Kendra Fox-Davis: How to Trust and Fund Without Restrictions

As we continue to celebrate Black History Month, one of the highlights so far has been the February 2022 edition of Meet the Philanthropist, my virtual interview series with leading women philanthropists and leaders in philanthropy.

Kendra Fox-Davis, Chief Program Officer, Rosenberg Foundation (Image credit: Kendra Fox-Davis)

This time, I had the distinct pleasure of a discussion with Chief Program Officer of California’s Rosenberg Foundation, Kendra Fox-Davis. I was thrilled to speak to Kendra, who is returning to have this conversation as a bit of a follow-up from the WOC Symposium in November. Everything she shared was so inspiring, and I knew she was the perfect person with whom to explore, remember, and embrace for Black History Month, particularly in the realm of fundraising and philanthropy.

To start the conversation, I asked Kendra to reflect on the experiences in her life that shaped her perspectives on moving racial equity forward and what role philanthropy plays in that.

Kendra: I think my perspective is rooted where so many things are, which is in my own family. My parents were both born in the segregated American South and had very different family backgrounds. They met in college, and they moved to California, because it was a place that is more accepting of interracial families and is politically progressive. So, it held out this promise to them, of being a place where they could build a family and community.

In my own family, I can see both how racial injustice impacts all of these daily decisions that are made in our lives, and not just individualized racism, but structural racism, white supremacy, structural inequalities, and how those things that were present in my parents’ childhood shaped the decisions that they made and the opportunities that they had. That is where I’m rooted and where my commitment to racial justice stems from- my own family- and bridging over into philanthropy.

Philanthropy is something The Rosenberg Foundation is leading the field in, as they “support leadership development, policy advocacy and grassroots organizing to dismantle barriers to opportunity for low-income communities and communities of color.”

One of the hottest topics on philanthropy right now is trust-based philanthropy. As the sector grows more inclusive and moves away from traditional philanthropic structures, it is important to allow the communities we serve to have a voice in what is needed to enact real change. And, to support those efforts with financial resources, “trusting” that those on the front lines know best how to move the good work forward. What is unique about the work that Kendra is doing at the Rosenberg Foundation is, it’s trust-based philanthropy, and with unrestricted funds! This is the kind of thing that makes a fundraiser do giant cartwheels across the boardroom.

Kendra: The first thing I want to say is I’m so grateful that I’ve come into philanthropy at this point, because I am able to learn from so many other women of color in philanthropy and other progressive philanthropists who have created this trust-based philanthropy or lifted up this trust-based philanthropy framework that I am now able to learn from. 

What I am learning is that one of the elements is doing exactly what the name implies- trusting that the organizations and the leaders that we are funding that are closest to the problem have the expertise, have the solutions and should be given maximum flexibility to be able to build power, organize and work towards the elimination of the structural inequalities that that we’re up against across a variety of different fields.

Kendra described one of the most progressive funds the Foundation has, which she hopes can serve as a model to others.

Kendra: Rosenberg Foundation offers a fellowship called the Leading Edge Fellowship. It is designed to seed and incubate bold ideas from progressive leaders in California. Each fellow receives $250,000 unrestricted funding over the course of three years, and also gets access to a suite of other strategic communications, organizational, and leadership development, as well as healing and wellness supports.

I, of course, was amazed to hear that a foundation is giving that space and that support and that investment to leaders in the spirit of trust. My next question involved allies – to try to pinpoint the single most important thing that allies who are trying to move things forward in the realms of racial and gender equity, could do.

Kendra: I think there is sometimes a way that white allies can center themselves in these in these discussions that is not helpful. And that actually replicates white supremacy in a way that they may not even recognize or intend, but when progressive movements or when conversations in the workplace become centered on the feelings of white folks…it’s a sign that things are going in the wrong direction.

We’re trying to dismantle or interrupt systems that have created an unequal distribution of resources and power that benefit white people. I think that there is a centering of oneself that white allies can do, and a willingness they can have to do your own work in learning. You also need commitment to tackling discrimination, unfairness, and white supremacy in your own families and communities and workspaces.

Finally, I asked Kendra how she was planning to celebrate Black History Month, how was she already celebrating, and how she suggests others practice celebrating this month.

Kendra: One of the amazing parts of my job is that I get to work in support of the California Black Freedom Fund. It’s an initiative to grow and strengthen the ecosystem of Black power-building organizations in California, and we have just been so successful in fundraising in support of Black-led organizations and want that work to continue. That’s the first thing that I see around Black History Month is an opportunity to reinvest and recommit ourselves to supporting the leadership of Black-led organizations.

On a personal level, it’s always a time of reflection. I really appreciate the reframing that’s come through community around Black history. Looking to the future, as a Black woman working in this space, and one that is committed to lifting up other Black women, I am always looking for opportunities like this one, where I can talk in unity with other Black women, and not exclusively with us, but sharing the message that our leadership is so essential to progressive movement.

Thank you so much, Kendra, for all that you do in the realm of philanthropy to bring us toward a more just, equitable and beautiful society for people of color and for women. It is my pleasure to spotlight the work of the Rosenberg Foundation to the Meet the Philanthropist and Philanthropy Women audiences.


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Author: Yolanda F. Johnson

With more than two decades of experience in the non-profit sector, Yolanda F. Johnson has successfully led fundraising operations for a wide range of non-profit organizations, launching creative event, sponsorship and marketing initiatives that produced new streams of both contributed and earned income. Her fundraising expertise includes securing foundation, corporate, and government funding and cultivating a diverse major gifts portfolio. In addition to leading YFJ Consulting, LLC, Yolanda is the Founder of WOC, Women of Color in Fundraising and Philanthropy®, the Allies in Action™ Membership Network, and is President of Women In Development (WID), NY, the NYC area's premier professional organization for women in fundraising and philanthropy. Yolanda has also had an outstanding career as a performing artist, as a composer, as a producer, as an educator, and she has used her background as a performer to become a sought-after fundraising expert. Her leadership roles include: serving as an International Advisory Board member and the former Representative for the Foundation for Post Conflict Development to the United Nations; a member of the board of directors of the Lehman College Art Gallery; a member of the board of trustees of the Hudson River Museum and a member of the PowHerNY board of directors. A trailblazing figure on the national fundraising landscape, Yolanda is the first African American President in the 40-year history of WID. She co-established the WID Diversity and Inclusion Task Force and is often a featured expert on incorporating DEI initiatives into organizational culture. She has appeared as a panelist at Fundraising Day in New York, the Women’s Alliance National Conference and CASE events among others. Yolanda is also a member of the Chronicle of Philanthropy Advisory Committee of national leaders in the non-profit sector. Tying together her life as a successful performing artist and a non-profit leader, she developed All the World's A Stage, a special workshop using performance practice for get-ting what one wants out of fundraising, philanthropy and life. She presents All the World's A Stage to audiences across the United States. Yolanda is the Worship Leader/Music Director at the church she attends, a member of Sigma Alpha Iota International Women’s Music Fraternity and is on the artist roster for Random Access Music/Queens New Music Festival and the newly formed Westchester Chamber Soloists Orchestra. She holds a B.A. in Voice (Music Performance) and an M.A. in Arts Administration with a focus on Fundraising and Events and is the author of various publications and articles on fundraising.

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