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Corporate Philanthropy

Uncovering Opportunities for Greater Equity in Giving: Lessons from State Street Foundation

“Are we doing enough to advance racial equity and social justice through our grantmaking strategies?” 

That question led State Street Foundation on a journey to uncover greater opportunities for impact in the communities they serve. The resulting process, led recently by TPI, included a grantee assessment as well as an environmental scan. One of many tools in the “research toolbox,” an environmental scan can help a funder learn more about the broader context affecting the issues they wish to address, and can also uncover specific organizations, nonprofit leaders, and other funders whose work aligns with their philanthropic goals. This type of research can help funders move forward with greater confidence and enjoy deeper relationships with the communities they seek to serve. 

Let me describe how the State Street Foundation environmental scan process unfolded, and how it helped to inform the work the Foundation does today. 

The Background 

The year 2020 launched renewed urgency into the question of how philanthropy could do more to advance racial equity and social justice. With a stated mission of expanding economic well-being primarily through education and workforce development, the team at State Street Foundation wanted to dig deeply into this very question. To do so, the Foundation engaged TPI to conduct two studies: an assessment of its grantee partners and an environmental scan of organizations working to advance racial equity and social justice in Boston and Quincy. 

The Approach 

The environmental scan involved several steps, starting with a fundamental question: How can a funder like State Street Foundation best identify and assess what nonprofits have the greatest potential to advance racial equity?  

To obtain input on this question, we interviewed thought leaders and funders to gather insights into a series of questions. This stage of the process yielded a number of important criteria to consider when assessing nonprofit organizations, including representative leadership with authentic connections to the community, emphasis on outcomes and impact, commitment to action and systems change, openness to innovative approaches, and strong and effective partnerships.  

In addition, our conversations uncovered several challenges and barriers faced by nonprofits working to advance racial equity, including limited capacity and access to funding, inadequate leadership pipelines, and entrenched power structures whereby existing networks tend to connect funders to established nonprofit leaders who already have “a seat at the table”.  

Based in part on our findings from these conversations, we developed a survey to uncover a wide range of organizations, including many that may be playing important roles in shifting outcomes and yet are hiding in plain sight. Pulling from a variety of sources, the online survey was disseminated to more than 1,200 nonprofits doing work in Boston or Quincy, Massachusetts. We asked these nonprofits to respond to the survey if they were (1) working to advance racial equity and social justice, and (2) doing work in Boston and/or Quincy, Massachusetts. We received responses from 260 organizations. These responses delivered data and insights that helped State Street Foundation shape its future philanthropy. The Foundation narrowed in on a set of organizations that best fit its mission and goals, including several nonprofits that, importantly, they had not even heard of before.  

Key Takeaways 

Environmental scans can help to break a negative cycle that has existed for decades. On one hand, many funders have not known how to identify and learn about nonprofits doing critical work around racial equity and social justice. On the other hand, many nonprofits don’t have the networks to get on donors’ radar screens, never mind the chance to fully educate donors on their work and the challenges they face. 

With that in mind, State Street Foundation made the decision to share its findings in a public report. The insights from thought leaders are invaluable for all funders that are moving along their own journeys toward advancing racial equity and social justice, as well as other community stakeholders and partners. By sharing the names of organizations that responded to the survey, we hope the report will help to create more visibility for the breadth and depth of nonprofits working in and around key issues in Boston and Quincy.