The Social Justice Ecology (SJE) framework was conceived in response to three of the biggest challenges facing the nonprofit sector today:
The Racial Leadership Gap: Over 85% of Greater Boston nonprofit staff and board leaders are white, a number that has been unchanged for over 20 years in stark contrast to changing demographics of our region.
The exclusion of historically marginalized people from shaping decisions that affect their lives: 70% of Foundation CEOs say learning from beneficiaries is important, yet only 36% solicit feedback. This goes beyond the fact that BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) are not adequately represented in the seats of power and leadership within the nonprofit sector, to the fact that leadership of nonprofits and foundations often are not even in conversation with the people in the communities we are working to impact. Relatedly, many of us in philanthropy are also familiar with Bryan Stevenson’s influential work around the importance of “getting proximate”.
Nonprofits are not investing in the operational and leadership capacities needed to deliver on their missions in an effective and sustainable manner: 56% of nonprofit leaders plan to reduce already insufficient overhead spending.
Create space and provide resources for social justice leaders, especially those who have been historically and structurally excluded, to exercise agency and power.
Support resident-led movements to amass and sustain power.
Support and build sector capacity to help Greater Boston nonprofits advance the 5 Elements of Nonprofit Effectiveness:
Create opportunities to support nonprofits that are not aligned with TBF’s impact areas.
To address these challenges, we believe that we must strategically invest in WHO is doing the work and HOW the work is getting done. Therefore If we focus on the leaders of the work (as they say in the disability justice movement, “nothing about us without us”), structural and institutional inequity, and strengthening organizational operations, we will meaningfully contribute to the systemic change necessary to achieve a more just Greater Boston.
The goal of the Social Justice Ecology framework is to support the conditions for social justice to thrive in Greater Boston by providing access to resources and support for people, movements and nonprofit organizations working to disrupt persistent structural and institutional inequity.
The focus of the People strategy is to create space and provide resources for social justice leaders, especially those who have been historically and structurally excluded, to exercise agency and power. We carry out this work through community-directed grantmaking, affinity spaces and increase funding to people of color-led organizations disrupting inequity. Examples of this work are the Boston Neighborhood Fellows (BNF), the Anna Faith Jones and Frieda Garcia Women of Color Leadership Circle, and the Executive Directors of Color Capacity Support Pilot.
The Boston Neighborhood Fellows program provides recognition, professional development, and direct financial support to individuals who work within community service in the Greater Boston Area. The program also seeks to expand the Fellows’ access to resources and support their growth in creativity, vision, and leadership.
The Women of Color Leadership Circle is a six-month cohort program that aims to support women of color leaders to advance their professional development and leadership goals. The program aims to honor the leadership, strength, and resilience of women of color who do incredible work within their communities and provide them with a cherished space to share challenges and opportunities.
The Executive Directors of Color Capacity Support Pilot is a cohort-based pilot program for community-based nonprofit leaders of color in the Boston area. Community-based nonprofits are on the front lines of COVID-19 response, and are some of the organizations most affected by the economic hardships of the pandemic. Often, these organizations are led by leaders of color who have long identified deeper investment in their leadership and their organizations as a chronically underfunded need. The COVID-19 crisis has highlighted the importance of strengthening these organizations so that they can continue to support their communities. With a curriculum co-created by the participating leaders to leverage their lived knowledge and experience and build new skills, cohort members will have access to peer support, skills building workshops, peer learning sessions, one-on-one coaching, project-oriented technical assistance, and access to critical tools and resources.
The Movements strategy is an exploratory strategy with the focus to support resident-led movements to amass and sustain power. This strategy is an extension of our focus on people described above, and a further expression of our belief that equitable, just and sustainable progress cannot be made absent the voice and leadership of the residents whose lives we are working to impact.
We carry out this strategy through two approaches: to build organizing field capacity and to support civic engagement on resident-defined issues. These approaches are informed by the feedback we received during external stakeholder listening sessions we held to help us better understand the challenges facing our communities, and where TBF could make a unique contribution in the future. We will continue to work closely with our partners on the ground as we build-out this work.
The focus of the Nonprofit Sector Infrastructure is to support and build sector capacity to help Greater Boston nonprofits advance the 5 Elements of Nonprofit Effectiveness:
We recognize that the nonprofit organization is a critical lever for social change, and we will therefore continue to support the sector’s effectiveness by supporting intermediary organizations to advance the 5 Elements of Nonprofit Effectiveness and by building field capacity to center racial equity.
The Open Door Grants program (ODG) is an open, responsive semi-annual grantmaking program that provides nonprofits, that are not aligned with TBF’s impact areas, access to multi-year general operating support. The program is especially focused on organizations serving and building power in communities historically excluded from institutional philanthropy and whose leadership reflects the communities they serve.
Open Door Grants is actively working to share and shift power to community through community-directed grantmaking. Community directed grantmaking is the practice of sharing grantmaking responsibility with community members outside of TBF’s staff and board. Each round , since the pilot in May 2020, we have been working to deepen and expand this practice, with the ultimate goal to have community inform all of ODG grantmaking. To date, almost $1 million has been distributed by community reviewers.
The Social Justice Ecology team commissioned this directory to connect nonprofits with racial equity consultants and programming support organizations, to center racial equity and to provide a
resource for nonprofits to help them advance racial equity within their organizations. Click here to download the directory.
You can also learn more about the directory and gain insights on approaches to hiring a racial equity or DEI consultant from authors Curdina Hill and Molly Mead by watching the video of their January 2021 webinar, and reviewing their responses to questions from webinar participants.
Since 2017, the Boston Foundation and other partners have worked to strengthen the nonprofit sector's understanding of its own racial equity and improve the representation of women and leaders of color throughout the sector. In 2020, TBF partnered with the Building Movement Project to release The Burden of Bias in the Bay State, a research project highlighting the ongoing racial leadership gap in the Massachusetts nonprofit sector. Beginning with Opportunity in Change in 2017, the Foundation has partnered with Third Sector New England, the Building Movement Project, and others to explore and shed light on this critical topic.
The Burden of Bias in the Bay State: The Nonprofit Racial Leadership Gap in Massachusetts
Opportunity in Change: Preparing Boston for Leader Transitions and New Models of Nonprofit Leadership
Race to Lead: Confronting the Nonprofit Racial Leadership Gap
Race to Lead: The Nonprofit Racial Leadership Gap in Massachusetts
Leading with Intent: National Index of Nonprofit Board Practices
In May 2020, the Boston Foundation and YWBoston teamed up for the release of a report on how 10 Greater Boston organizations worked to advance their diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts, using YWBoston's InclusionBoston framework. In the report and webinar, we examined both the elements of the InclusionBoston process and the challenges and progress that organizations in the TBF-funded cohort were making on their DEI Journey.