Member Spotlight: MacArthur Foundation

Member Spotlight: MacArthur Foundation

By: Funders for LGBTQ Issues Staff on May 30, 2024

Funders for LGBTQ Issues is thrilled to announce the launch of our Member Spotlight series, where we’ll regularly showcase the vital work being done within our network.

For our inaugural spotlight, we are excited to feature our oldest and longest serving member, the MacArthur Foundation.

If you’d like to be considered for a feature, please contact our Membership Engagement Officer, Amara Reese-Hansell at [email protected].

What’s a significant accomplishment from the last few years that the MacArthur Foundation is particularly proud of?

MacArthur responded to COVID-19 and racial injustice with our $125 million Equitable Recovery Initiative. The 128 grants were above and beyond our regular programmatic grantmaking, and we disrupted our business-as-usual grantmaking practices to provide rapid response support to communities in most need. The grants provided targeted support in four areas: Racial Justice Field Support with a focus on Combatting Anti-Blackness, Self-Determination of Indigenous Peoples, Public Health Equity and Covid-19 Mitigation and Recovery, and an Equitable Housing Demonstration Project.

Staff throughout the Foundation collaborated in new ways alongside external advisors; as a result, 63 percent of the Equitable Recovery grantee organizations were first-time MacArthur awardees. We aimed to deploy funds quickly and to reduce red tape, some of these practices have rolled into our ongoing programs. We are particularly proud of how we centered grantee voices and trust, which came through in our evaluation in June 2023.

MacArthur places a strong emphasis on learning and accountability across all program areas. Could you share one key message or insight you’ve gleaned from your internal evaluation and learning journey that might help grantmakers on a similar path?

As part of our commitment to learning, we have been collecting demographic data from our U.S.-based grantees and impact investees. We know this helps better understand the organizations we fund and align our grantmaking with our values

Among some of the challenges in this process, we have found that there is much less data on the LGBTQ+ community and on disability status than other data collection on sex/gender and race/ethnicity. In some international contexts, we would not be able to pose questions around the LGBTQ+ community because of criminalization. Some of the reasons for not collecting data were that it is not legally required and there was concern for violating confidentiality. 

We’ve found this is a common challenge funders face. Even with an active internal LGBTQ+ Affinity group, in MacArthur’s own Staff demographic data, 58 percent of Staff did not respond to LGBTQ+ identification questions. We are asking questions around how these insights affect our grantmaking and how we might address the data gap. 

Is there any specific initiative or project your grantees are spearheading in the LGBTQ space, or otherwise, that you would like to highlight?

LGBTQ+ issues are part of the intersectional considerations within many of our programmatic grantmaking strategies. In the Criminal Justice program, our work considers the disproportionate impact of incarceration, and research shows criminalization and discrimination push LGBTQ+ people into incarceration

Our Journalism and Media program works to include more just and inclusive narratives, addressing barriers to creating and participating in media making. Organizations are telling stories about queer lives, like TransLash Media amplifying trans voices; and Sisters in Cinema challenging homophobia; and the Southern Documentary Fund helping filmmakers show “there are queer communities in many rural and southern places that are vibrant and lively.”

We were proud to host our annual Funding Forward conference in Chicago at the end of 2023, providing an opportunity to delve deeper into the city and the incredible work unfolding across the Midwest! What lesson have you personally learned from your engagement in Chicago? Additionally, what aspect of your work in the city are you most proud of?

We have a deep commitment to racial equity in our work in Chicago and are proud of the work we’ve done to build on trust-based philanthropy with participatory grantmaking and other practices. We are learning that a progress toward racial equity is incremental, and it requires a long-term commitment. 

And we are working to increase our work with LGBTQ+ communities in Chicago. We worked with the Lighthouse Foundation recently to support the Black Queer Equity Index convening process: it is a Black LGBTQ+ community-led participatory action research project to evaluate nonprofit cultures for Black LGBTQ+ staff and board members. This kind of work yields collaborations and clear action steps.

What’s a fun fact about the MacArthur Foundation that you don’t think enough people know?

We have been making grants for over 40 years, and in that time, creativity has been a consistent theme of our work. Many people know us best for the MacArthur Fellowship, which recognizes exceptional creativity, inspires countless people, and captures the imagination. 

Much of our work is more understated and equally impactful and important. By way of example, one of these things, which you probably encounter everyday online, is the Creative Commons. Between 2002 and 2015, MacArthur invested more than $3 million to help establish and grow Creative Commons, providing free, easy-to-use copyright licenses that offer a simple and standardized way to give the public permission to share and use creative work. This kind of support, often in the background, through policy and social practice, lays the foundation to catalyze new ideas, art, and projects beyond the initial investment.

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