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Philanthropy in Focus

Conversations with Philanthropy Experts

As we continue into the season of giving, we wanted to look back at guests whose work is centered around transforming systems and thinking critically about the power of philanthropy. Hear insights from our episodes featuring Jen Ford Reedy, Toya Randall, Isaiah Oliver, Vu Le, and Shannon Smith Jones. Each guest has dedicated themselves to improving their community and the lives of others.

Listen to Our Episode

Souphak Kienitz  00:04

You’re listening to Conversations with Chanda, a Minneapolis Foundation podcast that unpacks the community’s grittiest most vexing problems, hosted by Chanda Smith Baker. As we continue into the season of giving, we wanted to look back at guests whose work is centered around transforming systems and thinking critically about the power of philanthropy. Our team has pulled together clips from multiple episodes featuring Jen Ford Reedy, Toya Randell, Isaiah Oliver, Vu Le and Shannon Smith Jones. Each guest has dedicated themselves to improving their community and the lives of others. Our first clip is with the president of the Bush Foundation, Jen Ford Reedy. Enjoy the show.

Chanda Smith Baker  01:00

We are out here trying to solve major community issues that have existed for centuries, and it’s challenging sometimes to put the level of creativity and impact into a formula. What advice do you have to offer on that?

Jennifer Ford Reedy  01:18

I really agree with that observation. I think there’s a risk in philanthropy, when it can, you can get there a lot of different ways. One way is getting there by saying we want to be able to measure our impact. We want to be able to show our impact. We want to be able to have an issue, you know, on impact on this particular issue. And then you’re trying to line everything up to show your own impact. And I think there are examples in the history of philanthropy where that has worked pretty well, but it also, there are lots of examples where that has caused harm, and where that has been really ineffective, and I think about us, sometimes. I think about the field of philanthropy. I picture you know, that story of Babe Ruth coming up to the plate and like pointing his bat out to this part of outfield and then hitting the ball right there. And, I mean, the reason that’s a story that people who don’t even care about baseball, you know, people who, you know, have been born decades after that know that story is because it was so outrageous that he was able to do that. That he was able to point exactly where it’s gonna hit and then hit a homerun there. That’s what we’re trying to do in philanthropy all the time. So okay, now, we are going to hit a homerun right there on that issue, and the odds of doing that really aren’t great. And it’s, it’s interesting to me, because that’s such strong conventional wisdom within philanthropy, that the way to have an impact is focus, focus, focus, focus, get as narrow as possible, and then say you want to have an impact right there. Well, that requires a lot of things to line up, right? So many things have to go right to be able to really have transformational change in an area. And I think there’s a lot of things that make sense that draw us to think that would be have more impact by being more narrow, but we’re missing all those opportunities where other people are actually lining up, and there’s momentum, and there’s an opening. There’s something happening over here. It’s in right and left field. Yeah, I shouldn’t keep extending the baseball metaphor, because I won’t be able to, I won’t be able to stay with it. But that ability to stay open and see where is the possibility for change right now. And we want to go there, because we have the best chance of making a real difference, when there’s community momentum when there’s a new idea that’s taking off when, you know, like, if so we can be open and alert and a spotter really of opportunity, and developer and supporter of opportunity, I think we have a better chance of having transformative impact. Now the trick is back to your question about the board’s, you can’t say up ahead, then our impact is going to be this or impact is going to be that. And that is unnerving, because you want to have a sense that, you know, we’re focused on a goal, and we have a sense of what we’re going to do. But I think that that mindset means we leave a lot, and lot, a lot of opportunity on the table because we’re not open and conditioned to be spotting those opportunities, and then doing all we can to make good things happen when things are lining up.

Chanda Smith Baker  04:22

Yeah. Can we talk race?

Jennifer Ford Reedy  04:24

Yeah, yeah.

Chanda Smith Baker  04:25

You’re a white leader. All of the things pandemic, who it’s impacting, and I’m clear that it’s impacted everybody. And then there’s sort of the economic impacts, and then the vulnerable and who were, you know, sort of the folks that didn’t have the option to work at home, right like, it, with low income folks of color. So I don’t want to diminish other people’s sort of impact on the pandemic because there’s so much grief and loss associated with that. And then George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, like those things you can feel the pressure on our institutions and within our institutions from diverse leaders that exists within and from younger leaders, who are like, yo, do you see what they’re doing up there? Like, why are we, you’re talking about like, the blinds or whatever? Like, like, right, like, we need to, we need to move not only faster, we need to be doing XYZ, which might be different than how you see it, and I’m curious on were you challenged as a white leader? And if so, how so? And, you know, what was that experience like for you?

