September 2021

Columbus Foundation makes ‘game-changing’ investment in Columbus Urban League

Courtesy of The Columbus Dispatch
By Erica Thompson
September 2, 2021

With a desire to advance racial equity in the region, the Columbus Foundation announced on Wednesday that it will invest $500,000 in the Columbus Urban League.

The unrestricted donation will fund personnel, technology and management systems. That support will bolster the organization’s social justice efforts and work on economic equality.

“It’s a game-changer for us,” said Stephanie Hightower, president and CEO at the Columbus Urban League. “It is really geared toward giving us the ability to work on our social justice and economic empowerment nine-pillar agenda. But it’s also going to give us an opportunity to innovate and help build capacity (to do the work).”

The Columbus Foundation has funded the Columbus Urban League in the past, but this investment is the largest to date, said Dan Sharpe, vice president for community research and grants management.

“We see this investment as a prime opportunity to more deeply invest in an organization’s mission, so they can do their work the best they can,” he said. “We want them to be best positioned to be as strong as they can be.”

While the Columbus Foundation has made a point to support diverse communities for many years, Sharpe said the social justice movement over the past year had an impact.

“We are in a position to absolutely do better, and we’re committed to this over the long-term,” he said. “Philanthropy is better when we’re informed, and as professional grant-makers, we certainly need the relationships with organizations like the Columbus Urban League to continuously help us be informed about where those needs are in the community so that we can be responsive with philanthropic dollars.”

The Columbus Urban League’s nine-pillar agenda includes COVID relief, education, workforce development, criminal justice reform, voting rights, health care, small business support, access to technology and housing.

“Right now, we’re in the thick of housing stabilization,” Hightower said. “For Black-led female heads of households, the numbers are really huge here in Columbus as it relates to homelessness.”

Later this month, the organization will host a forum on rebuilding trust between the Black community and police.

The investment by the Columbus Foundation is especially important given “historic philanthropic redlining practices” and a pattern of programming-only grants to Black-led organizations, Hightower said. She cited research by Echoing Green and the Bridgespan Group, which shows that unrestricted net assets held by Black-led organizations are 76 percent smaller than their white-led counterparts.

Sharpe said it’s important for the philanthropic community to be intentional about those gaps.

“We’re pleased to lead and look forward to our donors co-investing and following us to strengthen Black-led and Black-serving organizations, in addition to all of our residents,” he said.

Though the Columbus Urban League has received an influx of grant support, there were limitations on paying for administrative costs, Hightower said. That’s why she is “excited and grateful” for the foundation’s investment.

“I have really dedicated people here who are mission-driven in their work,” she said. “What I want to try to do is create an environment where I can help them to work more efficiently, so that they can continue to be effective in this very demanding time. We are at the tip of the spear in this community as it relates to social justice and economic empowerment, but I have to have the tools so that we can continue to serve more people.”

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