Seattle Foundation Blog

An Update for Our Community

To advance racial equity and maximize community impact, the Foundation's grantmaking policies have been revised to address the inequities in our region.


July 16, 2021

For 75 years, Seattle Foundation has played an active role in our community as a bridge builder, civic leader, and partner to thousands of community nonprofits and philanthropists. The Foundation remains focused on learning and evolving on our journey toward fulfilling our commitment to building a thriving region for all. Today, we want to share information about new anti-discrimination and anti-hate policies adopted by our Board of Trustees.

Seattle Foundation recognizes that advancing racial equity is necessary to achieve the Foundation's mission and vision, in addition to maximizing community impact. We also know to realize noticeable change, action is needed now. For this very reason, our staff and Board have embraced the Blueprint for Impact as the North Star of our organization and began examining traditional philanthropic practices.

Even with the new North Star, we believe it is imperative to continuously explore how Seattle Foundation, your community foundation, might unintentionally be undermining our mission, vision, and goals through our policies and practices. Therefore, we embarked on an internal examination process, with guidance from external stakeholders, to reassess the alignment of the policies that guide our grantmaking with our mission, vision, and goals. This grantmaking policy oversees both grants directed by our staff and grants directed by our fundholders. You can read more about this intentional internal examination in Part 1 and Part 2 of this blog series.

Throughout this process, the Foundation listened to a broad audience of philanthropists and community partners voicing concern about systemic inequities made more visible by the pandemic, accompanied by increased evidence of ongoing racial injustice. Likewise, we have listened to the calls for accountability and intentionality in addressing discrimination and hate as part of the Foundation's vision of shared prosperity, belonging, and justice. We are grateful to all the community partners who helped us learn deeply about the pain communities experience living with these inequities and offered creative and divergent views on how the Foundation can improve.

As a result, the Foundation believed it prudent to re-design our grant policies in partnership with a spectrum of collaborators, including community stakeholders, staff, donors, and our Board of Trustees. We believe wholeheartedly that by working in partnership with others, we can play a key role in building a better future for the Greater Seattle region, while also eliminating harmful philanthropic practices that inhibit our collective progress.

To that end, in early 2021, we convened a Stakeholder Advisory Committee (SAC) to review the Foundation's current grantmaking policies and offer recommendations on ways to ensure these policies align with our collective commitment to addressing the widening disparities in our region. Serving strictly in an advisory capacity, the SAC played a significant role in providing invaluable feedback and recommendations. We are incredibly appreciative to this group of 24 individuals who were brought together from a wide range of organizations and sectors to help make us a better community foundation.

In addition, Seattle Foundation's staff served as moderators and bridge builders throughout this process, coordinating a series of meetings over several months to discuss our grantmaking policy language. The Foundation also looked to our Board of Trustees to support this process and determine the final outcome, and we were grateful for their deep engagement every step of the way.

After several months of thorough investigation, consultation, and research, the Foundation's Board of Trustees voted in June 2021 to adopt a revised grantmaking policy to better support the Foundation's mission in the context of the evolving needs of our region. In addition, the Foundation's Board voted to adopt significant new guidelines that apply to all the Foundation's grantmaking (both staff-directed and donor-directed) to uphold better the values of anti-racism, anti-discrimination, and anti-hate. Lastly, they charged the team with investigating the concept and practice of "community harm," confirming that this revised policy is but one step in our journey to ensure our policies align with our mission.

Seattle Foundation's revised grantmaking policy can be found here. In summary, Seattle Foundation recognizes that social, racial, and economic injustices persist in our region, country, and world, and acknowledges that philanthropy has historically had a role in maintaining some of these injustices. Seattle Foundation also recognizes its unique role as a civic leader working as a bridge builder in partnership with others, to help address root causes of these systemic inequities and to work with our donors and others to help build a region that is more just and free of hate and discrimination as a way of serving the charitable needs of the community. Seattle Foundation will not permit grants to organizations that engage in activities inconsistent with the Foundation’s commitment to end unlawful discrimination and other hateful activities. This policy applies to all of Seattle Foundation’s grant funding, including unrestricted funds and funding from fiscal sponsorships, designated funds, area of interest funds, and donor advised funds.

The Board of Trustees also considered potential policy changes that would make certain organizations ineligible for grants based on the harm they cause to communities. The Board did not, at this time, approve grant policy revisions that address harmful activity due to insufficient depth of knowledge regarding definitions, principles, criteria, and types of evidence for determining harm that could be applied in a uniform, fair, and meaningful way across prospective grantees. The philanthropic sector currently lacks a framework or model for applying such knowledge to grantmaking. The Foundation's Board encouraged Seattle Foundation's leadership team to explore what would be required to develop such a framework around harm, and we are committed to doing so. The Board has directed staff to gather information on these topics and provide analysis for future consideration.

As of June 2021, further steps affirmed by the Foundation's Board include the following:

  • Deeper understanding of the concept of "harm" and how it could be applied to grantmaking.
  • Details on systems improvement to make these processes more efficient and enable the Foundation to consider other criteria in the future.
  • Details on use of the Blueprint for Impact and tangible movement toward becoming an anti-racist organization.

We appreciate that implementing such a policy takes time to prepare with intention. Our commitment to providing high-quality customer service and philanthropic advising has not changed. As of October 1, 2021, the adopted anti-hate component of the policy will be applied to all new DAFs (donor-advised funds) under Foundation management. As of July 1, 2022, both the anti-hate and anti-discrimination components of the policy will apply to all Foundation unrestricted funds, and funding from all existing fiscal sponsorships, designated funds, area of interest funds, and donor advised funds. Philanthropists with donor-advised funds are also welcome to opt into the new policy at any time, should they so desire.

With this new policy and our Board's support, the Foundation has stated it does not consider discrimination, racist violence, and hate to be charitable activities. We are striving to be better, do better, and be part of the solution to break down silos in our community and support a region where all our neighbors can thrive. It cannot go unsaid that for Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) in particular, there is an increased sense of urgency to resolve issues involving harmful behavior. Data clearly shows that BIPOC communities are disproportionately affected by these inequities, harm, hate, and racist violence. Seattle Foundation understands there is more work to be done and is committed to learning, growing, and evolving to better address these concerns.

Designing for this grantmaking policy review process is an important example of how the Foundation is charting a path to become a more inclusive, anti-racist organization. Though not the end of our journey—it is a vital step taken. As the Foundation continues moving forward, we will acknowledge the spectrum of reactions expressed in the wake of the updated grantmaking policy, take a holistic view of the progress made, and continue listening to community members about what more can be done. Our team recognizes that we may make mistakes and face disagreements along the way. Still, we commit to continuing to foster dialogue supporting the Foundation's ultimate goal—building a more thriving and equitable region for all.

To get there, we ask for your continued support as we journey forward and continue to see our mission come to a fuller sense of fruition.

We would welcome your questions about this new policy. Please feel free to contact our team or your Philanthropic Advisor.

Again, we thank you for your generosity and all you have contributed to improving the well-being of our community.

This article was updated on June 17, 2022.

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