What do you consider the most significant findings of “Centering Ourselves,” your report on Black women in philanthropy?
I’m biased: I think all the findings are significant. It’s essential to shine a light on the inequities and the disparities that too many of us experience in a sector that’s supposed to be about preserving well-being and respecting everyone’s humanity.
If I have to pick an example, I would point to what one CEO goes through every year in her salary negotiations. Her salary is lower than that of her white predecessors. That resonates with me, because I had a similar experience. I was being underpaid. That was 18 years ago, and I was a mid-career program director. So the idea that, fast forward to today, a Black woman CEO is having a similar experience with a board that is unwilling to support her. And that’s just one of the stories in the report. So that is the gap that Voice. Vision. Value. is filling: it’s taking the veil off so there can be a more open conversation around these issues.
“Centering Ourselves” also talks about the “charity mindset” in philanthropy as an approach Black women leaders want to move away from. Can you describe what that looks like?
Charity mindset is, “we’re doing good for those people.” Black women, in contrast, see ourselves as those people. A Black woman’s experience is the experience of low-income workers and front-line workers who don’t have health insurance, who don’t have paid leave and are not being paid a livable wage. Because we are those people. They are our mothers, our sisters, our brothers, our friends, the folks in communities where we live, the folks in communities we come from. And so I think that makes the work far more intentional and far more urgent for us.
The Black women who were interviewed for this report are transforming institutions by operationalizing equity—again, leading with that lived experience and expertise. That means looking at board recruitment and retention policies, looking at having a more inclusive representation of individuals in decision-making seats. That means implementing equity audits to understand how all of the foundation’s resources are being deployed from A to Z.
Under the leadership of Black women in philanthropy, institutions are interrogating and investigating long-standing traditions that we have come to know are paternalistic and extractive, and replacing them with things like participatory grantmaking structures. And looking at what it means for philanthropy to begin to seed investment in reparative and restorative justice, both inside their institutions and in the communities they support.
In the report, interviewees also talked about how COVID-19 and Black Lives Matter forced philanthropy to look at its own white supremacy. Are you hopeful that will lead to permanent change in the sector?
I am hopeful because of the stories I’ve shared, and because of the women I know who are leading organizations, and leading change from the operational policy-driven systems level. There’s a level of transparency and honesty that is happening in some of the larger institutions that makes me very hopeful.
I think we’re in a good place, because we are beginning to tell our own stories. Voice. Vision. Value. couldn’t exist if Black women in philanthropy didn’t support it. So there’s Voice. Vision. Value. There’s Conversations with Chanda at the Minneapolis Foundation. You’ve got Takima Robinson at Converge for Change and her podcast. You’ve got the work coming out of Frontline Solutions, the Black-owned consulting firm we partnered with to produce Centering Ourselves. There are now many of us who’ve been in the sector for a long time, and we’re harnessing our relationships and our experience and that lived expertise to carve out a place to call home for ourselves. At the same time, there is this parallel path of pushing the field to acknowledge and elevate and celebrate our contributions.