By Gina Ferrari, Bonfils-Stanton Foundation Staff
Over the past year, the Bonfils-Stanton Foundation has shared some of our thinking around equity in philanthropy and our values as a grantmaking organization. We have highlighted some of the organic shifts in our grantmaking to serve a more diverse community of arts & culture organizations and therefore a more diverse community of Denver residents. The adoption of an Equity and Values Statement spurred more intentional steps towards living our values that will ultimately influence our grantmaking strategies. Recognizing the need to listen to communities and organizations that we currently don’t fund, we conducted listening sessions in the winter 2019 with smaller ALAANA (African, Latinx, Arab, Asian, Native American) and LGBTQ arts organizations and those serving the disability community. These organizations greatly contribute to the richness of Denver’s arts & culture ecosystem yet are traditionally under-resourced.
Information gathering and reflection led us to developing a formal theory of change that is rooted in equity and will guide us moving forward. Although we have had a working strategic plan with specific funding objectives, we had never really articulated what our desired ultimate impact should be. As a result, we now have strategies, activities, and outcomes that we hope will lead to “Colorado residents enjoying a better quality of life through the arts in Denver.”
While many of our strategies and activities remain the same, we recognize the need to explore additional ways to educate and encourage DEI practices, and to expand our support of smaller, more diverse arts organizations and communities. Some of you may have noticed we added questions to our grant application and grant report on DEI practices. We believe that organizations are stronger and more sustainable with greater attention to and progress made towards DEI practices. Answers to these questions are now an important part of our consideration for grant funding, and our hope is that by asking these questions we are also educating our grantees about the critical importance of these efforts. The Arts & Culture Diversity Task Force (now the Art & Culture Diversity Leadership Council) that the Foundation helped to launch will serve as another resource for learning about DEI practices. Panel discussions, sessions and/or trainings are being planned and will be open to all.
Finding funding to support additional, more equitable grant initiatives is harder given the Foundation’s limited grantmaking capacity and many ongoing commitments. While we don’t yet know what these additional initiatives and corresponding costs will be, the board has approved some modifications to our current grantmaking practices in order to begin freeing up some resources.
The first modification affects large capital requests. To allow for more community-focused and opportunistic grantmaking capacity the Foundation is unlikely to fund significant capital gifts for the largest cultural organizations with operating budgets typically over $5 million. Priority consideration will be given to those projects that are intentional about serving multiple organizations, that serve diverse communities, allow for more equitable access and help fill a critical gap in the arts & culture ecosystem. Previously pledged gifts will not be affected, but we will begin to apply this lens to any new requests moving forward.
A second step will be to cap general operating support at $60,000. The Foundation strongly believes in providing general operating support, and at significant levels relative to an organization’s scope, budget, reach and alignment with the Foundation’s objectives. However, as we respond to changing demographics, and a more robust, diverse and exciting arts & culture ecosystem, we believe a cap is necessary to ensure more equitable support. This will not affect any grantees in our FY 2020 and will be phased in over two years. Capping general operating support is a common philanthropic practice and we’ve typically seen this cap at much lower amounts than $60,000. We will continue to provide multi-year general operating support where merited and appropriate.
The final modification will be a periodic review our current portfolio of grantees to identify where there may be a disproportionate number of organizations and award levels allocated to specific artistic disciplines and genres within those disciplines. This will lead to a more competitive review within certain artistic disciplines that could result in funding rotations. The Foundation will work closely with any organization this may affect to provide advance notice.
The Foundation has always taken a very relational approach to grantmaking; we believe in being transparent, approachable, responsive and equitable. We also believe Denver is best served by a robust and diverse cultural eco-system that includes our largest visual and performing arts organizations, as well as the many smaller community-centered groups. We will continue to work with all of our current partners to ensure any changes have minimal impact on the organization. And we will continue to communicate our plans as we roll out additional initiatives. Ultimately, we hope our funding contributes to Colorado residents enjoying a better quality of life through the arts in Denver. We welcome questions and conversations.