Jennifer Ford Reedy  05:41

Yes, so we had already, fortunately, been doing work with Bush Foundation for a lot of years to have frank conversations about race and put priority on racial equity and be willing to name it and prioritize issues of racial equity as an institution. So it wasn’t a new conversation for us or new questions. It was much more of a, are we real enough? Are we deep enough? Are we big enough? You know, in how we’re thinking about racial equity? I think, you know, we had strong reactions, I think to already, to seeing how the pandemic was disproportionately affecting people of color, and more broadly, the most vulnerable in the region. So we had been having that conversation internally about amplifying efforts, and then had George Floyd murdered. And so by the time we got to, was really our August board retreat, you know, the topic was, what are we doing on racial equity now, and what more can we be doing and the response was strong and clear, like, we thought we were doing things to address racial equity, but we’re not even you know, we are not enough the world is not enough, like everything that people are doing is not enough, we are not making a big enough difference. And we have to go deeper, bigger, more real, and that’s in our internal work as an organization, but also in our programmatic work. So, you know, a lot of the strategy changes that we’ve done in the last year are putting greater emphasis on racial equity, including, you know, at that August board meeting, where we decided to issue social impact bonds to be able to do more now. So we bonded for what was 10% of our assets at that point, and we got to get them out now, because if we don’t address issues of racial inequality, now, nothing we do, for the rest of the time that Bush Foundation exists, is going to have the kind of impact that we want, like, this is so fundamental. It’s got to be the focus, and we’re using those resources to take what we consider reparative action related to closing wealth gaps for native and black communities.

Chanda Smith Baker  08:04

Can you just share more about what that means? You took 10% of your assets, and did what like just, can you just describe what that means?

Jennifer Ford Reedy  08:12

Yeah, so we bonded, where 10% of our assets is $100 million. So we issued social impact bonds to have $100 million to be able to give that faster now, and that’s basically taking a loan out, right. So it’s basically taking out a loan, we pay it back 30 years from now. So it’s still our money, we’re still spending it now, but it’s a way of kind of financing that, that spending to be able to still be available for community as much as possible in the future. That’s always what we’re trying to think about. I mean, to us, there’s no difference between what’s Bush Foundation assets, and what’s the community’s assets, like Bush Foundation assets are the community’s assets. So we’re just trying to think, how are we stewarding these for the best interest of the community, and we believe we should be spending more now. So that’s an extra 100 million dollars that we’re putting out on top of our regular payout that we’re continuing to do, and we actually went above you know that that payout. But with that 100 million dollars, we are doing something that we think of a smart strategy, but also as an acknowledgement and way of atoning for historic injustice related to race that is manifest today in racial wealth gaps. So that money we’re not granting in the same way we usually grant dollars. We consider that money to belong to the native community and black community in the region. And we’re just seeking steward organizations to receive that from us, and then decide how to distribute that money to individuals in the black community and native communities to support wealth building activities, like buying a house, going to school, starting a business and we want to be as supportive as those steward organizations want us to be, but also as hands off as they as they want us to be and saying, this is not like our normal grant making, and this is something that we consider a different kind of action, both in spirit and in process, sort of, for how we’re, how we’re giving that, that money. And at the same time, you know, our core grant making work, we’ve put greater emphasis on racial wealth gaps, and I’ve committed another $50 million. It’s just going through our regular grant making that is about that systems change, work. You know, in all those different ways we need to change and work on anti racist strategies to change, whether it’s education system, whether it’s, you know, how banking works, whether it’s housing, all those different areas that play into the creation and perpetuation of racial wealth gaps.

Souphak Kienitz  10:56

Up next, we have Toya Randell, a writer, philanthropist, and curator of Voice, Vision Value.

Chanda Smith Baker  11:04

You know, for someone that may not understand, sort of, the different way, if they have a staff that’s not diverse, but maybe diversifying. You know, how do you how do you talk about the difference of how leadership shows up for people of color?

