AB 624 – PRE Critical Issues Forum

The Philanthropic Initiative for Racial Equity (PRE) published Critical Issues Forum – Measuring What We Value in April 2008.  The Forum was prompted by California Assembly Bill 624, legislation mandating the collection and disclosure by large foundations of data about their grantmaking to minority and low-income communities.

In the Foreword, Gara LaMarche, president and CEO of the Atlantic Philanthropies, recognizes the slippery slope associated with passage of AB 624 and that “philanthropic pluralism and independence are not trifling concerns.”

…foundation leaders should be careful not to over-argue our case. It’s especially important in a time when the foundation field is increasingly preoccupied with “metrics,” outcomes and impacts, grantee accountability and the like, that we not exempt ourselves – and of all issues, the continuing barriers of race – from measurement. Without measurement, you have no idea how much you have accomplished or how far you have to go.

Lori Villarosa, executive director of PRE, asserts that PRE’s goal at this stage “is to look beyond AB 624, with interest in reframing much of the debate toward meaningful and long term strategies to increase philanthropic support for racial and social justice.”

Rick Cohen, national correspondent of Nonprofit Quarterly magazine, in his overview analysis of AB 624, criticizes the response of three California grantmaker associations – “Rather than engaging the process, recognizing the legitimacy of the concerns … and designing a muscular approach to metrics for racial/ethnic equity, these associations are buying time.”  David Cournoyer, co-chair of the board of directors of Native Americans in Philanthropy, states that “[i]t’s difficult to have an honest discussion about diversity – much less equity and justice – when one side won’t put all its cards on the table.”  Rinku Sen, president and executive director of the Applied Research Center, offers recommendations for racial justice work and notes that “[l]egislation mandating that foundations gather data to reveal their funding patterns may be a start, but it may not, in the final analysis, lead to new racial outcomes in poverty, education, housing and health numbers.”  Makani Themba-Nixon, executive director of The Praxis Project, claims that data collection is not enough; what’s needed is “vigorous research that tells us how marginalized communities are faring; that can tell us if foundation grants are really making a difference in helping communities to achieve equity and justice.”  Arturo Vargas, executive director of the NALEO Educational Fund, argues that “for some in the nonprofit sector to suggest that gathering these data [required by AB 624] is inappropriate undermines our most fundamental values of social justice.”  Karen Zelermyer, executive director of Funders for Lesbian and Gay Issues (FLGI), states that “while almost all of these foundations [studied by FLGI] articulate a shared commitment to racial equity, very few translate their stated commitment into their grantmaking practices or internal operations.”

LaMarche concludes the Forward by echoing the theme of the Forum:

We should take advantage of the proposed legislation to elevate the discourse beyond the pros and cons of the bill’s proposed mandatory reporting requirements to focus on what philanthropy – and indeed the entire nonprofit sector – should be doing and asking not simply about commitments to diversity, but about advancing the cause of racial and ethnic justice.