Equity is a critical piece of our work at the Peter & Elizabeth Tower Foundation. For the last few years, we have worked to pay closer attention to the convergence of our focus areas (intellectual disabilities, learning disabilities, mental health, and substance use disorders) with systemic issues of racism, sexism, classism, ableism, and more.
In 2021, we established a set of goals that have helped move us in the direction of becoming a more equitable and inclusive grantmaker. These goals are:
- We conduct our grantmaking with an equity perspective;
- We advocate for equitable systems;
- We closely resemble the communities that we fund;
- We meaningfully engage communities in our work;
- We prioritize learning about diversity, inclusion, and equity and apply what we learn.
Towards the end of 2023, the Tower staff spent some time reflecting on our efforts to weave equity into our work throughout the year. Here are a few of the observations shared by members of our team.
As the newest Tower Foundation employee, I’m impressed by how the staff and board use values, guidelines, and meeting norms to help reinforce the culture we want for ourselves at meetings. It is an excellent way for us to lead by example.
This year, we invited several community leaders to join members of the Board of Trustees in revising our definition of “Community Change.” For a number of years, we have had a strong focus on funding systems change work, but found that we were all defining “systems” and “change” differently. We walked away from this community-informed process with a shared understanding of systems change, a definition that puts equity at the center, and one that helps us put our money where our mouth is.
We are integrating community into our work now more than ever. In addition to our participatory grantmaking process with the Community Experts Team, in 2023 we launched a new “Community Grant Consultant” model where we invited two community members to review Programs & Services grants alongside Foundation program officers. It was significant having their voices in the room. We not only benefited from their perspectives about the grant applications, but also from the fresh set of eyes they brought to our review process.
Last year we prioritized creating and maintaining authentic relationships throughout our work, and it showed. We did this by holding office hours in local communities, by reaching out to organizations that were new to us in areas or communities where we don’t have as much of a funding presence, and by keeping the door open to continue work with partners we’ve known for a long time. We also grew through the experiences with our DEI Learning Network where we were able to co-create a DEI-focused retreat with members of the network.
In 2023 we chipped away at our goal of equitable grantmaking from a number of angles. We worked on implementing equity-focused changes to our grant rubric, which we use to evaluate grant applications; we continued to fine-tune our demographic data collection and analysis; we brought more community voice into our grantmaking process; and we funded our first cohort of five-year general operating focused grants.
Something I love about the Foundation team is, despite how busy everyone is, we work hard to keep our commitment to learning about diversity, equity, and inclusion, and applying what we learn. This year was no different. As a staff, we met at least once a month to explore new content together and to try out new ways of approaching the work.
We know how identities intersect to form a unique experience for the people we want to support through our grantmaking. This year we strengthened our muscles in how we talk about and lift up this intersectional lens in our work. We have started talking among ourselves and with our community partners about the identities that they bring to the work. We also hosted our first intersectional webinar in 2023!