Women of Color-led Nonprofits Struggle for Survival Funding: Why?

WOC (Women of Color) have been at the forefront of grassroots movements for decades now, carrying out some of the most valuable work done within these movements. We have seen this from early on with women like Ella Baker and her work within the Black Freedom Movement, Pauli Murray who co-founded the National Organization for Women, and even today with leaders of Black Lives Matter, Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi.

LC Johnson, founder of  Zora’s House , a nonprofit institution dedicated to uplifting women of color. (Image Credit: Zora’s House)

Despite all of this evidence to prove that WOC are influential and important workers for grassroots movements and non profits, they tend to receive the least amount of funding from both governmental grants and philanthropic donations. The Ms. Foundation released  research that reveals that the actual numbers of monetary giving to WOC is shockingly low; it makes up only 0.5% of the $66.9 billion that is annually given to foundations.In 2017, $356 million was available to Women and girls of color (WGOC). Of that, the median grant received by recipients of color was around $15,000, compared to around $35,000 which was reported by all other organizations. The numbers become even more shocking when breaking it down by ethnicity. Of that $356 million:

  • About 4.2% was reported to benefit Black women and girls,
  • About 2.4% was reported to benefit Latina or Hispanic women and girls,
  • About 2.6% was reported to benefit Indigenous women and girls,
  • About 0.8% was reported to benefit Asian and Pacific Island women and girls, and 
  • About 0.02% was reported to benefit Middle Eastern women and girls.

Zora’s House Provides Resources for Financial Empowerment

LC Johnson, founder of  Zora’s House , a nonprofit institution dedicated to uplifting women of color, and Kelley Griesmer, CEO of The Women’s Fund of Central Ohio met with Philanthropy Women to discuss this issue. Both avidly agree that the current pandemic has made this issue worse than it has been. As Johnson rightly commented, if funders are not conducting business differently in this pandemic, they are doing something wrong.

Johnson, a black woman herself, pointed out that donors often decide to fund nonprofits that have the specific mission of providing shelter, food and other survival needs to WOC. The reason for this said Johnson, is often because “some donors conflate women of color with being low income,” an implicit bias that Griesmer agrees is prevalent in the culture of philanthropy. This leads to a lack of funding specifically within WOC led organizations that focus on assisting with leadership skills, personal passions and other missions that are not aligned with what funders believe WOC are in need of.

As we discussed this issue, both described a cycle that this level of racial inequity causes for women of color-led non profits. Low investment is only enough to account for survival needs, meaning there isn’t enough left over for these women to reach the full potential of their organization and dream. Johnson further explained, drawing from her personal experience founding Zora’s House, that women of color are expected to be exceptional and perfect to even be considered for financial investment. She added that this is still expected of them even when they do get investments, and the pressure rises and prevents them from taking risks because they become worried about losing investments and setting a “bad example” for future women of color in a similar position. 

In order to make any progress on this issue, steps must be taken to ensure that this environment of racial inequity in the philanthropic community is addressed. Johnson cited Pocket Change, the report from the Ms. Foundation, as a great resource for a to-do list for donors looking to correct their racial and gender biases.

More Resources Need to be Allocated for Women of Color

The simple and obvious, but still not practiced, solution to this problem is to allocate more funds to women of color, said Johnson. “Giving to these women must also be tracked, to ensure that these leaders understand the investment trends,” she added. Equally importantly, donors should be open about their support for women of color publicly so that these non-profit leaders can serve as a resource and model for others.

“Being open about this history of racism and sexism in philanthropy is the place to start,” said Griesmer.

Griesmer pointed out that individuals need to actively seek to make progress on a path to anti-racism within themselves. “Listening to women of color and their lived experiences, and educating oneself about the topics of race and sex” are the responsiblity of every individual, said Griesmer. “Fostering real, meaningful relationships between philanthropists and the leaders that they fund is essential to making progress.”


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Author: Kimberly Pike

Kimberly Pike is a writer, artist and self proclaimed cat lady living in Rhode Island. She is passionately writing about women's issues and helping to teach others about it.

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