A Reparations Roadmap for Philanthropy (SSIR)

Illustration of a black tied hand
(Illustration by iStock/francescoch)

Today in the United States, if the wealth of white households remained stagnant, it would take Black families 228 years to catch up. That is more than 10 generations.

Let that sink in a moment.

It is a simple data point with a profound implication. The consequence of centuries of history, with harms that will last for centuries to come without meaningful actions now. The late historian John Henrik Clarke, was fond of saying that “all history is a current event.” That is because, as he says, “the events which transpired 5,000 years ago, 5 years ago, or 5 minutes ago, have determined what will happen, 5 minutes from now, 5 years from now, or 5,000 years from now.”

The existence of the $11.2 trillion Black-white wealth gap is not the result of individual “bad” choices or the biased myths that some groups are more hardworking than others. Instead, there is a growing understanding that the gap is a result of a pattern of race-based policies, fueled and sustained by anti-Black narratives, that have systematically demolished the wealth and humanity of Black people while reinforcing inequities across generations. In fact, there is a $300 billion disparity in wealth flow between white and Black families every year, and intergenerational wealth transfer drives 60 percent of that disparity.

What can be done today to chart a path for more equitable tomorrows?

Increasingly, that conversation is turning to reparations for Black people and building a culture of racial repair as the missing link. As Ibram X. Kendi, founder of the Center for Antiracist Research at Boston University, shared at SSIR’s 2023 Frontiers of Social Innovation conference: “How can you truly create equity in this country if certain populations have had wealth, resources, and land literally taken from them? To begin that conversation on creating equity, for me, really starts with a conversation about reparations.”

Because of that opportunity for transformation, Liberation Ventures, a reparations field catalyst and intermediary working to accelerate the Black-led movement for racial repair, and The Bridgespan Group, a global nonprofit that advises mission driven organizations including philanthropy, came together to explore the role that philanthropy could play in the movement for reparations and racial repair, as a pathway toward a more equitable future. We interviewed more than 45 movement leaders, scholars, and funders, conducted a literature review, and surveyed senior philanthropic leaders representing more than $12 billion in assets. Here we share practical advice for philanthropy through examples of funders engaged in the work. (For more on the case for philanthropy to play a role in reparations and racial repair and an overview of the wide-ranging movement work toward reparations, please see our companion article on Bridgespan.org.)

“There are ways that philanthropy has undermined social movements and organizations trying to build power,” says Thenjiwe McHarris, co-founder of Blackbird, a movement organizer. “However, there have also been moments when philanthropy has played a vital role in supporting efforts to win on key issues.”

The time for such an effort is now. As the baby boomer generation passes away, an estimated $84 trillion is projected to be passed down to heirs, with some $16 trillion transferred in the next decade alone. To put that in perspective, that’s 43 percent more
than what it would take to eliminate the entire Black-white wealth gap. Rather than reinforcing the nation’s inequity, philanthropy could leverage this wealth transfer to set a new path.

Of course, philanthropy’s role in reparations is not to replace the federal government in providing the scale of redress and racial healing the nation needs. Nor are philanthropic grants to Black-led organizations reparations. However, there is a massive opportunity for philanthropy to abundantly resource the ecosystem of organizations working to advance reparations as well as build a culture of repair that centers the healing, wellbeing, and safety of Black people. For funders who believe in racial equity and aspire to a thriving multiracial democracy, we invite you to see reparations for Black people and building a culture of repair as a necessity to reach that goal.

What It Looks Like for Philanthropy to Advance This Work

It’s important to acknowledge a core tension in raising the issue of philanthropy’s role in reparations. The accumulation of wealth over time that underlies large-scale philanthropy depends on and benefits from the same systems and policies that have systematically excluded Black people from similarly building wealth.

“We talk about people having excess but don’t talk about excess because of Native genocide and 400 years of enslaved labor. [Philanthropists] do not have excess by chance. You have things to give away from your garden because you had free seeds, free water, and free labor and that allows you to stockpile money,” says Morgan Dawson, co-CEO of Threshold Philanthropy.

However, this tension is exactly why philanthropy is a prime actor to catalyze a culture of repair. Through our conversations, three key roles emerged for philanthropy.

Live into a culture of racial repair in your own institution. This may include reckoning with the origin of your own wealth or the context in which your endowment was created, investigating your historical internal and investment practices, acknowledging past mistakes, shifting approaches in governance and decision making to be accountable to reparations movement leaders and communities you aim to support, and engaging in acts of redress and repair.

