September 21, 2021

How Can Place-based Funders Build Their Communities Back Better with Equity?

Twelve place-based funders share practices for leaning in to more equitable, more effective philanthropy practices in a field report published by The Bridgespan Group.   

Boston—September 21, 2021—A new five-part series published by The Bridgespan Group offers insights to place-based funders on how best to invest in the communities they seek to serve. Race and Place-based Philanthropy: Learnings from Funders Focused on Equitable Impact is the culmination of a months-long learning journey with a diverse group of funders in 12 cities across the country who aim to rebuild their respective communities with equity more tightly woven into the fabric of their regions.

Darren Isom, a Bridgespan partner and co-author of the report, said, “The competing crises of 2020 presented on the national stage the long-standing racial and social inequities that are the everyday reality for far too many communities across the country. Place-based funders, with their unique understanding of both the assets and the pain points of their communities,  were uniquely positioned to leverage their local leaders and change efforts as critical drivers of the systemic change the moment demanded.”

Bridgespan’s report highlights the practices and tactics employed by a mix of community and private foundations, whose budgets and roles differ considerably. According to Isom’s co-author and Bridgespan Partner Debby Bielak, “What bound these participants together was a shared commitment to tackling inequities, to learn alongside one another and to help other funders as they navigate some of the same thorny challenges and questions such as:
  • How do we interrogate our personal and institutional mindsets and practices?
  • How do we authentically engage communities—especially BIPOC communities that have been structurally held back from progress—so they can shape our thinking and strategies?
  • How do we build power in BIPOC communities?
  • How do we collaborate with and influence other key stakeholders in our region, including our own donors, to advance community priorities?
  • How do we partner with public leaders and also push them to address the root causes—not just the symptoms—of seemingly intractable social challenges?”
As the funders gathered virtually in 2020 and early 2021, they shared with one another specific approaches they took. The result was a set of real-word examples that offer frank descriptions of the experiences of place-based funders. In sharing their learnings the peer group surfaced dozens of practices for benefitting many more under-resourced communities, such as the “roaming tables” that were a part of Kresge Foundation’s multi-faceted engagement process to contribute to the “Detroit Strategic Framework Plan,” or how The Kendeda Fund worked behind the scenes to generate more funding and support for ProGeorgia.

This range of examples illustrate that “there isn’t ‘an answer,’” as Seattle Foundation’s Kris Hermanns, one of the peer participants, noted. “Especially in a time that feels incredibly hard and raw, it’s really nice to try and find an answer. To have something that you can grasp. What’s helpful with this learning community is that you find your answers based on the wisdom and experience, and even the f-bombs that people are willing to share. And you think about how you instill and translate that experience.”

(For more on how this learning community came together, see video featuring a brief conversation with the authors)

“In sum,” said Bielak, “This series is intended to be an entry point in keeping the conversation on these important issues going. We welcome feedback and any insights on the topic that donors have to share on leaning into equity through philanthropy.”
About The Bridgespan Group

The Bridgespan Group ( is a global nonprofit that collaborates with social change organizations, philanthropists, and impact investors to make the world more equitable and just. Bridgespan’s services include strategy consulting and advising, sourcing and diligence and leadership team support. We take what we learn from this work and build on it with original research, identifying best practices and innovative ideas to share with the social sector. We work from locations in Boston, Johannesburg, Mumbai, New York, and San Francisco.

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The Bridgespan Group would like to thank the JPB Foundation for its generous and ongoing support of our knowledge creation and sharing work.