Borealis Philanthropy will sunset our Racial Equity in Philanthropy (REP) Fund in 2025, awarding all twenty-five REP grantees an unrestricted sunset grant with the closing of the fund.

As a social justice intermediary committed to resourcing grassroots movements through values-aligned donor collaboratives, we have arrived at this decision by way of grappling with three tough questions: 

  • What value-add do we bring to our REP grantee partners? 
  • What role do philanthropic intermediaries have in sharing and distributing power? 
  • Does REP’s continued existence provide our partners with unique and necessary resources and/or opportunities needed to meet and grow through the current moment?

Founded by The Ford and W. K. Kellogg Foundations in 2017, the REP Fund has provided capacity-building opportunities and granted over $28 million of dollars to resource philanthropy-serving organizations (PSOs) working toward informing, educating, and equipping funders to integrate racial equity policies and practices into their grantmaking and programs. In 2022 alone, the REP Fund provided $2.16 million in grants to 25 grantee partners at the forefront of advancing racial equity in the philanthropic sector, pursuing cutting-edge approaches, innovative collaborations, and transformative change.

Struggle and Critique

It has always been Borealis’ intention that the REP Fund’s offerings serve as necessary additional resources and relational opportunities allowing our grantee partners to deepen and amplify the impact of their work. And, we’ve come to recognize that—for some of our grantees—our intention has not always matched our impact. 

We recognize that the existence of the REP Fund created new and necessary opportunities for many of our grantee partners, and we understand that the PSOs we serve are not a monolith. 

Borealis Philanthropy believes the shared experience of the few is enough to rethink the experience, participation, and long-term impact of the whole.

While the pursuit of racial equity in philanthropy still has far to go, 2023 is not 2017. Racial equity in philanthropy is no longer an unfamiliar concept or phrase when it comes to developing funder portfolios. But it is still too unfamiliar a practice. Given the level of political retrenchment since the global uprisings of 2020, the volatility of today’s sociopolitical landscape, and the impact of both on philanthropic giving, REP Fund grantee partners no longer need–nor can they afford–for Borealis Philanthropy to stand in, or unintentionally widen, the gap.

REP grantee partners are holding and leading necessary work at levels that exceed the REP Fund’s original inception and capacity. A new level of commitment and philanthropic investment is required to meet this moment as funders – one that includes long-term, direct funding relationships able to support PSOs in scaling and further shifting the philanthropic landscape in support of transformational racial justice movements.

Our Work Ahead

The decision to sunset the REP Fund was not made in haste or uncertainty but rather is one grounded by social context and two movement concepts: principled struggle and critical construction. 

In “A Call to Attention Liberation …” – a contribution to Truthout’s “Vision of 2018” series posing the question “What would you like to see created, built, imagined or begun … ?” – Adrienne Maree Brown reminds us that the concept of principled struggle – attributed to N’Tanya Lee – is an invitation to radical honesty, a means to build deeper unity, and a necessary condition for liberation.

… [I]n struggle that is principled, we struggle for the sake of building deeper unity … we are honest and direct while holding compassion … we each take responsibility for our own feelings and actions, and seek deeper understanding … [and] we must always consider that this meeting may or may not be the container to hold what we need to bring. … This way of understanding principled struggle works as an attention-focusing device.

Brown also reminds us that the practice of assessing and repositioning our attention within our work is “not just about where our attention goes, but about the quality of attention we bring to the work we do and to the relationships that make our work possible.” 

Brown uplifts “Critique [as] an important and irreplaceable part of a community-building process, and a way that we hold each other accountable across different ideologies and strategies.”

Critique is a way we ensure collectivity in the process of generating our future—to say “not that, this”; to increase rigor in our values; to increase the quality of our creative work … we need to learn to wield critique as a tool in constructing … rather than just using it as a hammer to tear things down.

Celebrating the achievements of The University of Arkansas Clinton School Center on Community Philanthropy’s Racial Healing Certification awardees at the Clinton Presidential Library, January 2023. Pictured from left to right: Zohra Zori, Bianca Carter, David Biemesderfer, Héctor Sánchez-Flores, Mizmun Kusairi, Dr. Charlotte Williams, Xiomara Enriquez, Kent Broughton II, Satonya Fair, Ciciley “CC” Moore, Deborah Ellwood, Traci Slater-Rigaud, Icela Pelayo,  Aaron Dorfman, and Jim Taylor. (not pictured: Marcus Walton).

It is through the practice of principled struggle that Borealis Philanthropy arrived at the decision to sunset our Racial Equity in Philanthropy (REP) Fund. And through the communal practice of critical construction—deeply heeding and applying necessary feedback from donors, grantee partners, REP staff, and contributors past and present—we hope to move through the next two years, imagining and forming what’s possible, together

In all, paying close attention to our grantee partners’ desires for clarity around the process, partnership, and Borealis’ continued commitment to racial equity, in such a critical moment for their continued work.

Native Youth Grantmakers at NAP Community Reception, April 2023, New York City

Borealis Philanthropy takes seriously that – as with any funding endeavor – the REP Fund’s creation brought with it a variety of multi-stakeholder intentions. Likewise, in the fund’s existence, Borealis’ actions brought about both successes and failures in matching and meeting those intentions. In an effort to more accurately understand and uplift varied intent, impact, and influence throughout REP’s history and across communities, between now and the REP Fund sunset in 2025, Borealis Philanthropy will:

  • Listen – with deep intention – to the advice and critique our stakeholders and colleagues have to share about what the REP Fund has/could/should have been.
  • Document – with curiosity – what feels possible, and what might come next – at Borealis and beyond – to better serve the necessary work of philanthropy-serving organizations and all of our partners helping to move the work of racial equity in philanthropy forward.
  • Share broadly – with transparency – the diverse, and often conflicting experiences of our stakeholders, including how those experiences have helped shape our decision-making, and how they should shape sector decision-making moving forward.

We want to make room for greater growth, evolution, and equity in this space and sector. 

We want to practice critical construction as we ask better questions, reflect on our learnings, and use the community created through both to collectively assess and imagine possibility.

We extend our deepest admiration and gratitude to all who have supported the work of the Racial Equity in Philanthropy Fund, including staff, donors, and grantee partners throughout its history. We will continue to share publicly our process as we sunset the REP Fund. In the meantime, if you have any questions about this decision, or would like to learn more about partnering with REP grantees, please contact Bianca Carter, Interim Director of Borealis’ Racial Equity Initiatives.