Racial justice auditing: A new perspective on PHF’s grant-making
As we publish the headline findings from our audit of funding towards Black or minoritised community-led organisations, Kirsty Gillan-Thomas and Nina White in our Evidence and Learning team reflect on the process and share their learning.
In November 2021, the Funders for Race Equality Alliance (FREA) published the results from their second racial justice funding audit of 20 participating funders, a cohort which has grown from 13 in their inaugural audit of April 2021. This audit included data from a sample of 100 PHF grants.
This initial report confirmed much of what we felt we already knew – there is a real disparity in funding towards Black and minoritised community-led organisations, and more must be done to understand this disparity and take action to redress the balance. Building this sector-wide intelligence is crucial for transparency and accountability particularly as funders (PHF included) seek to be anti-racist and held to account for progress against Diversity, Equity and Inclusion plans.
As part of this work, we wanted to delve deeper into our grant-making, aware that we lacked a clear picture of our funding as a whole, when applying a racial justice lens. We applied the original FREA methodology to our UK grant-making from 2020/21, spanning both our Covid Response Fund and core funds, constituting 656 grants and totalling £30.5 million.
The headline findings from our 2020/21 audit are published on our website and show that:
- 11% of all funding went to Black or minoritised sector organisations,
- 39% went to projects that benefit Black or minoritised communities, and
- 9% went to projects led by and for Black or minoritised communities.
The findings also show that grants to Black or minoritised sector organisations were generally smaller in size and shorter in duration than grants to non-Black or minoritised organisations.
Applying the first version of FREA’s tool posed some ethical considerations and challenges around language, labelling and subjectivity. We avoid using acronyms like BAME, which conflate and homogenise identities and in this report we have opted to use the term ‘Black or minoritised’, consistent with FREA’s latest audit, recognising language in this area is contested and evolving.
Using the tool itself also brought challenges of subjectivity and judgement calls. Divided into four key questions or criteria, the audit tool required decisions that often relied on external data, sources and internal subjectivities, such as deciding if an organisation was led by people from a Black or minoritised ethnic background, or if a grant was aimed at benefitting Black or minoritised communities ‘by serendipity or by design’. The specific challenge of assigning ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to questions such as ‘is the organisation led by people from a Black or minoritised background?’ – which in essence meant racialising groups and individuals – brought a great deal of discomfort, going against our belief in the importance of people being able to self-define. This was especially acute given we are a team made up predominantly of white people, which required additional vigilance and critical reflection around unconscious bias. We acknowledge that some bias is inherent and that this work will be far from perfect as a result.
We therefore had to balance the ethical considerations of the work, ultimately deciding that the importance and value of the racial justice audit outweighed the issues and challenges of labelling. In many cases, we chose to err on the side of caution, opting to preclude from labelling identities or communities as Black or minoritised without sufficient evidence or data. In the few cases where there was uncertainty around the identity of leadership or communities, we have assigned ‘no’ or ‘no/unknown’, as available in the audit tool classifications. We also compared the results of the audit to the data on organisation leadership that we had collected from applicants. Comparison showed that the majority of those who had been affirmed as having majority Black or minoritised leadership in the audit process, had also self-declared this in the application process.
As is the case with so much data analysis, the first auditing process has been informative and challenging, but is ultimately a precursor to more concrete actions that we want to take as a funder. Sharing the results of our audit internally with our grants teams has helped spark further conversations and questions around our funding particularly within the sectors we most support and what we need to do to help address structural inequality.
As a foundation and a funder, we still have much to learn.
Using the FREA racial justice audit tool has given us a new perspective on grant-making at Paul Hamlyn Foundation, and we hope our experience of using the tool will help others embark on an audit of their own funds. Like our broader work around Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, our approach to the audit – and more broadly collecting diversity data relating to organisation leadership – is evolving and will change as we learn more about our funds and our grant-holders now and in the future.
We would like to thank the team at FREA – particularly Tracey Agyeman and Saphia Youssef who supported us in the audit process and gave invaluable feedback for the report’s publication.
Read the headline findings from PHF’s racial justice audit of 2020/21 UK grant-making here.
Read more about the Funders for Race Equality Alliance here.
 The Covid Response Fund opened in March 2020 and offered flexible funding to respond to the challenges of Covid-19. The core funds are the non-emergency funding streams that had temporarily closed for applications during the pandemic and re-opened in October 2020.