Toya Randell  11:19

Yeah, I think there is a serious deficit in the ability of people who are not of color to see the breadth and depth of our humanity, right? And to connect our humanity to the disproportionate outcomes and data points and like all of the ways in which, in philanthropy, we have this intellectual knowledge that is based in research, we have the data like we understand intellectually, the disparities, the disproportionality, the way in which systems have failed and continue to fail, communities of color. How that then gets operationalized, and humanized in relationship to those of us who are in these predominantly white spaces, is, continues to be a challenge. And, and it is something that organizations over the past year and a half have truly had to grapple with, and and are continuing to grapple with. But what I’ve also seen is that folks of color inside philanthropy have been emboldened in a way that and again, I came into the sector in 2020. Unlike anything I’ve ever seen before, right, and it could speak into your point about sick and tired of being sick and tired. There is a heightened sense of explicit advocacy, and absolute clarity around what is needed and necessary inside institutions. And folks are pushing the conversation and the dialogue, beyond conversation and dialogue, to getting to action and results. I co-chair the funders network, the Greater New Orleans funders network. That group of local leaders Flosill Daniels and Carmen James Randolph, unreadable Robertson, along with community partners have our turning philanthropy on its head and have put out a bold strategic plan and theory of change that truly centers equity and justice. And this is a philanthropic, you know, now a regional network of foundations, with some national partners that are saying we want members of community on the board. We want members of community making decisions about how funding decisions are being made within this network. We are prepared and positioned to share power and to open up space in a way that really does center equity and justice not just as part of a mission or purpose statement, but as part of how we do philanthropy in this region. And I’m not seeing anything like that before in my in my career. So I think this this moment that we are living and reliving, folks have taken the gloves off in many ways and are unapologetically demanding a different way of being in this sector. And in many, right like this is this is happening across sectors, but watching this occur in philanthropy, mostly through the leadership voice of black women has been something to bear witness to and it’s been beautiful and difficult, but it is absolutely necessary.

Chanda Smith Baker  15:01

One of the things that does make me think of is when I first came in, I think I talked to you about it, but all of the things around sort of emerging practitioners or whatever in philanthropy are some of the others sort of fellowships in philanthropy are for people that are kind of coming out of college or new to career. And here I was sort of mid career coming into my first role in philanthropy, like I’m a little bit older, like, where do I go, right? Like I need, I need to find my people in here, and I sort of laugh at it, because I think that there’s these assumptions that if you have let life lived, and sort of another sector, and you come in, that you’ve got it all sort of figured out. And I just think the importance of those circles, and when I think about who it was, you know, Silvia, interest in you and others that kind of came in and welcomed me in and can you talk more about the importance of building out an accurate narrative? Because I do think that part of the isolation and part of the storytelling components are not just about what’s not working, but when you go when you need stuff, right, like, what are the wins, not just the problems that existed before you, I think that’s important for any community to understand that. But for the work that you’re leading, particularly around supporting, elevating, amplifying, connecting black women, what is the importance of building out the accurate narrative?

Toya Randell  16:35

I literally get to talk to black women about this every day, and so there are just so many nuggets, right? And I think it was to Keema Robinson, who said, when we tell our stories, we set each other free. And because when you hear the story, and when you hear the narrative coming to you from the person who experienced it, right? You see yourself and you realize so much of what you thought was made you inadequate or ill prepared or needing something more than what you had, you realize how untrue that is, and you also realize how common the isolation and the feelings of some have called it the imposter syndrome, right? You realize that is a common, that is a common set of experiences, and sort of emotions, and, you know, conditions that we are navigating. I want to be able to elevate that narrative and create not just spaces where we tell our stories, but document them in ways that then can be used to create what are the strategic tools, what are the ways in which we resource ourselves and one another, so that we can address combat, minimize, and hopefully eliminate that noise that often can shake us at our core, and we don’t fully bring ourselves into the space and into the work. And I can say again, it was 2014 by the time I met I got my boss Antoinette who gave me the green light to hire the coach and I could begin doing this work around building my confidence and comfort in my own leadership and really being intentional about sort of understanding how I wanted to use my access to the sort of privilege and space of philanthropy to have impact around the things that I cared about. I wish somebody had been having those conversations with me in 2000, like 14 years before. And so how do we together tell these stories, create tools create safe space, so that the next Toya the next, Chanda, at whatever point you come into the sector, there is a readily available set of resources that you can look to and lean on so that you can launch in a far quicker way, than, most of us were able to.

