What is your Equity Footprint?

When I was a teenager, everyone was talking about the “carbon footprint.” What impact are we having on the health and wellbeing of our surroundings and planet as a whole? How are everyday activities that we take for granted working to either counter or contribute to environmental harm? These questions became commonplace and defined an entirely new way to think about how our “ways of doing business” are inextricably linked to the health of larger social systems.

In the context of the carbon footprint, individuals and corporations contribute to environmental harm by engaging in everyday activities that produce greenhouse gas emissions: heating and cooling buildings, driving vehicles, and manufacturing and consuming products.

Similarly, the Equity Footprint concept acknowledges that, in many ways, philanthropy was designed to maintain and further entrench privilege, often at the direct expense of the very people that the sector claimed to benefit. Such harm should be addressed in two concurrent phases: first, minimizing an inequity footprint by ending practices that contribute to racial inequity; and then, reversing inequity by proactively maximizing an Equity Footprint.

As the philanthropic sector has begun to explore the roles philanthropy can play in undoing historical and racial inequities in our country, foundations have begun to shift their focus toward centering equity. In response to this shift, my colleagues and I at Frontline Solutions developed the Equity Footprint — a framework designed to help foundations change the way that they conduct business by helping them understand where they need to improve their equity practices.

Equity Footprint: The impact of a philanthropic organization on communities, expressed as the extent to which the foundation engages in equitable practices via the domains of organizational culture, grantmaking, investments, leadership & governance, operations, communications, and evaluation & learning.

The Equity Footprint framework is designed to mitigate decision paralysis and build motivation for change through a clear framework. It does so by representing all the roles and functions that philanthropic institutions fulfill, thereby enabling foundation staff to clearly see themselves and the concrete ways they can operationalize equity within their individual domains.

Grants Managers: Expanding the Equity Footprint of the Sector

In 2018 and 2019, Frontline Solutions partnered with PEAK Grantmaking to conduct research into current and emerging equitable practices in grantmaking, using the Equity Footprint as a framework. Guided by input from PEAK, Frontline conducted a field scan that suggested foundations are moving towards more equitable grantmaking practices. Yet, the current gap can be explained directly by the needs expressed by grants managers: support from leadership for tools and resources.

There was one central question that our informants wrestled with throughout our research: How do current grantmaking practices contribute to an inequitable distribution of foundation dollars that excludes communities of color?

We will continue to explore this question as we demonstrate Courage in Practice during PEAK2020. In my closing keynote, Understanding and Changing Your Foundation’s Equity Footprint, and the discussion to follow, we will use the Equity Footprint as a guide to explore the ways that grants management policies and practices can intentionally level the playing ground – moving a sector working to find its way to implementing more equitable, just, and inclusive grantmaking practices.

Jessica Barron is a consultant with Frontline Solutions.