Building a Better Normal: Philanthropy’s Role in Racial Equity and Shared Prosperity

by Clark Collier
Senior Donor Engagement Officer

Clark Collier

Clark Collier

Over the past three months, CICF and its affiliates have joined forces with four leading community foundations across the country to open a dialogue about philanthropy’s role in racial equity and shared prosperity. We’ve hosted joint conversations with three of the most preeminent authors and experts of our time—Bob Putnam, Shaylyn Romney Garrett and Heather McGhee—to learn their perspectives of where we are in American history and how we can continue to make progress toward real, lasting change

Our conversations with Putnam, Romney Garrett and McGhee—moderated by CICF’s  Tamara Winfrey-Harris, who is also an award-winning author—left us with new learnings and sparked important dialogue about how we make progress across the philanthropic sector and in our own community. 

Putnam and Romney Garrett’s latest book, “The Upswing: How America Came Together a Century Ago and How We Can Do It Again,” shows that over the last 125 years, trends across social cohesion, political unity, cultural solidarity and economic equality have all followed the same bell-shaped curve toward polarization, inequality, isolation and self-centeredness. Putnam and McGhee call this the “I–We–I” century and propose that some of our country’s greatest progress and innovation has taken place in the “we” decades – those times in which we had a strong social fabric and shared a commitment to investing in community.  

The authors encourage us to look to the lessons learned from America’s last upswing, including supporting grassroots movements, investing in young people and youth leadership, and ensuring our institutions take a leading role as a moral and cultural standard bearer–including our community foundations. However, the “we” period seen in the mid-20th Century was not inclusive enough and while progress toward equity was made at this time, the downswing since has only perpetuated a historic lack of opportunity. 

In her new book, “The Sum Of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together,” economist and author Heather McGhee seeks to answer one question: “Why can’t we have nice things?” For McGhee, “nice things” means those shared social commitments like affordable childcare, universal healthcare, well-funded public schools and modern infrastructure. McGhee agrees with Putnam—America has solved challenges like this before, with things like social security and public schools, so what is holding us back now?   

McGhee believes the biggest barrier we must overcome is the illusion of a zero-sum hierarchy—the belief that if someone unlike us succeeds, then we are being kept from advancing ourselves or that there is only one rung on the ladder. McGhee has termed the solution to this zero-sum mentality, “The Solidarity Dividend”—that when people come together across race, religion, gender, sexual identity, to take collective community action toward a vision of shared prosperity, the results are evident. In fact, McGhee believes coalition-building such as this is the only way we’ve ever made progress on issues of equity and opportunity in America. So where do we start? How can we make a difference as philanthropists? What does it mean to be more equitable in our charitable giving?  

In early June, Winfrey-Harris joined philanthropist and fellow CICF fund-holder, Marianne Glick, for a follow-up conversation about her journey understanding racial equity and how we can take action through our philanthropic giving. You can watch a recording of this below. Marianne shared firsthand examples of how her philanthropy has been impacted by an equity learning journey, such as engaging more community voices in decision-making processes to better understand the needs of the community. CICF’s effective philanthropy team also shared action items we can consider, both in our daily lives and for equitable grantmaking:  

Using all types of capital 

  • Financial Capital: support BIPOC-owned businesses in your home and organizations 
  • Social Capital: elevate equity in your professional networks, with boards you serve on and groups you influence  
  • Relational Capital: leverage your relationships to advocate for equity in public policy, from homeowner’s associations to the federal level 

Considerations for future grantmaking   

  • Making unrestricted gifts  
  • Rethinking former grant processes and timelines 
  • Being open to new and/or grassroots organizations 
  • Listening to the community to determine greatest need  
  • Consider diversity of organizational leadership and populations served 

By using our voice and all forms of our capital, we can make real progress toward racial equity and shared prosperity in central Indiana—together. To learn more about equitable grantmaking through your donor-advised fund, please contact your fund advisor or our team at 

Leave A Comment