Diversity and Inclusion in Grantmaking

14 July 2023

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‘Recognise privilege and confront it to do philanthropy well’
Grantmakers for Effective Organisations

What does ‘privilege’ actually mean?

‘A set of unearned benefits given to people who fit into a specific social group’
Sian Ferguson

The characteristics that give a person greater or lesser privileges than others are accidents of birth and not personal choices. These characteristics work to make a complicated picture of privilege, for example, more privilege is associated with being white, but if you are a woman, or if you had a poor education, that has an impact on one’s opportunities or socioeconomic mobility.

In the western world, the following list includes some of the factors that tend to give somea greater advantage in life than others:

There is nothing inherently “wrong” about privilege:

‘Being privileged isn’t a moral failing – it’s just a description of how things are for some people. People who have more privilege are not automatically bad people, and people who are less privileged are not automatically good people’
‘Modern Grantmaking’, Gemma Bull and Tom Steinberg


Why do grantmakers need to be aware of the role their privilege plays in their organisation?

‘Only by facing privilege head-on can we truly leverage its power for good and ensure that it isn’t operating in direct conflict with the social purpose that underlies philanthropic work’

‘Power, Privilege, and Effectiveness: Are Funders Connecting the Dots?
Kathleen P. Enright

You might have heard the expression ‘to check your privilege’. As alienating as this sounds, it is a handy reminder that none of us shares the same set of experiences or advantages and that, when in a position of power – for example, being the one with the money and not the one with the need – the decisions that you make that affect other people ought to take the imbalances and blindnesses that your privilege might create, into account.

‘Privilege becomes a moral issue when people with privilege make decisions that affect
other people…The decisions are not necessarily due to intentional discrimination but result
from not asking the question ‘Is what’s good for me good for everyone?’
‘Modern Grantmaking’, Gemma Bull and Tom Steinberg

Examples of not exercising an awareness of privilege

The approach that we, as a family, have chosen to take in our grantmaking is one of humility – of trying to redress the paternalistic power imbalance that a lot of philanthropy has, and continues, to perpetuate (not naming buildings after ourselves, for example!). At the core of our ethos is the desire to overcome issues of inequity, and so incorporating an awareness of the privileges that have helped us to flourish is an important way of helping to realise our vision for a fairer society.


‘Striving for fairer starts, emotional and physical wellbeing and empowerment through opportunity’

Mission Statement, The Symondson Foundation


How can we ensure we operate in a way that honours and helps achieve our hopes for

Collecting and analysing diversity data
We might want to factor into our own impact reporting what level of diversity we have amongst our grantees. Do we support any minoritised-led organisations, or organisations with a high-level of marginalised people as their clients? Do those we support have sound systems for combatting inequities within their community?

Exercising an awareness of who is underserved in the charitable sector
A lot of demographic data for where need is highest (be it geographically, racially, socially, and so on) is readily available on sites like NPC’s Local Needs Databank. Are there groups or issues that are underserved by charitable or community initiatives? Do funders tend to pass over certain vulnerable groups because they don’t ‘see themselves’ relative to them? (The answer tends to be yes).

Being aware of our own blindspots
Our personal experiences will undoubtedly influence where, what, and who it is we would like to support. But consider the following instance, by way of illustration:

Smaller charities (90%) struggle with their relative invisibility to grantmakers than the
largest charities (10%) owing to factors such as:

The same can, and is, found to be the case for organisations operating for the sake of the most vulnerable, marginalised, and often stigmatised members of our society.

The communities that we are a part of – be they our localities, our social groups, professional lives – will naturally limit us to certain demographics. I am committed, therefore, to find ways for us to ensure we aren’t just giving to those who come across our paths or fall into our inboxes. Joining a funding collaborative or giving to a grant-making charity that is specifically about recognising and overcoming power and privilege issues may be one way of doing this.

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