Souphak Kienitz  19:16

And that’s Toya Randell. Next up is Isaiah Oliver, president and chief executive officer of the Community Foundation of Greater Flint

Chanda Smith Baker  19:27

And watching people looking at how do they create more inclusive staffing and approaches to their work, but perhaps unwilling to get rid of the idea of who they think are qualified and who’s qualified, who’s not.

Isaiah Oliver  19:45

Inequity at play, no, right? Is that not systemic inequity right there? I’m only, I’ve put all of these barriers in place to someone getting in the role, and then I’m questioning why the field is predominantly white women. Well, and I’m questioning why of this large group of white women that are in the field, why only, or mostly white males get the CEO role, right? And just, if you’re asking these questions, what are you feeding this system to yield the result that you’re getting? And I quite frankly, it is, in many cases, the hiring process. What are we looking for? Very rarely does a person say, you know what, I need a VP of philanthropic services, or VP of development, but I don’t need a person who’s raised money before, right? I’m looking for a VP of community impact or grant making community leadership, but I don’t need a person who’s never made grants before. So what are we really looking for? What are we looking to change and community? And how are we outlining our our hiring processes to get us to that in as opposed to what we believe and I think it requires that we trust that our understanding of the systems, our understanding of the role, might not be the only understanding of the role and be thoughtful about what we’re trying to get out, on the other hand. We’re trying to get a person to understand his community, and we trust that they can learn philanthropy. Sometimes we play this up there, like philanthropy is the hardest thing in the world to learn. It’s that you got to come in with philanthropic experience to operate in this space. The greatest blessing that I’ve had in this space, was probably not understanding philanthropy and having the opportunity to learn it, as it was transitioning from the trust model or the development model to the community leadership model. And the other blessing that I probably had in this space, is that I never had to assimilate to the associate program officer, program officer, program manager, program director roles. Where I was able to sit in a system not being able to influence the decision making, where when I finally got to a VP or a president or executive role, people didn’t see 10, 15 years of me assimilating to what philanthropy was during that time. And so no one’s calling me, yelling like, you sat here for 10, 15 years and watch this happen, and now all of a sudden, you want to write a statement about Black Lives Matter. What did you care before that? I don’t have that burden, because I was never in leadership before, I came right into leadership. And so those are probably blessings, and we have to figure out how we ensure that folks, and my siblings should be the next persons for how to ensure they don’t have to go through that same experience in order to to have to demonstrate leadership in the ways that it should be demonstrated in 2021 in philanthropy.

Chanda Smith Baker  22:24

Right. Let’s talk about the other levers that you use, and I often say I did not come to the Minneapolis Foundation to do grant making only. You know, I came to to learn leadership to lean a perspective, to change the way that things work to offer to offer my my perspective and talents. That’s me personally, but when I look at all the other things that we’re able to do, it’s quite exciting, and so I’m interested to hear, you know, how you think about other levers that you can use to move change in your community?

