Equity in Grants Series: Writing with a Racial Equity Lens by Kellie Brungard, GPC

Every February, the U.S. honors the cultural heritage, adversities, and African American leaders and movements that have shaped the nation. President Gerald R. Ford officially recognized Black History Month in 1976, calling the nation to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history,” History.com reports. As part of a series throughout Black History Month, Assel Grant Services will provide various resources on racial equity to help grant professionals become better equipped to guide their organizations towards more equitable services, find funding, and better articulate into grant proposals the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) work their organizations are already doing. Topics include writing with an equity lens, resources for your toolbox, measuring progress, and funding opportunities.

In this blog, we will explore what it means to write your grants with an equity lens, giving voice and empowerment to the communities served.

What is a Racial Equity Lens?

Grant professionals know the power of words and how they can be used to build a story showing the needs of their community. In recent years, the general public has become more aware of implicit bias and how it affects those around us. This is the idea that our individual beliefs, background, and experiences create an internal narrative that can unintentionally impact our judgments and decisions. Using “a lens” in writing means looking at a program, problem, or target population from a perspective different from our own. For example, you might make it a habit to consistently ask yourself “are the words I’m using empowering clients to choose their own actions, or is it indicating that they need to achieve my (or my organization’s) idea of success?” Without the increased awareness that our ideas might not be the answer to every individual’s obstacle, because they have had different experiences than me, we can create implicit bias in our writing.

GrantCraft defines a racial equity lens as “paying disciplined attention to race and ethnicity while analyzing problems, looking for solutions, and defining success.” This work helps focus on ways race and ethnicity are shaping the experiences of individuals and communities with power, access to opportunity, services, and outcomes. What would a racially equitable society look like? Grantcraft says, “It’s one in which the distribution of resources, opportunities, and burdens are not determined or predicted by race…where there are no statistical differences in education, health, or economic opportunity indicators based solely on race.”

Here are some tangible ways to use a racial equity lens in your grant writing practices that will uplift communities, start conversations, and bring the right people to the table.

Describing the Community

Many grantmakers will ask about the demographic makeup of the community to be served or to explain the need; in some cases, these are combined into one question. Consider how your narrative paints this picture of who your organization serves. Describing a disease-stricken community as disproportionately people of color centers race and ethnicity in the conversation. Ask yourself if the race and ethnicity of the community are the cause of the high rates of disease or is it the limited number of specialists, medical care, access to healthy food, or affordable housing? Are other socioeconomic factors impacting families’ health and well-being? Another applicable example is predominately black neighborhoods overlaid with reduced graduation rates or homeownership. What are the systems or causes that have led to barriers? Highlighting race without acknowledging historical policies and practices like redlining or inequity within mortgages and property value that have created barriers and impacted social determinants of health.

Andrea Bedenbaugh’s Grant Professional Association blog post helps clarify further, “Race should be presented in the proposal narrative only as a secondary factor to present a richer picture of the community population to be served through the proposed project. It is important to understand that poverty does not dictate racial make-up of a community; but, is rather a symptom of a social factor impacting a particular group of people (i.e., White, Black, Native American, and Asian).”

Starting the Conversation

It’s not uncommon that the fear of getting it wrong paralyzes an organization or individual leaders and grant writers from starting a conversation about racial equity. In your role as a grant writer, you have the power to be the catalyst for starting these conversations since they are important to the funding community. Here are some starting points:

  1. How is race and ethnicity data tracked within the organization and is it inclusive? Does it allow selections for bi and multi-race individuals, Bosnian, Indian/Middle Eastern, self-identification, and options for people who prefer not to disclose? Consider the cultures within the target population to make sure its reflective.
  2. What racial disparities currently exist for our clients and our organization? Why do these disparities exist?
  3. Identify the root cause of problems and consider the systems in place that are the cause.

Remember, these systems and disparities didn’t happen overnight. Using a racial equity lens is about changing the way we look at a situation and will need to become an ongoing practice. Start the conversation and keep it going – when proposing new programs, conducting needs assessments, or making strategic plans for the organization.

Look Around the Table

  1. Who is seated at the table for the conversation is as important as the conversation itself. A racial equity lens can bring to light the way decisions are made in your organization and who is part of the discussion. It can be shortsighted for a homogenous team to decide how to serve a target population of a different race or ethnicity. How does your organization include the target population in the conversation or give individuals a voice in program design to address the racial and ethnic barriers they experience? Consider how you can bring client feedback or direct service staff into discussions. This might include community assessments, focus groups, including members of your client base on your board, surveys, etc.

Understanding our implicit bias and changing ways of thinking can take time. Remember that we aren’t here to get it right; we’re here to learn and grow. How grant professionals choose to describe a population and community need sets the tone for how the funder sees the project design. That means the time and effort spent educating yourself and those around you on ways to build a more equitable, diverse, and inclusive environment may be uncomfortable, but uplifting communities are inherent to nonprofit work.

If you found this helpful, check out the rest of our series this month for tools, resources, and funding opportunities to support racial equity in our communities.

If you are interested in learning more about AGS services, Julie Assel, CGMS, GPC, President/CEO, will be happy to talk with you about opportunities and provide you with a quote for grant services.

This BLOG is aligned with the Grant Professional Certification Institute’s Competencies and Skills

Competency #3: Knowledge of strategies for effective program and project design and development

Skill 3.1: Identify methods of soliciting and incorporating meaningful substantive input and contributions by stakeholders

Skill 3.1: Identify any cultural competency or cultural diversity issues within the organization or project that will impact the design and/or grant development process

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