Seven Ways Philanthropy Can Invest in the Rest and Healing of Social Justice Leaders

The grind of movement work takes an extra toll on leaders of color. Through their lived experiences, they are well-acquainted with the same dehumanization and racial trauma that they are committed to eradicating from society. Oftentimes, leaders of color are bearing this emotional, physical, and mental cost—the tax that they pay for their social consciousness—alone. They should not have to drive themselves to sickness or death in the war on racism. Right now, funders can do more than merely applaud their martyrdom by investing in the well-being of leaders of color in seven key ways:

  1. Respect the expertise of leaders of color. Racial healers come to this work with a deep understanding of what their communities need, yet institutional philanthropy and policymakers regularly devalue their expertise. They are the leaders we need for these movements due to their lived experience. They are the experts and have been the architects of every real solution.
  2. Acknowledge the burden they shoulder. Society calls on leaders of color to put their physical and mental health at risk to fix the racism, brutality, and structural inequities they did not create and that should not even exist. Grantmakers can take the first step in changing this inequitable and dehumanizing worldview by rejecting the notion that sacrificing one’s physical, mental, and emotional health is synonymous with great leadership. [1]
  3. Stop racial disparities in funding that further drain leaders of color. Typically, leaders of color receive smaller grants for their programs with greater restrictions. [2] Despite wearing themselves out for the work, their culturally responsive interventions are regularly dismissed, their reporting requirements are more stringent, and their outcomes must be extraordinary. Meanwhile, their white counterparts routinely receive significantly higher grant awards for similar programs—with less scrutiny and more flexibility. This type of funding disparity is unethical and racist. Learn ways to institute equitable grantmaking practices that actually support POC-led organizations. 
  4. Clear a path to healing with multi-year general operating support. True progress does not happen one program at a time. It is carried out and sustained by organizations and leaders that need your help. They are fighting for the survival of their communities— with their best knowledge, skills, and all of their resources. Leaving them to create and sustain movements, while philanthropy only invests in specific programs for specific populations, demonstrates an inherent distrust of their leadership and places undue strain on their organizations and teams. For real and sustainable social change to occur, leaders of color must be trusted with multi-year, capacity-building, general operating support that covers:
    • Program activities, including staff retreats, convenings, or trainings
    • Higher fringe benefit percentages for PTO or sabbaticals
    • Indirect costs for infrastructure, such as accountant or attorney’s fees and software needs
    A recent study from the Nonprofit Finance Fund identified long-term sustainability as a top challenge for 82% of organizations led by people of color. [3] POC-led organizations should not have to consistently struggle to fill out their budgets with small, restricted grants year after year. 
  1. Fund for the longevity of leaders. If funders are committed to the sustainability of movements, they must also commit to the sustainability of movement leaders. We urge philanthropy to deprioritize executive skills training programs that situate their work inside of colonialism, imperialism, and capitalism. Instead, leaders of color need you to fund professional development that holds space for self-care and knowledge sharing with other changemakers with similar lived experiences.
  2. Drive the conversation about the importance of rest. Frontline leaders can only take this conversation so far. Your influence and reach is a necessary component for change. Grantmakers can join leaders of color in reclaiming their humanity by leading discussions about the importance of rest in their planning meetings, boardrooms, and affinity groups. Listen to the voices of those most impacted, talk about the implications of social inequities on the health of leaders of color, and share the latest research with your team.
  3. Expedite your action. Now is the time to move swiftly to change harmful and extractive practices commonly seen in institutional philanthropy. Organizations like The Moriah Group can guide funders to tangibly increase their impact by applying a racial equity lens to their grantmaking efforts. It is time for funders to act on the knowledge they have, with the resources they hold, for the betterment of our society.

    Data shows significant connections between racial trauma among people of color and increased blood pressure, incidents of heart attacks, post-traumatic stress disorder, higher levels of stress-related hormones, and more. [4] When leaders of color rest from the double weight of their profession and alleviate the worry about their protection, they increase their impact and longevity in the movements they are creating. These opportunities for self-care not only allow them to step away from their day-to-day duties to strategize a vision for the future of their communities, it provides them with the vital moments to lay down the trauma of social justice work and take time to heal.

Learn more about how philanthropy can support rest in our latest paper, Healing Work: Creating Spaces for Rest and Reflection for Leaders of Color.