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How JBRF Navigates Biases in Grantmaking

Our trust-based philanthropic approach ensures our grantmaking processes remain as equitable, effective, and unbiased as possible. 

Recent research indicates that more grantmakers are focusing on equity work. Frontline Solutions conducted a survey in 2019 and found that 64% of grantmakers explicitly addressed diversity, equity, and inclusion in their mission statements, values, and codes of ethics or had a department focused on diversity and equity work. However, only 34% of the grantmakers surveyed reported that their organizations could demonstrate diversity within their grantmaking practices.1 

In our experience, we become better grantmakers and community partners when we address and understand our biases and how they can manifest throughout the grantmaking process. 

We are sharing what we’ve learned in the hope that other foundations will benefit from the work we’ve done to uncover and prevent biases from affecting our grantmaking process.


How can biases affect the grantmaking process?

Our experiences, beliefs, and opinions influence our individual, communal, and institutional decisions. These preconceptions — or biases — can be conscious or unconscious. 


Bias is a preconception in favor of or against something, a person, or a group compared with another. Individuals, groups, or institutions may hold biases that can have negative or positive consequences. 

Unconscious biases, also known as implicit biases, are stereotypes held without awareness that can work against conscious values and affect decision-making, actions, and attitudes in favor of or against certain groups, people, or things.²

Without safeguards in place, biases can inadvertently affect every step of the grantmaking process simply because humans are predisposed to having biases.³ Below are some of the ways we have learned to effectively decentralize decision-making power and diminish the influence of biases.


1. We seek to always listen, learn, and improve.

JBRF embraces an organizational culture that promotes continuous learning. This approach supports our staff and partners as they seek to listen first and stay receptive to new ideas and feedback — including understanding how biases can shape our work professionally. We have worked with consultants who have conducted trainings for our staff on anti-racism, community organization, and anti-racist community engagement.

2. The work starts at the board level.

JBRF’s board members are intentional about impact. They recognize the importance of community involvement when identifying key issues to guide resources, and they yield power to those best positioned to generate solutions. The members of JBRF’s board of trustees are uniquely positioned to keep us connected to our historic roots. The board includes long-time residents of the District, including those who live East of the River, who bring invaluable subject-matter expertise in areas of health and medicine, grantmaking, faith-based social justice, workforce development, and community engagement initiatives.

3. Communities affected by our work inform our priorities.

The communities and individuals affected by our work inform our organizational priorities.
In 2010, JBRF’s board of directors shifted the organization’s funding priorities from improving broad social determinants of health to reducing the health and economic disparities disproportionately affecting Black women living East of the Anacostia River. This decision came about through extensive discussions and research led by our foundation’s leaders in collaboration with Johns Hopkins Medicine, community-based organizations, and District residents.

4. Residents and community-based organizations determine which grant programs will add value.

Before we make any grant-funding decisions, JBRF invests in a strategic planning phase, partnering with community residents and community-based organizations. Through this partnership, JBRF can support the cancer navigation and workforce development programs that will serve the residents. An upfront investment in human capacity and leadership builds trust while empowering the communities and organizations affected by our work and giving them an influential voice throughout the decision-making process. Partners tell us what interventions are most needed to reduce cancer mortality and create pathways to health-related careers for Black women in Wards 7 and 8. Together, we develop impactful grant programs, determine how outreach will be conducted, and quantify how we measure and evaluate success. The following grant programs were made possible through our upfront investments:

5. Community partners tell us which metrics determine success.

Grant programs typically require grantees to report on specific metrics to measure success. Over time, the metrics used can shape future decisions and priorities. In our experience, these metrics tend to emphasize short-term wins over long-term change. 
During our strategic planning phase, we work with community partners to determine the metrics we should use to tell the whole story behind the inequities in cancer mortality and career trajectories and the successes of the grant program. Our collaborative approach ensures grantees are empowered to allocate their investments effectively while we document progress with the most telling metrics.

6. Long-term change requires sustainable programs and funding.

JBRF invests in replicable programs that drive long-term change as opposed to asking grantees to reenvision and recreate programs every grant cycle. We know reducing disparities and dismantling systemic racism will not happen overnight, so we will continue to fund successful programs that are replicable.

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