Resource the reparations and repair ecosystem. This can include investing integrated capital—grants, non-extractive investments, and nonfinancial support—into the reparations ecosystem at community, state, and national levels. It may require considering how to integrate the reparations ecosystem into existing portfolios, into place-based strategies, and into designing new portfolios or initiatives.

Increase the use of Black asset managers and Black-owned investment firms. Shifting endowments to mission-related investments will benefit Black communities and contribute to racial repair. Many we spoke with pointed out the obvious tension of the endowment corpus—95 percent of most foundations’ wealth is invested rather than distributed in grants. “Pick any gap. At what rate do you close it at 5 percent?” asks Dorian Burton, managing partner of the Southern Reconstruction Fund. Although managing endowments is a vital lever for philanthropy to engage, it’s a subject we plan to explore in more depth in follow-up writing beyond this article. Meanwhile we encourage funders to review resources from the Justice Funders network to learn more.

Live Into a Culture of Racial Repair in Your Own Institution

One of the most overlooked aspects of the reparations movement from those on the outside is how central building a culture of repair is to the work. The movement is motivated by the belief system that harm has been done that warrants repair and healing is necessary to prevent the drivers of our inequity from being repeated.

Infographic by The Bridgespan Group and Liberation Ventures

“My question for philanthropy: can you support us in healing?” asks Richard Wallace, founder and executive director of Equity and Transformation, which is fighting for drug war reparations in Chicago. “One of the challenges is if you’re responding to a particular harm and you haven’t had an opportunity to heal, then what you’ll produce is ultimately a reflection of that harm as opposed to what it is you’re truly working toward.”

Liberation Ventures offers one way of thinking about racial repair with a framework
that consists of an ongoing, iterative cycle of reckoning, acknowledgement, accountability, and redress. Below, we share how each of the components of repair might look for philanthropy and how one particular funder, the Bush Foundation, is trying to live into the cycle.


The purpose of reckoning is not to disparage a personal or institutional legacy, but rather to ensure the foundation operates from a place of truth and understanding of past harms. David Ragland, co-founder and co-executive director of the Truth Telling Project, notes that knowing your own story can be a critical motivator to compel sustained support. “The only way you get people who are authentically engaged is if they’ve done the work of knowing, connecting, accompanying, and being accountable to the communities with whom they work,” Ragland shares.

While starting with an understanding of how institutions or individuals came to accumulate wealth is one approach to reckoning, others include reviewing historical and current investment practices to understand potential harms, unintentional exclusion, and negative impacts for Black communities those investments might have led to.

For The Bush Foundation, a regional private foundation that was founded in 1953 by Edyth and Archibald Bush, who was an executive of the Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company (now the multinational known as 3M), reckoning has taken the form of a deep look into the history of race-based policies and the harms inflicted on Black and Native communities in Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, and the 23 Native nations that share that geography. The foundation’s leaders came to understand how the lasting legacy of such policy—including slavery, the Homestead Act, redlining, and Indian boarding schools—have had lasting negative impacts on the ability to build generational wealth for Black and Native American people.

In addition, the Bush Foundation actively involved its board for years in its equity journey to better understand how to serve the region. This included staging debates at its board meeting in 2019 where members of the senior staff were placed on opposing sides of various critiques of philanthropy. One of the debate topics was whether the foundation should move to a reparative approach for grantmaking in the future. “It was just an exercise at the time, but setting up learning opportunities like that put our board in a position to be open and ready for discussions about reparations and bold reparative action,” says Jackie Statum Allen, a grantmaking director at the foundation.

Importantly, reckoning does not have to be an isolated, individual act. Nor does it have to precede giving to the reparations ecosystem. But it can strengthen resolve and institutional commitment to racial repair.


The Bush Foundation now talks openly about the harms done to Native American and Black communities from broken treaties, slavery, and Jim Crow laws and the connection of these race-based policies to the racial wealth gaps in its region of investment. The funder writes: “Those gaps are the result of generations of unjust policies targeting Native and Black communities. There are direct through lines from broken treaties to unemployment rates, slavery to incarceration rates, redlining to homeownership rates.”

That work also paved the way in 2021 for the board to approve a $100 million initiative for Black and Native American communities across the region, in recognition that these communities have experienced the most longstanding harm.

