Breanna Reeves |
Marc Philpart stepped into his new role as the first executive director of the California Black Freedom Fund on Wednesday, April 27.
Co-created by a collective of Black leaders and organizers, namely Kaci Patterson, Ben McBride and Anthony Thigpenn, the California Black Freedom Fund was launched in February 2021 to address a history of underinvestment in Black-led organizations and help to close the philanthropic giving gap.
The California Black Freedom Fund is a five-year-long initiative to raise $100 million and distribute the funds to Black-led organizations across California. The fund intends to grow and strengthen the development of Black-led organizations with the support of dozens of funders and under the guidance of Philpart.
“I could not be more confident and excited about our decision to entrust Marc Philpart with the role of serving as the CBFF’s first ever executive director,” said Nicole Taylor, President and CEO of the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, which provides fiscal and administrative management of the fund in a statement. “Marc’s extensive expertise and deep commitment to advancing social and structural change will be invaluable as he leads the CBFF and builds on its existing momentum.”
Philpart previously worked 13 years at the research institute, PolicyLink, where he served in a number of roles including associate director and director before ending his tenure as managing director. Philpart also worked with the Obama administration to develop My Brother’s Keeper, an initiative created to remove barriers and expand opportunities for boys and men of color.
As Philpart joined the fund as the executive director, he explained that he was not interested in a traditional philanthropic role. However, philanthropy is important to him, Philpart clarified explaining that traditional philanthropic institutions aren’t always helpful to community actors who are on the ground doing the work
“I believe that the fund can kind of transform the relationship that philanthropy has to communities, and really be a leading example of what philanthropic institutions can do and should be doing in order to really support liberation of freedom for our communities, particularly Black folks,” Philpart said.
California Black Freedom Fund in action
To date, the fund has garnered the support of dozens of funders and donors and has raised an estimated $63 million, with a commitment to reach $100 million by 2025. So far, the fund has supported more than 110 Black-led organizations throughout California and distributed $25.8 million in funding.
Additionally, the fund has awarded nearly $9 million to 74 Black-led “power-building” organizations including the California Black Health Network and local organizations, IE CEEM Incorporated and Millionaire Mind Kids that operate in the Inland Empire.
Executive Director of the California Black Health Network Rhonda Smith, joined the network during the summer of 2020 as the interim executive director. According to Smith, resources were limited during that time and about 90 percent of the network’s resources were grants and restricted funding.
“So, there wasn’t a lot of opportunity for growth and capacity building. And what the freedom fund grant allowed us to do, at least me in particular, was to support the growth and capacity building in terms of bringing on additional resources,” Smith said. At the time the organization had just two people managing it.
“I hope that the fund, in terms of its value, continues to grow. But I hope that they recognize the importance of continuing to invest in Black-led nonprofit organizations here, across the state, and invest in capacity building,” Smith continued.
Capacity building is an aspect Philpart plans to address in his new role. Prior to taking on this position, Philpart heard from communities who often lamented the inability to help organizations build capacity and who were often outspent by larger and more powerful stakeholders such as police unions. He explained that if these organizations had the necessary resources they would be able to change the narrative.
“I really see the freedom fund as being able to more firmly assert what the community’s vision is in policy and political spaces, [and] build the capacity of organizations to expand and scale,” Philpart described. “[And] really thinking about base building organizations in particular, I think mass engagement and mass movement is critical to any work we hope to do in terms of transforming outcomes for Black communities in California.”
Closing giving gaps
Smith said she hopes to see the fund garner higher levels of funding for capacity building that will extend over a longer period of time. With the philanthropy gap that exists between the funding Black-led organizations receive compared to what white-led organizations receive, Smith explained capacity building is “desperately needed” for Black-led organizations.
An analysis by the Bridgeport Group of Echoing Green funding applicants found that on average the revenues of the Black-led organizations are 24 percent smaller than the revenues of their white-led counterparts. In the case of unrestricted funding, the analysis revealed that unrestricted net assets of the Black-led organizations are 76 percent smaller than their white-led counterparts.
Philpart said that some of his initial goals are to close the $37 million gap and think about the afterlife of the fund beyond the first five year commitment made by supporters and donors. He also plans to craft a pitch and an engagement strategy with philanthropic partners who are part of the operational and leadership teams to develop ways to engage those who previously gave and find other foundations.
“[We] know that Black freedom will not be won in a five-year span. And so it’s going to be important for us to continue to work beyond [the initial timeframe] and what that looks like is going to be determined over time,” Philpart said.