Isaiah Oliver  23:00

Oh, man, so I want to give a quick story. I’m an 80s baby, grew up in the 90s. And so you know, Atari, Nintendo, Sega Genesis, that’s my world, right? And so I use this Sonic the Hedgehog analogy to kind of describe the way that we do our work, or the way that I lead in our work. And so if you know the game Sonic the Hedgehog, you know, the game, Sonic the Hedgehog? Okay, so in Sonic the Hedgehog, you go around collecting rings, right? You collect these rings throughout the game, and you go through multiple levels. And then ultimately, the goal is to stay alive until the end of the game, right? And then to conquer the last level. Over simplify, but that’s the goal of the game along the way, you collect these rings, and these rings allow you to do certain things like run into spikes, and not die. So you go around, you collect these rings, and when you run into a spike, you lose some rings, but you don’t die. But then you collect some more rings, and you run into a spike and you don’t die. But you don’t die because you’ve collected these rings of this social capital. And so what I feel like I’ve had the opportunity to do, and I’ve been able to leverage because the Community Foundation has been doing it for the last 32 years. I’m only 39 years old, but I’ve been able to collect my own personal social capital. I was on the school board, I was on a hospital board. I was, I mean, I’ve been able to collect social capital in my community, disconnected from the work at the Community Foundation, but the Community Foundation, again, has a significant amount of assets and 22 staff members that also have been collecting Social Capital across community. So beyond just our grant making, or our financial capital that we get to bring to the table and bring some social capital to the table. And so when there’s a question about whether or not race should or should not be included in a conversation with the President of the Chamber, or the mayor of the city, or the president of the hospital, I can go into those conversation armed with some social capital to spin, that when I say listen, we got to talk about race, and if we don’t talk about race, it’s a complete myth. And I’m not going to continue to come to these meetings that we’re not going to send a race in the discussion. I spend a little bit of social capital in those conversations, but I allow that conversation to continue with me there. And I can say I’m not coming if people aren’t going to not invite the President of the Community Foundation to most of these meetings, you know, this world. So I’m spending social capital to continue conversations that didn’t cost us money. That wasn’t grant making, that wasn’t development, that was really spending on those things that we’ve developed over the years alongside our financial resources, alongside giving hundreds of millions of dollars away in our community. We’re building this capital that we can spend, and I don’t die from it, right? I spend some coins, but I don’t die. And when I’m able to leverage now he had a mission and vision that I agree, we got values at the Community Foundation that I agree with. So I’m willing to give my social capital to the Community Foundation and leverage it, to make community a better place. And so you start to pulling on all of the all of the Levers, or you started talking about insisting on racial equity in meetings, in conversation. You started talking about amplifying resident voice, well, I don’t want to hear it, well, you don’t want your resident voice, and I’m not going to be able to show it to these meetings anymore. Or I’m going to insert it whenever I’m around, and I’m going to spend some coins on that let’s spend some rings, but is worth it. Or when we start talking about authentic resident engagement in our work, or advancing policy agendas or policy decisions and changing the way systems show up for people beyond just philanthropy. We’re spending social capital in those spaces, and those are the levers that we have to pull on. But the way that we do it is really by thinking more about what we bring to the table than just, you know, grant making and development experience, and maybe even the number of people we engaged with.

Chanda Smith Baker  26:30

What are some tangible ways, if you don’t mind sharing that, you build community voice into how you do grant making at your community foundation?

Isaiah Oliver  26:38

Oh man, so we have, over 440 volunteers. We’ve made a decision to to empower our volunteers to make decisions that are ultimately ratified by our board as opposed to them coming to it, and we we’ve codified that in the language. Codify that in our bylaws, and our grant making process and the policies and so, it’s a little bit different than others, and some folks aren’t comfortable with it, right? They don’t understand what ratification of those things means, we’ve made a conscious decision that we’re bringing you in, and giving you some cookies are quite frankly, on Zoom these days, but engaging you to help us make decisions on behalf of community. We’ve got to empower you to make those decisions. And so when our board is looking at that they’re not looking to see if it was a good idea, they’re looking to see did we go through the due diligence process that we ensure that it was a charitable organization and a charitable cause, right? But we’ve empowered our volunteer groups or geographic affiliate groups to actually make decisions on grants, they matter in their community. And that’s a way of not only amplifying voice, but sharing power. I live by this idea that there’s only so much power, we’re not going to increase them on a power of 100% power is what it is, somebody has got to give up power in order for someone else to have it. You can’t just say there’s more power available. We’re not creating new power right now. So how do we make sure people have Tonya Allen, who all you all just just received, and I’m excited for you all, and that she has this thing where she says, we know the opposite of advantage, or the opposite of disadvantage, is advantage or privilege? So what advantages special advantages or privileges are we willing to offer to marginalized populations? And I think she said black people in this moment at this time. And right now one of those things is not sharing power, it’s giving power. How do we give the power that we have today to folks who don’t have it, that way, they can actually be part of the decision making process. And for me, that’s part of amplifying the resident voices and showing that they matter.

Souphak Kienitz  28:33

And that’s Isaiah Oliver. Our next clip is from Vu Le, a writer and blogger from

Chanda Smith Baker  28:42

You know, in in your work, Vu, with supporting leaders of color, you know, are there lessons that you have learned? Or are you as concerned as I am about people burning out and just leaving the sector?

