Imagining the future for people of colour in grant-making
26 May 2021 4 minute read
In April, NPC held a philanthropist and funder peer network event on racial injustice. This session was curated by Aanchal Clare, Senior Associate of Funding Practice at Comic Relief and board member of both the Association of Charitable Foundations and the Peter Minet Trust, and Mitali Sen, Portfolio Officer at The National Lottery Community Fund. This session explored where the sector is falling short on racial justice and sought to provide a window into the personal experiences of people of colour in grant-making.
The issue of racial injustice has become a central concern of many people, including those in the charity and philanthropy sector. Philanthropy is dominated by white boards and staff, some foundations have uncomfortable roots in historic (and not so historic) oppression, and organisations led by people of colour receive less funding than other organisations.
Recently, as part of NPC’s philanthropist and funder peer network event series, we hosted a very different kind of event. We decided to start a conversation about the lived experience of staff and trustees of colour working in grant-making.
Day to day experiences
Rather than share a list of actions that organisations can take, our hosts Aanchal Clare and Mitali Sen provided an insight into the day to day experiences of people of colour in grant-making. Through better understanding lived experience, we have a better chance of helping to improve it.
We saw a hypothetical conversation between two fictional individuals, Aashirvachana and Mahashweta, who were employed at different, also fictitious, foundations (the What About Foundation and the New Horizons Trust respectively). It was uncomfortable to witness. We saw examples of colleagues of colour being passed over for promotion, being excluded from initiatives that they had instigated, and being prevented from speaking at a conference. The impression we received from these two women was of weariness, frustration, and a sense that nothing could change.
Aanchal and Mitali said of people of colour: ‘We help take care of each other. We help lift each other up. We help each other find workplaces that are safe. We help each other avoid those that are toxic. Some of you may not see it. You may not hear it. But we are always standing in solidarity with each other. This is what we do to get by in a sector that has kept us at the sidelines for decades.’
Aanchal and Mitali shared a poem they had written, which decried injustice and how we got here, then raised the possibility of hope, championing the ways things are starting to change and the aspiration that one day people of colour would be here, happy and safe.
Examples of progress
We caught up with Aashirvachana and Mahashweta again in 2026. This time they were energised, they were positive and they had examples of progress that illustrated what we should aim for as a sector. These included boards committed to shifting power, the use of affirmative action, and data showing that the majority of ethnic minority led groups felt well-capacitated.
Those that attended the event spoke about it being difficult to watch but they appreciated the creative and engaging format. Some commented that there was still learning to be done but they felt optimistic about the future as a result of this session.
From the command that no one use any of the clichéd buzzwords ‘powerful’, ‘thought-provoking’, ‘sobering’, or ‘inspiring’ in the event chat, to the idea of showing people the vision we should be aiming for, rather than a checklist of actions, this unique webinar resonated with our participants. It highlighted how we need to step up as a sector and how we need shared responsibility on this issue.
All of us were left with the challenge to help manifest the changes that Aanchal and Mitali dare to dream. There is a long way to go, but we are optimistic and now better able to imagine where we could end up.In April 2021, NPC hosted a very different kind of event, where they sought to provide a window into the personal experiences of people of colour in grant-making: Click To Tweet