Think your commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion will win you support from activists? Earn you favorable reviews in the media?
Think again. Ask the foundations that donate money to groups for social causes.
Like schools, businesses and hospitals, charities in the U.S. and around the world today have embraced racial preferences. Philanthropies pledge support for DEI and sponsor racial affinity groups. Writing for the Chronicle of Philanthropy, a former strategist for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation recently said, “Virtually all grant makers and nonprofits have committed to focusing on diversity, equity, and inclusion, both internally and in their communities.”
Yet leftist commentators and progressive voices are unsatisfied. After the murder of George Floyd, a Washington Post report criticized corporate and philanthropic statements committing to “racial justice causes.” One corporate adviser told the Post: “The answer to these massive problems is not in capitalism doing better or more. It’s not going to come from philanthropy. It’s not going to come from promises. It’s got to be a policy change.”
So much for solidarity. This criticism should disappoint philanthropies today because charitable organizations have gone to great lengths to join the radical bandwagon. The W.K. Kellogg Foundation has adopted a DEI statement and sponsors an annual “Day of Racial Healing,” which sounds more like a day of racial inquest. Participants are to ask each other how often they think about their skin color and explain how they use their ethnicity in making daily decisions.
Kellogg’s board has already committed the organization “to be an effective anti-racist organization.” For some critics of charities, though, it’s still not enough.
The Gates Foundation also has a DEI statement, along with nearly a dozen ethnic affinity groups for employees. The Wellcome Trust, the Ford Foundation, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation—some of the largest foundations in the world according to ARCO, which studies philanthropies worldwide—have all adopted DEI statements or otherwise adjusted their foundation’s original mission to reflect a commitment to critical race theory, gender issues and ESG (economic, social and governance) concerns.
Some foundations today are even implementing “negative screening” and refusing to invest in companies that do not have DEI statements or promises to operate with a “gender lens.”
Some of these charities, such as Kellogg, have changed their organizations’ focus from their founders’ original intent to radical causes at least a decade ago. And yet publications such as Inside Philanthropy still run commentary charging that “philanthropy is falling short in its effort to support BIPOC-led [Black, Indigenous, and people of color] and BIPOC-serving organizations.”
Given the broad criticism of philanthropy in general, it is impossible to tell if any specific charities have done enough to insulate themselves from these critiques.
Charities should be prepared to change their mission statements and operations based on sound research. But studies have shown that DEI training programs fail to change participants’ behavior and do not create a welcoming environment. In posturing their organizations as standard-bearers for radical politics, charities gain nothing and make their philanthropy less effective.
Will Keith Kellogg was a successful industrialist (and breakfast cereal creator) when he founded the Kellogg Foundation to help provide medical care for children with special needs. Sebastian Kresge founded Kmart before starting his namesake foundation. Henry Ford, Andrew Mellon, Howard Hughes and others all succeeded in America’s free market system and were then inspired to help those less fortunate than themselves.
The “woke” orthodoxy has captured the missions of many of these foundations today. Abandoned are the principles of individual character, merit and personal responsibility—replaced with commitments to identity politics and accusations of systemic inequities. No change in mission or activities will ever be enough for the new left, though. Indeed, critical race theory holds that large power centers, such as foundations, are part of the nation’s irredeemable systemic racism and must themselves be dismantled.
Today, this shift to the left has led to a homogenizing of foundations, replacing a diverse ecosystem that once reflected myriad causes and missions that served individuals and communities of different backgrounds with a Marxism-based ideology focused on racial preferences.
Philanthropies should support the free-market system that allowed so many of their founders to achieve success and award grants that, in turn, made it possible for others to pursue the American dream—regardless of their skin color.
This piece originally appeared in The Washington Times