Vu Le  28:55

I am definitely concern. I would love your thoughts on what is like for leaders of color on the philanthropic side? Because what I see on the nonprofit side is that yes, we are burning people out in the last probably few quarters. In the last year or two I’ve just been seeing so many leaders of color, women of color, leaving not just their position, but the entire sector. One move to Brussels, right before the pandemic, she’s like, I can’t do that I can’t do this anymore. You know, and we lose good people, and we just, we don’t think about this. This week, I wrote a blog post called how philanthropy has failed bipoc leaders, and this, it’s a serious problem, but it’s like the boil frog thing right? When the experiment would have the frog in the boiling water and because the water boils so slowly that the frog just stayed in the water until it died. You know, and this is what has been happening in our sector regarding leaders of color leaving their position and the sector is that we just boil frog leap, frogging it, we just because people will just trickle out of the sector one at a time. But it’s a steady gradual trickle, and we just believe that other people just come in because we have this unlimited supply of people of color out there who just going to come in, that were losing good leaders. I mean, honestly, I’m one of those leaders, because I love my organization. I was an exec director for 13 years across two organizations, and I love them both I still do. And it was just, it was just so exhausting, trying to do the work and trying to get people to understand and to invest in it. And because we leaders of color, you know, we just constantly have to prove ourselves over and over and over again. I remember going to a funder talking about a project I was working on after I left my position a few months ago. And I said, I have this this idea that this is going to transform the sector, and you know, this is and here’s a concept paper I wrote. And you know, and the funders are like, oh, this is great, I don’t know, I’m not sure if this aligns with our priorities. I was just asking for just some startup funding of like, 10 or $20,000, I can launch this project, you know, from this one foundation collectively, like $200,000. But then they’re like, well, I don’t know, I’m not sure we can invest $20,000 in you for this project. And I’m just thinking, I’ve known you for 15 years, you’ve invested all my other projects, you’ve seen how effective they have been, you know that I’m trustworthy, and yet I have to prove to you again, again and again. And I have way more privilege and a higher profile than most bipoc leaders in our sector. And if I cannot get funders to invest in the stuff that I’m doing, then what hope are there for other leaders in the sector who have less visibility than I do? So I am just a begging funders to just trust in bipoc leaders, invest in our visions, whether they align with your priorities or not, reconsider whether you should even have a leadership and setting priorities for the sector in the first place, who should listen to the people most affected by injustice. So that’s I think this is one of the reason why we’ve been seeing so many leaders of color leaving and conservatives they have what my colleague Angie Kim calls soft landing, right? Which is like if you leave your, if you leave your position, you know, in the conservative movement, someone’s going to help you find a spot on Fox News, or Dancing with the Stars, or get you a book deal, whatever. Over here, if you’re a progressive leader, and you leave, that’s it, you know, a funder might say, hey, it’s thanks for all you do, see you later, right? That’s, that’s kind of what happens to progressive leaders, and it’s not good for our sector.

Chanda Smith Baker  32:59

But one of the things that you touched on that made me think about and I had a question, if you could talk about toxic self marginalization. So first, if you can just describe what it is and how it really applies to what’s happening right now.

Vu Le  33:12

Thank you. Yeah, toxic self marginalization is this sort of mostly unconscious way that we kind of we sabotage one another, we self marginalize. And a lot of that is because one the trauma that we’ve experienced have is, you know, it builds up within us. And it manifests in things such as, us attacking one another. A lot of the women of color who’ve been leaving the sector, who are my friends and colleagues, there are certain patterns with them, and their experiences, which is that they are leading these highly charged organizations that are doing really important work. And they’re trying to do in a way that is equitable and meaningful, but what happens that oftentimes, staff become disillusioned with the way that they are making decisions or whatever it is, or things are not going the way they should, they should, or the leader makes a mistake. And what happens is that a lot of the staff, there’s a lot of tensions and dynamics, and we start seeing that the leader is the closest proximate person to power. And it’s easier in many, many ways to start to attack this leader than to deal with the trauma we’ve experienced nationally, or within our own upbringing on backgrounds. So what happens is, you know, this, there comes a there’s a lot of tensions that leaders to leave. I was talking to one leader of color, black woman, who just said who said that when there was no funding at all, then everything was fine. But as soon as she was able to raise like $5 million for her organization, there were now all these staff who are unhappy because now they’re just pointing, pointing out, well, we’re not getting paid enough. And she was like, but you are getting paid double what you have been getting paid before. And I was I was talking to her and it was really revealing, she was just she said that, basically, that so many staff are so used to being the underdog, being marginalized, that when they were starting to not be as marginalized, then they didn’t know really know what to do with that, and that energy started going into all these tensions. I’ve experienced that, and I’m watching other leaders, and I’m just gonna focus on black women, but I’ve watched them do that where, you know, inside of philanthropy or leading an organization, you become a proxy for power and for the institution. And I, you know, people will kind of not see you and see you representing something that they want to see change. It’s incredibly complicated and uncomfortable and destructive, really? Yeah, it is, it’s something we need to get a grasp on.