Acknowledgement can also look like sharing the process and findings of your reckoning with broader audiences. For instance, John Palfrey, CEO of MacArthur Foundation, wrote publicly about its Truth, Accountability, Repair, and Healing process. In the coming months, the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP) will publicly share wealth origins analyses for seven foundations alongside a methodology for funders to use themselves. The research was commissioned by If foundation (formerly known as Consumer Health Foundation), whose own wealth origin story is included.

“If you are serving on the Board of a philanthropic institution, whether it’s a family foundation or otherwise, knowing your history is part of your fiduciary duty,” says Beth McCaw, the founding funder of Threshold Philanthropy. For McCaw that includes “being able to acknowledge all the times that your life could have taken a different turn, or an opportunity that wouldn’t have been available to you ‘but for’ being white.” McCaw explains that it does not matter if, as a white person, she can trace her family history to “directly participating in the enslavement of others” because part of being white in this country is to have “directly benefited” from the inequity and harm that system established.


The Bush Foundation’s $100 million initiative, or 10 percent of its $1 billion endowment at the time, is to seed two community trust funds of $50 million each, and stands in addition to
its recurring existing $50-60 million commitments, thus roughly tripling its grantmaking for the year. Edgar Villanueva, founder and CEO of the Decolonizing Wealth Project, worked with the foundation on its journey to develop the initiative. The inspiration for the $100 million was his challenge to philanthropy to acknowledge harm done by embracing asset tithing or giving 10 percent of assets to communities of color. (Bush Foundation financed the project by following in the footsteps of the Ford Foundation and issuing a social bond.)

To find the two stewards for the funds, Bush used an open process invitation that included four open-ended questions and no word-count restrictions. It was a way of lowering the barriers often experienced by nonprofit leaders of color
in seeking funding. Additionally, rather than making decisions behind closed doors, the Bush Foundation reached out to a few dozen community and philanthropy leaders for feedback during the initiative’s design phase. A panel of community leaders from across the region interviewed finalists and advised the foundation on which organizations to select. Black-led Nexus Community Partners and Indigenous-led NDN Collective were chosen to steward the new funds for their respective communities.

The Bush Foundation also sees this work as an opportunity to be accountable to movement leaders in its community. “[Nexus and NDN Collective] have developed programs that reflect what their communities shared, and we support them. We have to show them: we trust you and believe in the high potential of the programs they have developed,” says Allen, who is one of the co-leads of the initiative. “We are power sharing in this way, because it will make the work better.”

In addition to working with your board to bring them along a journey of repair, other funders we spoke to also highlighted the importance of centering the needs of staff. Ensuring an internal culture, salaries, and benefits that enable staff to have the stamina needed to build relationships and approach the work of repair with their grantees is also necessary to live into a culture of repair.


The Bush Foundation funded a design phase for as long as each steward needed (which ended up being 12-18 months) to build-up their internal infrastructure, engage their communities, teams, and experts on legal, financial, and other areas in developing a plan for how they would use their respective resources.

Nexus created the Open Road Fund which will provide $50,000 grants to at least 800 Black residents in the region to “create tangible pathways to liberation, prosperity, and healing on their own terms.” According to Nexus: “This $50 million belongs to our community and offers the opportunity to make a positive impact, but it is not reparations. The fund’s resources aren’t enough to correct all the harm done to the Black community over the last 400 years. However, it is a step in the right direction toward cultivating wealth and prosperity.”

Resource the Reparations and Repair Ecosystem

The abundance of imagination and activity happening across the movement for reparations offers a variety of entry points and is a reminder that there is no lack of opportunity for philanthropy. However, philanthropy is currently underinvesting in the movement writ large. The 31 organizations with a focus on reparations in Liberation Ventures’ 2023 portfolio reported a combined annual revenue of less than $20 million in 2022, or about 1/1000 the annual revenue of the five largest nonprofits in the United States.

Importantly, there is something particularly perverse about a reality where a movement working to secure reparations for Black people and build a culture of racial repair for all of us, is forced to rely on under-paid and unpaid Black labor to get it done, because of the profound underinvestment across the ecosystem.

