Recognizing our Bias

Northwest Health Fdn
Striving for Disability Equity
3 min readApr 26, 2016

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Northwest Health Foundation board members, staff members and friends in December 2015.

[Image description: 19 adults of various races and ethnicities pose in front of a white wall. Some are standing; some are kneeling. No one has a visible disability.]

Too often where we are born, the color of our skin or living with a disability determines our chance at a healthy life. At Northwest Health Foundation, we are committed to ending this reality. We believe that everyone deserves the opportunity to lead a healthy life. We also believe that by advancing equity, we can improve the health of our whole region. That is why NWHF chose three equity priorities — race/ethnicity (including immigrant and refugee status), geography and disability — to guide all of our work. Of course, it’s a lot easier to name priorities than it is to put them into action. We’ve had more success in some areas than others.

[Image description: A chart comparing giving to communities of color. The first column, labeled 2008, includes four dollar signs, one is dark grey, three are white. Text underneath reads “1 out of 4 grant dollars to CoCs.” The second column, labeled 2014, also includes four dollar signs. Three are dark grey; one is white. Text underneath reads “3 out of 4 grant dollars to CoCs.”]

Over the past decade, NWHF’s board and staff have worked hard to transform who we are as an organization. Through this dedicated effort, NWHF has become a better ally to communities of color. Our board and staff are now both majority-minority; 66% of our board and 55% of staff identify as people of color. We’ve increased our grantmaking to communities of color from 25% of our funding in 2008 to 75% of our funding in 2014. And we have developed many lasting relationships with leaders of color across our region. However, throughout this journey, we have not been as engaged with our partners and leaders in the disability community.

[Image description: A bar graph showing giving to disability-focused organizations as a percentage of total giving from 2012 through 2015. Giving to disability-focused organizations is a very small portion of the bars representing 2012 and 2013, represents about a seventh of the 2014 bar, and doesn’t even show up in the 2015 bar.]

Recently, we began tracking our giving to the disability community, and we were embarrassed by what we found. In 2012, we made three grants totaling $80,000 to disability-focused organizations, only 1.5% of our giving that year. In 2013, we didn’t do much better. We awarded nine grants totaling $127,000 to disability-focused organizations, 3.4% of our giving that year. Given our commitment to disability equity, this was not okay. It is difficult for any organization to openly admit their institutional biases, but we recognized that we could not improve our work if we did not acknowledge this fault. So, with our board’s Equity Committee and our program staff heading the effort, we set out to do better. In 2014, our grants to disability-focused organizations increased to an all-time high of 14.9% of our giving. (Our giving to disability communities then dropped drastically in 2015 to only 0.33%. We’ll talk more about this in a future post.)

This is the first in a series of articles chronicling Northwest Health Foundation’s journey to better understand disability as an equity priority and build relationships within this community. In the long-term, we hope to improve how NWHF partners with disability-led groups, as well as learn from and share with our allies.

Click here to read the next post in this series.

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Northwest Health Fdn
Striving for Disability Equity

Northwest Health Foundation exists to advance, support and promote the health of the people of Oregon and SW Washington.