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Our Racial Equity Audit

We’re tracking every penny we spend by race, from our grantmaking to our operations to our endowment. Here, we share what we found in our initial scan and the actions we’re taking to operationalize our commitment to racial equity.

Where we’re coming from

As an organization that works in service of Detroit children and youth, imbalances in the amount of investment and opportunity kids receive in correlation to their skin color has been a clear injustice to us since our founding in 1960. What’s changed over time is the awareness of how our own internal practices advance or sustain racial inequity. Are we, at The Skillman Foundation, balanced in the amount of investment and opportunity we provide?

We’ve been training on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion for years. We’ve talked continuously about justice for Black children and families. We’ve championed equitable investment in neighborhoods, schools, organizations, and in people of color. We have invested in and advocated for a population of children who are majority Black, followed by Hispanic/Latinx and Arab. We’ve been led by powerful Black women—Carol Goss, Tonya Allen, and now Angelique Power—for nearly 20 years. Our executive leadership has been primarily people of color (Black and Indian). Our staff is 60% BIPOC. We have a diverse board of trustees (currently comprised of 40% Black and 10% Latina leaders).

So when a new president, Angelique Power, came in and asked that we look back over the past few years and assess where our dollars went by race, we envisioned our values showing up in the data. We dug and charted and there it was: a wakeup call. Proof that values without measured action fall flat.

Our data

Grantmaking Analysis

Methodology:

  • Three-year analysis: 2019-2021
  • Used publicly available information to assess if the organization’s leader and 51% or more of its board are BIPOC (assumes some risk of misidentification)

Findings:

  • 59% of our grants were made to organizations with a BIPOC leader, accounting for 61% of grant dollars
  • When factoring in the race of board members, the numbers goes down to 29% of grants and 25% of spending

Endowment Investments

Methodology:

  • Investment mix as of February 2022
  • Data provided by our investment firm
  • We defined “diverse” investment management as any U.S.-based firm with greater than 50% ownership held by racially diverse members. Investments in non-U.S. assets were not included in our Racial Equity Audit.

Findings:

  • 27% (7 of 26) of our investment managers are BIPOC
  • 2% of our investments are in BIPOC-owned assets. U.S.-based firms with greater than 50% ownership held by racially diverse members of the business

Vendor Analysis

Methodology:

  • Three-year analysis: 2019-2021 of vendors payments over $10,000
  • Used publicly available information to assess if the president/CEO is a person of color and if 50% or more of the leadership team is comprised of people of color (assumes some risk of misidentification)

Findings:

  • Only 19% of our vendors were BIPOC, accounting for 6% of dollars spent with vendors

Our response

We were frankly shocked that our numbers didn’t reflect greater investment in people of color and how far off we were.

We took many immediate actions:

  • We shared our findings with all staff, our board of trustees, and now with the wider community writ large.
  • We began tracking the racial composition of all organizations proposed for funding, lifting this data at our monthly internal investment reviews and board approvals.
  • We are tracking our administrative spending, including vendors.
  • We are partnering with our investment firm, Investure, to increase allocation to diverse investment managers to at least 10% of our total portfolio over the next 5 years. We define a diverse investment manager as any U.S.-based firm with greater than 50% ownership held by racially diverse members.
  • We committed to publishing our racial equity data annually to show where we’re making progress and to be held accountable, especially by Detroit youth.
  • We simplified and streamlined our application process so no organization has to sacrifice service work for paperwork.
  • We are changing our grantmaking model to focus on people and systems change, supporting the power of Detroiters to design bold destinies.
  • We are being informed and guided by Detroit youth and the adults who champion them through listening sessions and, upcoming in 2023, community co-design sessions.
  • We shifted more power to our President’s Youth Council, compensated consultants who used to meet quarterly now meet monthly and advise our full staff, direct grant dollars, and share our platform to speak publicly on issues that matter to them.

And there’s more to come, always. We recently engaged Justice Informed, a social impact consulting firm that specializes in helping organizations operationalize DEI and racial justice goals. They’re proposing additional ways we can measure and move racial equity. We will communicate this out in the near future.

Why do a Racial Equity Audit?

As an organization that uses private dollars to operate, we’re not legally compelled to gather or share racial equity data. However, as an organization whose mission and operations are grounded in a majority Black city, we are ethically, morally, and tactically compelled. We cannot change the odds for Detroit kids without addressing racial inequities using every tool and dollar at our disposal.  

We’re sharing our data and actions publicly to hold ourselves accountable to Detroit youth. We are going to tell them, and all, who we are and what we are up to, including what racial equity mean to us, what it looks like in our own practices, and what receipts we have to show that tie our actions to our words.  

Advancing racial equity is about practice, progress, and transparency. In 2023, we will come back with an assessment of our progress. In the meantime, we welcome all questions, ideas, and constructive criticisms to president@skillman.org.

The Skillman Foundation

A voice for children since 1960, The Skillman Foundation is a private philanthropy that serves as a fierce champion of Detroit children. The Foundation works to ensure Detroit youth achieve their highest aspirations by strengthening K-12 public education, afterschool learning opportunities, and college and career pathways.

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