Funders for Race Equality Alliance: Helping funders address structural inequality

The Funders for Race Equality Alliance is a network of funding organisations committed to addressing racial inequalities in systems and communities in the UK. The Alliance came together over a shared concern about racial inequality and social justice in late 2015 , and has grown significantly, particularly following Covid-19’s disproportionate effects on Black and Minoritised ethnic communities and resurgence of Black Lives Matter.

Programme Officer Yusra Ali talks to us about how members have worked to improve their grantmaking processes and how organisations can further address structural inequality.

Tell us about FREA’s purpose and how you work.

The Alliance brings together funders to make race equality a reality in UK philanthropy, giving funders the space to learn from each either, collaborate and take action. We work with three main objectives:

  • Increase knowledge and understanding of racial justice and how that can be applied in practice
  • Address gaps and increase sustainable and flexible funding for race equality organisations
  • Increase Black and Minoritised representation at all levels

A lot of our work is on sustaining engagement with race equality issues and organisations, ensuring that it remains a priority for funders. We do this through a range of activities including producing tailored content, research, meetings, as well as tools such as our racial justice audit.

Tell us more about how you reach members.

Our racial justice audit has proven to be extremely successful in addressing the underinvestment of the race equality sector. It gives funders a snapshot of their current portfolio through a racial justice lens and provides a greater transparency of current foundation expenditure. This year we released our third cohort of results, with data from 1003 grants, with a total of £85.1m from 15 funders, our highest engagement yet from funders. The data produced from the audit has helped funders collect necessary data to develop more targeted funding.

Another really important way that we engage members is through our bi-weekly newsletter. This helps funders stay connected to the race equality sector and learn about the incredible work taking place.

Our Alliance meetings, which are member-only, occur every quarter. Our most recent meeting focused on funding Black and Minoritised -led campaigning, where we had Mama Cash and ROSA speak about their experiences of participatory grantmaking and supporting intersectional groups. Members shared challenges, opportunities and lessons learned and we look forward to see how this plays out in future funding.

How do members work together to help one another?

A key goal of the Alliance is to forge openness, with members being open about their experiences. Earlier this year, our member, Youth Futures Foundation, presented a new grant, detailing their grantmaking process. Funders came together to provide support on how to reach more race equality organisations and how to apply race equality lens to funding policies and systems.

What are some of the barriers for funders that have restricted race equality?

Understanding where funding is going, and the impact of grantmaking processes on race equality organisations is crucial to creating a thriving race equality sector. The audit helps funders where unintentional bias may be present, identify the gaps and the ways to make a change. We are seeing a big change in data collection methods, and this needs to continue.

How can funders begin to change their approach?

The audit is a great tool that funders can use to change their approach as it enables funders to:

- identify how much funding is reaching Black and Minoritised communities and addresses racial justice work

- Produce a snapshot of current portfolios and create a baseline to track funding on a yearly basis

- Implement targets and strategies to ensure funders are advancing racial justice work

- Allow greater transparency of current foundation expenditure

We have also seen many funders, including some of our members, explore their history specifically relating to their endowment, and colonial past, and this has had a huge impact on restoring trust and building relationships with the race equality sector.

What can funders do to better support the sustainability of BME organisations and grantees through the cost-of-living crisis and the lingering effects of the pandemic?

Our quantitative analysis of the emergency funding to the UK Black and Minority Ethnic Voluntary Sector during Covid-19 gives good indication of what worked, as well as highlighting the gaps. Here are some of the recommendations:

  • Many grants had to be spent quickly which put organisations at risk of financial insecurity after this period. Funders need to look at renewing their funding with a longer-term lens, looking to create generational funding opportunities to advance greater racial justice in the UK.
  • Funders were flexible and responsive to the changing needs of the sector, with most of the funding coming from flexible funds. Funders need to continue this flexibility, enable more of a long-term focus on racial equality and justice within existing and new priorities. This can be done by: ring-fencing funds, providing additional pre-application support, pooled funds and re-granting through Black and Minority Ethnic intermediary organisations.
  • Funders expressed the desire to listen and collaborate with the sector to advance the race equality sector. The use of participatory grantmaking has been highlighted in the analysis as an efficient way for larger funders to distribute funds quickly and efficiently. Funders must actively raise their own awareness of existing and emerging groups that are already doing valuable work.

What positive differences have you noticed over the past year?

Lloyd’s Bank Foundation also used our audit to better understand and change their grantmaking processes that were excluding Black and Minoritised ethnic communities. They’ve reworked their strategy based on a lot of the data from our audit to help support more BME organisations, too.Their most recent change has been the commitment of ring fencing 25% of their grant budget for charities led-by-and-for Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities.

Trust for London and City Bridge Trust have introduced a £4 million racial justice fund to increase economic empowerment among London’s Black and Minoritised communities. This fund addresses the wealth and income disparities at the heart of racial justice, and the disproportionate number of Black and Minoritised communities experiencing poverty.

People’s Health Trust have doubled the proportion of grants for projects addressing racial injustice, up to 28% from 13%, and increased the proportion of funding for organisations led by people experiencing racial injustice (24% from 14%).

Esmée Fairbairn Foundation have updated their strategy A Fairer Future committing to tackling systemic injustice and inequity, by collaborating with organisations to strengthen them and build movements. They have also dedicated one of their five priorities to racial justice, recognising its necessity for a socially and economically healthy nation.

What is something you’re currently working on?

We are looking to focus on our third objective. We are looking at ways to protect, sustain and celebrate the critical contributions of Black and Minoritised staff working in philanthropy. So stay tuned!

People’s Health Trust is a member of Funders for Race Equality Alliance. You can find more information about the Trust's Equality, Diversity and Inclusion work here, and about the Alliance’s work and vision on the FREA website.

Yusra Ali

Programme Officer, Funders for Race Equality Alliance.