Take the much publicized case of Bruce’s Beach in southern California in which philanthropy was conspicuously absent. In 2021, thanks to years of community organizing and local activism, an oceanside plot once owned by a Black couple that was seized by local government officials during the height of Jim Crow was finally returned to descendants of Willa and Charles Bruce. The inheritance, almost 100 years late, was significant. A year after the deed was returned, the Bruce’s great-grandsons sold the land back to Los Angeles County for the appraised value of nearly $20 million. Kavon Ward, a lead organizer in the effort, shared that philanthropy was not involved until the tail end. Instead, “it was Black women using their own resources, time, and energy, who got this done,” says Ward, who went on to found Where Is My Land, which now has a waiting list of more than 700 Black families with compelling claims for stolen land and lost wealth. She adds, “When I think about if philanthropy was more involved, I think about how it would have minimized the level of stress that Black women had to endure throughout the fight. People expect Black women to save the world, but they don’t see the human in us and see that it affects us, and we need help with dealing with the traumas we experience trying to save the world.”

Here is what resourcing the reparations ecosystem might look like.

Integrate Reparations and Repair Strategies Into Your Existing Portfolio

Funders with diverse focus areas ranging from housing (Melville Charitable Trust) to education (The 1954 Project) to arts (Surdna Foundation) are incorporating reparative strategies. The case for climate reparations is increasingly being raised by organizers, think tanks, and activists. And for funders concerned about our democracy, consider that reparations is fundamentally about creating a true multiracial democracy, since without eradicating the Black-white wealth gap and anti-Black narratives, our democracy will always be under threat. “I wish funders could understand how holistic reparations is and how repairing the harms the Black community endures repairs humanity,” says Robin Rue Simmons, founder of First Repair. “The kind of full repair that centers Black communities can connect to whatever issue a funder prioritizes.”

Whatever your portfolio’s focus, there is an opportunity to consider how reparations and building a culture of repair may be integral to reach the impact you aspire to achieve. For instance, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) invests in “Building a Culture of Health” through four broad focus areas, including a Healthy Communities portfolio which seeks to “support those working to create communities where the physical, economic, and social conditions ensure all residents have a fair opportunity to thrive and live their healthiest life.” This work includes a grant to Dr. Mary Bassett, director of the François-Xavier Bagnoud (FXB) Center for Health and Human Rights, to explore reparations as a public health strategy to help eliminate racial disparities in health outcomes and achieve health equity. As part of this effort, FXB has convened a consortium of Black researchers across different disciplines who will contribute to this field and body of research. In 2022, FXB released “Making the Public Health Case for Reparations: A Landscape Report.”

Arriving at explicit reparations related grants is part of RWJF’s commitment to improving health by advancing health equity. In 2016, RWJF commissioned economist William “Sandy” Darity of Duke University to prepare a white paper on the racial wealth gap to help inform its strategic priorities. This officially introduced the foundation to reparations in depth and the potential roles philanthropy could play. Importantly, through these internal efforts and conversations with grantees over the years, RWJF has come to understand and integrate into its investment approach that disproportionate illness and death for Black Americans has less to do with race and more to do with racism.

“Our reparative work comes from understanding root causes,” says Maisha Simmons, senior director at RWJF. She shares that New Jersey, where RWJF is based, was known as the “slave state of the North” for being the last to abolish slavery. That legacy of slavery and Jim Crow is still visible today as the state’s 564 municipalities foster some of the highest levels of inequity in the nation. Given that context, RWJF is a funder of the New Jersey Reparations Council, a collaboration of local and national experts dedicated to “acknowledge, confront, and repair” the harm from New Jersey’s involvement in slavery and “its lasting impact on Black people in the state.” The non-governmental council was launched on Juneteenth 2023 by the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice (NJISJ) and RWJF has signed on to NJISJ’s call for the state to also create an official task force.

Support Place-Based Reparations Efforts

Evanston, Illinois, made headlines in 2019 when it announced a program to repair harms created by local discriminatory housing policies. In the years since, the Evanston Community Foundation (ECF) has taken a proactive role in advancing dialogue, strategizing, and allocating funds toward Evanston’s reparations efforts. “For ECF and any foundation in this work, we have to recognize that our proper place is backing leaders and members of the Black community in our locales and across the country to do the work they think is most prescient and important to repair the harm that was done,” says ECF CEO Sol Anderson.

For ECF that means connecting directly with donors and board members on issues related to structural racism and helping them see how they can incorporate that understanding into their choices on what they fund through the community foundation. The foundation also set up a fund for the reparations ecosystem in its community. “Community foundations are unique among foundations in that we can hold funds for other entities. We have donor-advised funds, agency funds, and so we decided to also hold the funds for the Reparations Stakeholder Authority of Evanston (RSAE). We were able to set it up in a way where we do not charge management fees and, at their request, we meet with them monthly to talk about strategy,” Anderson explains. “[ECF and RSAE] used our relationships and connections to introduce reparations conversation in the faith-based community and raised more than $800,000 from 19 faith-based institutions that will all go toward the reparations stakeholder agency fund that they can use to do whatever reparations work they feel is needed in the community.”