Souphak Kienitz  36:14

And that’s Vu Le. Lastly, we have Shannon Smith Jones, Executive Director of Hope Community.

Chanda Smith Baker  36:23

You know, what should philanthropy be thinking about relative to this issue, because those both of those things make sense. You know, on face value, let’s cancel the rent and let’s get a pot of money for rent relief. It doesn’t feel like it’s quite as simple as that, but are there other what what should we be thinking through? Or are there questions that you think we should be asking ourselves in philanthropy?

Shannon Smith Jones  36:47

So I tend to be a little more radical than my sister.

Chanda Smith Baker  36:51

It depends on the issue, right?

Shannon Smith Jones  36:51

It does. It does. It does, it does depend on the issue. So I think there’s several things, I think that there is some level of truth of understanding that foundations give a portion of their money, and not beyond a certain portion, in some instances, right? Not all instances, but there is this perceived notion of that. And that’s why it’s…

Chanda Smith Baker  37:16

Lets pause there. So most foundations pay out a 5%, annually. And what you’re saying is a perceived notion is that we’re hoarding? We’re hoarding money.


Shannon Smith Jones  37:27

Yep. Yep, you’re hoarding money. Okay, people that are hungry, there are people that need to be housed, and you have resources that can address that. And when does it when does a foundation get radical, and change something to say, look, we are saying we want to do these things, and I and I’ve actually seen foundations show up in a really real way of being really responsive, but what does it look like to dig deeper? To really talk about this, we also know that we live in a state where the inequities are across racial lines, whether it’s prison, whether it’s housing, whether it’s education, and that is a systemic issue. What this will do is it will create a further divide in terms of what that looks like, and do we want to be part of that, that narrative of the history? What do we do to talk about the systems that have marginalized low income people of color for from the beginning of time? And what can we do that is radical enough to start re addressing these things we’re seeing in education, right? I can tell a friend of mine and Blaine, whose five year old already had a tablet already knowing how to engage online, and then you have middle school kids that have no idea how to engage on this platform that are in different schools that are more, that represent more incomes of, you know, low income in community of color, there is a disappearance, that’s clear.

Chanda Smith Baker  38:57

Yeah. What Wait, hold on, let me process for a second. Because I think that what I hear you saying is number one, like really look at your policies in terms of paying out like, can you dig deeper and get more money in right, like I said, at a seat, we’re like, not all foundations operate the same way where community foundation, so we have a lot of donor advisors. And they are really doing a wonderful job of getting more dollars out the door, we function a little bit differently, but nonetheless, your point stands. And then what I also hear is, there’s an opportunity in this moment to actually do some reflection on what are the historical inequities, or ways in which philanthropy has shown up that maybe has been complicit? Or maybe the thinking hasn’t been deep enough to think about how we’ve gotten to these deep disparities, and here’s an extreme moment for us to think about how do we not deepen them, and not just not go backwards, but how do we deepen them and really be thoughtful about addressing them moving forward? Is that good?

Shannon Smith Jones  40:09

That is a very good analysis. And I think about this, I think about, we were just talking about how laptops are getting dropped off. We’ve been advocating for laptops, for kids in Minneapolis Public Schools for years. This happens, and all of a sudden, you can do it, right? We’ve been talking about letting out nonviolent offenders out of prisons for years, and all of a sudden, you can do it. So all of a sudden, there’s these things that we have been advocating for, for a long time that deepened disparities, that people are showing them that we can actually do it. I think foundations hold a lot of power, and not just power in money, but power and position, power and influence. And they have an ability of being able to move an agenda that can be complementary to what people on the ground are saying and doing and how do you leverage those positions of power? How do you leverage your social capital? How do you, you know, how do you do those things in a time like that, where communities like yo, we’re actually together in this? Because if my neighbor’s not doing well, we’re really not doing well.

Chanda Smith Baker  41:17

Do you think, or do you see this Improving as there are more leaders of color coming into leadership of organizations and management and into roles in philanthropy? Do you see this evolving? Or do you think that there’s going to be kind of this continued weight and exception?

