Usually when you hear the terms “equity” and “inclusion” used in the same sentence as “grant writing” it means you’re talking about writing grants which will fund programming to address imbalances and inequities in various facets of society. Or you’re writing grants to fund nonprofits whose missions directly address these things. (Or maybe you’re just using the latest buzz words. I don’t know.)
I applaud grant writers and nonprofits who are working in this arena. They’re total heroes doing much-needed work.
But that’s not what this blog post is about.
See, we need to have a talk. And by “we” I really mean the nonprofit arts sector specifically. Before I get on my soapbox, let me start by saying this: the arts are incredibly important to me. I’ve spent my life and my career advocating for them and trying to ensure that they will be around for the next generation by raising grant funds for the organizations championing them.
But generally speaking, arts orgs don’t do a great job of looking at how they handle equity and social justice internally, both in the work they present to the community and in their staffing and hiring practices. And this means that the next generation of arts lovers and arts administrators are probably going to be overwhelmingly white, middle-upper class kids from privileged backgrounds, great schools, and good neighborhoods.
They will be just like the generations that came before them.
Admittedly, I am a white woman from a middle-class family who grew up in a good neighborhood, went to good schools, had involved parents, and had various forms of privilege. I’m not ashamed of those things, but I do understand that they gave me an advantage over those from less fortunate backgrounds. And although I think most of us welcome arts patrons, makers, and enthusiasts from these backgrounds, I think it’s dangerous to think we shouldn’t try harder to include other groups and viewpoints.
Most of us give a lot of lip service to the idea that different perspectives are valuable. We say we want to hear from people of color, from those who are socioeconomically disadvantaged, from those who have been in the system in one way or another, and from those who are marginalized in a variety of ways. We say we want to include them. We say we want to make things better. We say a lot of things.
And yet they don’t sit on our boards.
They aren’t present in strong numbers on our employee rosters.
In some cases, they don’t even make up a meaningful percentage of our patrons.
And many organizations certainly aren’t courting them as donors.
Most importantly, I think we all know we could do better.
It’s time to walk the talk and start putting in place policies and procedures for staff recruitment and hiring, board recruitment, fundraising, human resources, and community engagement which actively seek out these voices and make room for them in all levels of our organizations. It’s time we acknowledged that unconscious bias exists and take steps to make our procedure more equitable and our organizations as a whole more welcoming and inclusive.
I’m going to take at least one foot off my soapbox for a moment to say this as well (because this is a blog dedicated partially to grant writing): more and more funders are starting to care about equity, social justice, and inclusion. This is a trend which we will continue to see grow in importance, as it should.
That means that if your organization fails to address it you could very well be less competitive for grant funding now and in the future. Certainly, you would be less competitive at the state and federal levels.
My advice? For the sake of your grant funding strategy, you should formulate some updated policies and procedures around equity and inclusion that can govern your internal processes going forward.
But for the sake of the future of the arts as well as our collective conscience, we need to act on these policies and not allow them to just be pretty words on paper.