Still, Anderson, like many others in the movement we spoke with, do not see local reparations efforts like the one in Evanston as the final destination or as a way to absolve federal responsibility. Rather, “local reparations is the beginning. This is chapter one of the story we’re working toward.”

Create New Portfolios

In 2022, Omidyar Network, a social change venture founded by Pam and Pierre Omidyar, launched its newest focus area, Building Cultures of Belonging, to invest in “the people and institutions equipping our increasingly diverse society to turn toward one another rather than against each other.” The new focus area houses two complimentary grant portfolios with an initial commitment of $35-40 million over four years. One portfolio, New Belonging, invests in earlier stage ideas, innovations, and civic infrastructure for bringing the nation’s increasingly diverse society together. The other portfolio—to be announced this year—explicitly seeks to strengthen a culture of repair in the US at a time when, as the funder says, diverse communities are acknowledging the “foundational harms of colonialism and slavery, and their modern-day legacies.” Omidyar Network sees this as multi-generational work and plans to collaboratively invest in the growing ecosystems of Black-led and Indigenous-led repair and healing efforts including organizations that advance relational, cultural, spiritual, and material approaches to repair.

“This work aims to heal our past so that we can fully experience our thriving future,” says Vanessa Mason, principal at Omidyar Network, who leads the repair portfolio.

The new Building Cultures of Belonging focus area was incubated for four years with early exploratory grants and learning that included discussions with approximately 60 different field leaders and experts, fielded a national survey and held focus groups, and commissioned a study on the global truth, reconciliation, and repair ecosystem. The funder began to see intersections between questions from the past, present, and future, including: How will we repair harms from centuries of racism and violence directed to Black and Indigenous communities? Why are cultural conflicts intensifying now? What does the future of human diversity hold?

To What End? Expanded Possibilities

There are always those who say some issues are too big, some challenges too tough, some realities too stubborn to change. But philanthropy has proven the naysayers wrong before.

Take the journey to marriage equality. Today a majority of Americans still say legalization of same-sex marriage has been good for society. That was not always the case; far from it. In fact, a Pew Research Center poll conducted in 2004 found that only 31 percent of US adults favored same-sex marriage. Then, just a decade later, after strategic organizing, state campaigns, narrative change, and advocacy, marriage equality became the law of the land. Philanthropy’s critical role as a funder, convener, and amplifier of the movement, has been widely documented.

Now consider, in 2022, another Pew study found that overall support for reparations is 30 percent—about the same level once in favor of same-sex marriage. It is a sign that, with the right strategy and funding, we could be at a similar inflection point. In fact, according to a historical review of reparations polling, that support has been climbing steadily over the past 25 years, in part due to the significant support of young people. Approximately 45 percent of Americans age 18 to 29 support reparations in the Pew Research. Other polls have found that number to be as high as 57 percent.

When thinking about building a culture of repair, the questions for philanthropy then become, what can the next decade bring? And what role will philanthropy play? Also, given the current legislative attacks on trans communities and LGBTQ+ rights, how will philanthropy show up to protect meaningful wins over time?

“Oftentimes I think that when you want to do something, you find a way to do it. When you don’t want to do something, you find excuses as to why not to do it,” says Pat Clark, chief program officer for the Fund for Nonviolence, a private foundation in Santa Cruz, California. When the Fund for Nonviolence went through a strategic refresh in 2020, it named Reparations, Accountability, and Healing as its newest program area.

Clark challenges other funders to enter this work. “Once you understand that so much of the wealth has been gained on the backs of people of color and marginalized people—then I think reparations makes sense. If you believe that there’s no reason to have the kind of gap in wealth that exists today—reparations makes sense. If you believe you have a responsibility to make corrections from your position of power and wealth—then reparations makes sense.”

For even more in-depth learning from this research into philanthropy’s role in reparations, read the companion article at Bridgespan.org. In addition, stay tuned for the Reparations Grantmaking Blueprint, a grantmaking strategy co-created by movement leaders, to be published by Liberation Ventures in early 2024.

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Read more stories by Aria Florant, Tonyel Edwards, Cora Daniels, Alexandra Williams & Maurice Asare.

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