What I Learned about Social Justice Philanthropy from the Diverse City Fund

By Nancy Withbroe

Diverse City Fund is a grassroots activist grant maker we can count on to support the work of justice. There is nothing like it in our capital city. As a donor, I am more committed than ever to keeping the funds flowing to and through D.C. Fund.
— Donald Temple

One warm evening this summer, several colleagues and I had the joy of attending a reception for the Diverse City Fund, a component fund of the Greater Washington Community Foundation, at the home of Andy and Marjan Shallal. The event raised more than $25,000 in fresh commitments, which doubles to $50,000 based on a match from a major donor.

The fund works to nurture community leaders of color and grassroots projects that are acting to transform the District of Columbia into a more just, vibrant place to live. One of the event co-hosts, Medea Benjamin, celebrated these efforts: “In these times, I am most energized by joining hearts, minds, and resources for racial justice. Bringing people together to contribute to the Diverse City Fund is one way I know that my giving is relevant and powerful." The small projects supported by the fund — often volunteer-powered — have few options for funding, but it is often these very projects that work to build institutions by and for communities with the least access to resources. Those were boosted considerably by the success of this event.

Attending the reception gave me the opportunity to learn more about the innovative social justice-oriented philanthropic model practiced by the volunteers involved with the Diverse City Fund. The Fund is led by a group of volunteers who call themselves the “Board of Instigators.” Because they want to center social changemakers of color in their grantmaking process, they recruit a separate Grantmaking Team composed of activists of color who are rooted in D.C. and its social justice work.

I encourage other donors who want to empower and build the capacity of community-led social change leaders to consider what they might learn from them.

The recent resurgence of hate crimes and racist acts like the violent march in Charlottesville remind us all that, now more than ever, it’s imperative that the people of color who are building innovative programs to support community-building and resist displacement have a say in how philanthropic resources are deployed in the District. This fund has organized itself to fulfill that mission through its resident-led decision-making and micro-grants, which recently grew to total $150,000 for 2017.

The event hosted by the Shallals helped to foster community among grantees, donors, and supporters of the Fund, and put a spotlight on less visible community-level projects. An attendee, Laurie Emrich, declared, “Justice won't wait. It is the work of a lifetime and it takes all of us. I was thrilled to invite new donors to the Diverse City Fund to be a part of resourcing movements here where local, national and global arenas all intersect. I look forward to more activists and allies joining this important work."

The Greater Washington Community Foundation is proud to house the Diverse City Fund and many other initiatives that donors create to realize their philanthropic and social change dreams. If you would like to learn more about ways to leverage your philanthropy strategically, please reach out to me at nwithbroe@thecommunityfoundation.org.