Seattle Foundation staff members Cedric Davis (L) and Jonathan Cunningham (R) pose with LaNesha DeBardelaben of the Northwest African American Museum and Martin Luther King III to celebrate the 60th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s visit to Seattle.

Our Commitment to the Black Community in Action

An update on Racially Equitable Philanthropy Aimed at Initiating Reparations (REPAIR) and our $25 million commitment to the Black community of the Greater Seattle Region.

By Jonathan Cunningham,Senior Program Officer

Canadian-based philosopher, entrepreneur, and author Matshona Dhliwayo once said, “You become strong by lifting others up, not pulling them down.”

Seattle Foundation is on a journey to correct historic underinvestment in Black, Indigenous, and people of color-led and -serving organizations. We recognize that to truly embrace our Blueprint for Impact and ensure that everyone in our community has a chance to thrive, we must lift others up.

All of our foundation-directed initiatives echo the sentiment of lifting others up and focusing on those most impacted by targeted resources to Black, Indigenous, and people of color-led organizations. For example, our Neighbor to Neighbor grant program supports grassroots efforts that increase engagement, power, and influence of community members affected by poverty and racial disparities. The Fund for Inclusive Recovery brings together millions in funding to drive community-led change as our region rebuilds from the pandemic. Our Creative Equity Fund moves resources exclusively to Black and Indigenous-led organizations using arts & culture as a tool for dismantling structural racism. And our most boldly stated framework to date, Racially Equitable Philanthropy Aimed at Initiating Reparations (REPAIR), calls on us to invest where philanthropic underinvestment has had the most detrimental consequences – in our region’s Black community.

In June of 2021, Seattle Foundation launched the REPAIR framework. REPAIR is Seattle Foundation’s commitment to invest a minimum of $25 million in Black-led organizations in King County over five years. As we prepare to close out Black History Month, it feels fitting to update our community on where this initiative stands.

With a 5-year, $25 million commitment, Seattle Foundation needs to move at least $5 million into the Black community every year between 2021 and 2025 to remain on track. We’re pleased to announce that based on our internal tracking efforts, the Foundation intentionally invested over $12 million in Black-led and-serving organizations in 2021. We exceeded our anticipated disbursement to the Black community using a variety of funding streams across the entire foundation. This includes money allocated through our grantmaking programs, our donor advised funds, sponsorships, and contracts. It’s important to note that over half of our $12 million output ($6.4 million) is from one-time efforts in response to the pandemic, such as All in WAand the COVID-19 Response Fund. While these funds will soon end, we know that our $25 million commitment to the Black community is achievable if we continue to work in partnership with funders, donors, and community members. This strong start is encouraging and gives us great hope that we will meet, and hopefully exceed our goal by 2025.

Abundance of Hope members hold a sign that says "heal the healers
*Image credit: Abundance of Hope

Yet, nothing of this magnitude can be achieved overnight. When we launched the REPAIR framework, Seattle Foundation had been on a journey to focus on racial equity through our foundation-directed programming. Through increased internal examination of our funding, we saw the gaps and areas of underinvestment that needed to change. In late 2018, we partnered with Byrd Barr Place and Cardea Services on a research report entitled, “The Case for Investing in King County’s Black Led Organizations.” The study offered a high-level insight into triumphs and capacity-building challenges that Black-led organizations and their leaders regularly experienced. Our Black-Led Organizations Cohort has met monthly since 2019. The REPAIR framework emerged from their invaluable contributions.

While we’re elated to share this update on REPAIR’s funding output, we must emphasize that the road ahead requires focused and sustained commitment. Correcting our region’s inequities will not happen swiftly, nor will Seattle Foundation achieve this monumental goal alone. We hope that by sharing this update – and reminding everyone of the intention behind REPAIR – other funders and philanthropists will join us on this journey. We need you with us. We fully believe that philanthropy cannot fulfill its defined promise of promoting the welfare of others if it continues to underfund Black-led organizations. Instead, we must work strategically, in partnership with donors, funders, and those most impacted by centuries of racism to repair past harms and build pathways for shared prosperity. Through this approach, we’re living out our mission of making Greater Seattle a stronger, more vibrant community for all.

The first anniversary of the REPAIR framework will happen in June. Stay tuned for a more extensive update as we mark the occasion. Until then, we welcome your partnership in making philanthropic reparations a reality for Black-led nonprofits in this region.

For any peer funders, philanthropists, or individual donors that wish to support Black-led organizations and emerging priorities lifted up by Black leaders, please join us by contributing to REPAIR. If you wish to learn more about REPAIR, please email Senior Program Officer Jonathan Cunningham.