by Gary L. Yates
You may have heard about the recent agreement announced by 10 California foundations including The California Wellness Foundation (TCWF). The agreement, which includes a list of the participating funders, calls for the development of new grantmaking efforts by either individual foundations or collective efforts by some or all of the 10 foundations to focus on capacity building and leadership development for small, grassroots community-based organizations that primarily serve ethnic minority populations.
The 10 foundations originally met to oppose Assembly Bill 624, which was withdrawn this past June. AB 624 would have required large foundations to place burdensome reporting requirements on already stretched nonprofits without increasing resources to them in the collection of data, including ethnicity and sexual orientation. It was also an attempt to influence the decisions of foundation trustees by implying certain groups or organizations should receive preferential treatment for funding, and it was based on a flawed and invalid report.
Our Foundation was and is still adamantly opposed to efforts that attempt to legislate the governance and/or grantmaking of private philanthropic organizations. As a private, independent foundation, that role is aptly served by our Board of Directors, recognized for its distinguished backgrounds and expertise in areas that impact Californians' health.
TCWF is one of California’s largest private foundations and a major funder of nonprofit organizations providing both health services in communities of color and working to build the capacity of community members to engage in the political process to improve the health of their communities. Given the diversity of California’s population, the Foundation seeks to engage individuals on its board and staff who are representative of that diversity and is committed to incorporating the values of pluralism and inclusiveness into every aspect of its work. We also seek to fund organizations that embrace those values in their missions and activities. However, we strongly believe that efforts to promote inclusion and diversity in philanthropic work should be voluntary, not mandated through legislation like AB 624.
As we met with our colleagues to discuss our collective opposition to AB 624, we came to a consensus that this legislation did nothing to empower or strengthen nonprofit organizations committed to serving ethnic and low-income communities. We found that we all believed nonprofit organizations in California play a critical role in addressing the challenges facing these communities and that there were important systemic issues that restricted their ability to do so. Each of our foundations was already providing substantial funding to address these issues, but we agreed that we would work together to develop additional grantmaking activities. Our agreement was captured in the statement released in June.
Recently, we have received a significant number of inquiries about the agreement and how organizations can apply for the grants that will address the following areas facing minority-led and other grassroots, community-based organizations: capacity building, leadership development and increasing access to larger foundations. The 10 foundations are engaged in a planning process to determine potential grantmaking activities. This process will include a review of best practices and lessons we have learned from our current efforts, as well as input from small, grassroots nonprofits in California. The intention is to complete this planning by the end of 2008, at which time the results will be announced. Those results may include new grantmaking efforts by individual foundations or collective efforts by some or all of the 10 foundations. There is no way to know more until the planning is completed.
Regarding our funding, TCWF's priorities and grantmaking processes will not change. We will continue to have the one- to-two page Letter of Inquiry process with our eight health issues and special projects, and will continue to focus on our mission of improving the health of the people of California. The majority of our grants currently go to organizations that primarily serve ethnic minority populations and many are to organizations with operating budgets of $250,000 or less. Organizations do not have to wait for the announcement— they can apply to us now.
As it has been the case for nearly a decade, our Foundation's Responsive Grantmaking Program provides funding to support and strengthen nonprofit organizations, encourages leaders working to increase health and wellness within their communities and informs policymakers and opinion leaders about important wellness and health care issues. Our grantmaking also includes a focus on providing core support to nonprofit organizations that address the health needs of traditionally underserved populations, including low-income individuals, people of color, youth and residents of rural areas.
I hope this op-ed helps clarify some of the confusion around the agreement. I look forward to continuing our work together to improve the health of the people of California.
Gary L. Yates
President and CEO
The California Wellness Foundation