In lieu of attending class on Friday (10/22), I went to a conference called Breakin’ It Down at Columbia University. I work for several organizations and in communities of color and wanted to know more about diverse funding options and grant opportunities. This conference gave me the opportunity to hear from CEOs and directors, all of whom were brown or black. While the information presented was pretty dry and boring ( I expected this), it was pretty inspiring to see these people who have risen to the top. The conference began with a open plenary session where 3 people had a panel discussion about diversifying an organization’s funding options, but they also explained, as leaders of trust funds, why they require a diversity score on a grant application. I have noticed this before when applying for grants-they often ask you what percentage of your leadership, staff, or community are minority. It was interesting to hear the rational for that, though the reasons seemed obvious-people who have a lot of money to give want to ensure that the community a nonprofit is serving is indeed represented by the people in leadership positions. All of the panel discussed equity vs. equality and how those two do not often mean the same thing and this discussion was ended with a powerful statement from Lerry Knox, treasurer of the Woods Fund. He explained that this country is only 1 generation removed from slavery, which was a legal institution which was unequal and unequitable to whole group of people, and this is why affirmative action and requiring diversity data is necessary to make things as equitable as possible. Hearing this statement in a professional setting, where people, of all races, were there to hear about funding opportunities, was very cool and impressive. My day continued and I went to one workshop, Raising Money From People of Color. This workshop was ok-it mainly discussed that minority populations are philanthropic and taking advantage of their giving nature and cultural differences is useful. One thing I did not appreciate about this, was the generalities the presenter made, instead of targeting how to make the majority of minorities in chicago, who are low-income, realize their giving potential, whether it be monetary or not. Perhaps though, this was not the intention of the conference. They day ended with a delicious boxed lunch and a “speed-networking” session which was a lot like group speed dating, but instead of looking for a mate, the goal was to find out about specific grant opportunities in Chicago.
Overall, the day was a learning experience and I am glad I was able to go. Though it was boring and very corporate, I realized the amount of money and opportunities are available to small grass-roots organizations like mine.