Protest march/Black Lives Matter (300429)
Credit: Bill Moore photo

Though last year’s racial justice protests unleashed an avalanche of donations for minority causes, the philanthropic community remains divided about which donations should be counted as advancing racial equity.

Candid, a leading philanthropy research organization, told The Associated Press that it broadened its definition of racial equity to better reflect the intent of contributors and to help foster additional donations.

It now defines racial equity donations as “grantmaking explicitly awarded to benefit people of color broadly or to organizations that serve these populations.” Previously, it had limited its definition to “grantmaking focused on systemic change to advance racial equity.”

The change, introduced on its website Wednesday, raised the number of racial equity donations the organization has categorized in the past decade from roughly 60,000 to 600,000, according to Anna Koob, Candid’s director of research. Under the new definition, Candid says it’s cataloged nearly 29,000 grants valued at $14.1 billion donated since George Floyd’s death. These include grants from foundations, corporations and wealthy philanthropists though not from everyday Americans, whose giving is difficult to fully track.

Contributions to racial equity are generally defined as providing resources to racial groups according to need, a practice that has been criticized by some conservatives who argue that this approach could neglect other communities in need.

The effort to re-examine Candid’s definition of racial equity followed an influx of donations after the police killing of Floyd, especially from corporations, many of which had had little role in such initiatives. Bradford Smith, the president of Candid, said there were two goals: To help organizations that are combating racism find contributors and to help donors see who else is funding racial equity work and which groups could use support.

“We wanted to show the many different ways contributions are making real progress,” he said.

His organization partnered with the Philanthropic Initiative for Racial Equity (PRE) and sought input from other groups about the broadened definition.

Before the change was announced, Howard Husock, a philanthropy expert at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, had criticized Candid’s prior definition as favoring counting advocacy initiatives instead of programs that provide direct services. Husock says the new definition is an improvement.

A consensus definition of what constitutes racial equity giving would provide clearer examples of donations to minority communities, said Una Osili, an associate dean at the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at Indiana University, and make it easier to determine how much money flows into these causes.

“The reality is there is inexactness in a huge range of terminology within the foundation sector,” said Lori Villarosa, PRE’s executive director. “The number of different ways funders decide what is arts, what is education, what is health, is often fuzzy,”

Though it worked with Candid on its new definition, PRE has a definition of its own. It defines racial equity giving as grants that focus “on the prevention of harm and the redistribution of benefits within existing systems.” Using that definition, PRE reported this week that only about $3.4 billion was given to racial equity by corporations and foundations in 2020, even though billions more have been promised in business and other initiatives to benefit minority communities.

Villarosa said Candid’s new definition is “necessary for greater consistency in comparing past funding to current funding.”

Other experts suggest that determining who’s benefiting from such donations will continue to be difficult, regardless of any definition. Naomi Schaefer Riley, a philanthropy expert at the conservative AEI who has been critical of equity initiatives, says foundations must “decide for themselves what makes for the most effective giving that they want. And if it’s giving to a particular community, they’re going to have to measure those results and look at what those particular organizations are doing.”

Candid expects the debate to continue.

“With this data set, more people will see themselves in it,” Smith said. “Some people will not see themselves in it and be upset. That will start a dialogue and part of that dialogue is, how you can provide better information so people can see not only what your foundation is doing but what it adds up to?”

The Associated Press receives support from the Lilly Endowment for coverage of philanthropy and nonprofits. The AP is solely responsible for all content. For all of AP’s philanthropy coverage, visit