Shannon Smith Jones  41:38

I think it depends on how spaces are preparing to allow women of color to lead. People don’t stay in the spaces because of the difficulties that they face there. And so if you’re not supported in an organization, and you go there, and you’re getting microaggressions, at every step of the way, if you are being dismissed, if someone can take what you said and reframe it, and somehow they take what they say is gold, when you’ve been saying it five times already, and it takes took somebody of a different complexion to say it for it to be valid. If the things that you say you want to do, because everybody’s talking about equity, everybody’s talking about DEI, everybody’s talking about it, and then we come into the space, and we’re like, this is actually what it looks like, and you’re like, oh, we want to do it, but not like that, like we’re not ready for that. And so if we’re incapable of taking the brilliance that we have, the knowledge that we have, a being acknowledged and being able to put it to work, that we won’t stay there. Im not being rewarded to stay in those spaces, because it is oppressive. It is oppressive to work in these spaces.

Chanda Smith Baker  43:03

I remember having a conversation with maybe a group of 30 or 35 leaders of color in philanthropy. And I remember asking what percent of them show up every day, like, can you show up as yourself? And so that was like, you know, I can see you shaking your head, folks online can hear, you know, see it, but you’re shaking your head, right. And, but I think I remember maybe one or two people rose, you know, raise their hands, and they were working in a costume specific organization. You know, what do you think you’re bringing 80% like no hands, you know, 50% hands went up. Like, it doesn’t mean that they’re not bringing great work every day, it means that they’re editing where it could have gone, and there’s some pretty amazing work happening out of our foundations right now collectively. And I can only imagine how much better would be how much more impact we would have if we took the time to harvest the leadership, the ideas, the brilliance of the diversity of people sitting at the table with lived experience. And I am seeing that as a shift too, right, is that you were trying to go to work, you go to work to go to work. And you stay at home and you hang out with your friends, they don’t really go together. And we’re in a place of leadership now where they actually do go together. And that people actually want to be I mean, you know, like, I don’t know your business. But I feel like there’s a place where people actually want to bring their values and their commitments and their experiences to the table in ways that maybe you were not mentor or coach to do in previous generations. You agree with that or no?

Shannon Smith Jones  44:50

Well, certainly we were we were told to not make friends at work. I have a story. I have another story. I’m good with stories right?

Chanda Smith Baker  44:57

Does that involve me?

Shannon Smith Jones  44:59

No this involves my, my former director when I worked at a different organization, and we would go to do happy hour, and then, you know, you get a little, I get a little taste of something. I already talked a lot, I’m already not that filtered. And so then I would have anxiety the next day, because I’m like, I’m gonna lose my job. We don’t have spaces to be able to have drunk and moment. And I’m not that I was drunk, like, let me correct myself, but just that tipsiness of where you’re a little less filtered, where you’re a little less, bringing more of 100% of yourself to that space and bringing 100% of your stuff in that space was never safe, right? And so I remember having a conversation with him, because I had like, this anxiety, like we had like, and I’m like, you know, I get to talking too much, and so I called him like, I got to meet with you right now. And he was like, okay, so like, we met, and I’m like, we can’t have like these little like, informal moments like this, because I’m uncomfortable, like, I’m worried about my job, like, he was like, are you serious right now? And he was like, you bring too much to the table. You’re smart. You’re all these things when we’re having this. I’m not counting that against you, like, that’s not even like in his mind. It wasn’t even a thing, but we were socialized that you don’t mix the two.

Chanda Smith Baker  46:22


Shannon Smith Jones  46:24

And I think it’s not safe to necessarily do it. And I think for me, that was a thing of like, how do I bring, and there’s other things just real quick, I think there’s other things that we consider when we go out. I am a natural hair person, I will wear like black pride earrings. I got a black excellence t-shirt on today, but I actually, and that’s who I am, that’s 100% of Shannon. But depending on the meeting that I have to go to, I have to filter out some of those pieces, because I need people to not want to have a conversation about my hair. I need to not want to talk about these other things, and people might not take me seriously, depending on what’s happening with my hair, what earrings I’m wearing or the shirt. And so I think those are things that other people may not have to consider when you talk about how do I bring 100% of myself into the space.

Souphak Kienitz  47:23

If you like this episode, have a suggestion, or have questions to ask our upcoming new guests, please follow Chanda on Instagram @chandasbaker. Thank you to Sarah Gillund, John Cuoco, Darlynn, Benjamin, and our host Chanda Smith Baker. This is Souphak Kienitz from the Minneapolis Foundation, wishing you all the best, and thank you for listening to Conversations with Chanda

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This episode includes clips from our episodes featuring Jen Ford Reedy, Toya Randall, Isaiah Oliver, Vu Le, and Shannon Smith Jones.