Key Points

Foundations face two competing imperatives when they commit to advancing equity. On the one hand, they are counseled to support and follow the lead of community-based groups that are on the front lines of social change. On the other hand, they are also being challenged to use their power and influence to act boldly to change inequitable structures, policies, and institutions. These two orientations, yin and yang, can take a foundation in different directions and thus cause confusion and internal conflict.

The challenge for a foundation is to balance and integrate the two orientations into a comprehensive and effective approach to advancing equity. Drawing on the experience of six foundations that have embraced equity, we provide guidance on how to manage the yin–yang polarity. These foundations recognize that they have different spheres of influence than do action-oriented groups on the front lines of change, and thus adopt strategies that complement those of their grantees.

One of the most important and challenging aspects of centering equity in philanthropy involves the foundation’s relationships with the groups it funds, especially community- based groups and groups that are led by people of color. We argue that foundation staff need to bring both a yin and a yang orientation when engaging with grantees. Strong working partnerships with open, honest, give-and-take conversations allow for reciprocal learning and collective strategizing, which in turn sets the stage for innovative, breakthrough solutions.

Open Access