Monday, February 13, 2012

The Insider: Susan Taylor Batten, President & CEO, Association of Black Foundation Executives

In 2011, the Association of Black Foundation Executives (ABFE) celebrated 40 years of promoting effective and responsive philanthropy in Black communities. Founded in 1971 as a working group, the organization has grown into an independent membership organization that counts among its members the most influential African American staff, trustees and donors of grant making institutions. ABFE’s role in black philanthropy is an important one, as grant making for minorities have not kept with the pace of our nation's changing demographics despite the many disparities facing communities of color. To address this, their work aims to increase grant making addressing African American issues, identify priority issues in Black communities and make recommendations for strategic philanthropic investments to address those issues, and providing leadership, training and networking activities for members.

Ms. Batten is primed for her role as President and CEO, possessing more than twenty years of experience in directing, evaluating and advising both public and foundation-related efforts to improve outcomes for children, youth and families. Prior to joining ABFE, Batten was a Senior Associate with the Annie E. Casey Foundation, where she coordinated a portfolio on Equity, Diversity and Inclusion. In that role, she worked across the Foundation to strengthen its focus on addressing racial disparities in its grant making. She is a member of Hispanics in Philanthropy, serves as an Advisory Board Member to the Diversity in Philanthropy Project, and is Co-Chair of the Steering Committee for The Partnership for Prince George's County, Maryland.

Today, under Batten’s leadership, ABFE is heading into new directions. The organization has announced the launch of two new areas of work: Leverage the Trust, which aims to engage 100 Black foundation trustees in activities related to effective and responsive grant making in Black communities, and engaging Black investment managers, who are critical donors themselves, in the field of philanthropy. ABFE is also deepening their work to improve outcomes of Black men and boys by launching a Black Male Funders Learning and Action Network.

Read on to learn how Ms. Batten got her start in philanthropy, how ABFE plans to address trends emerging in black philanthropy, her thoughts on diversity and inclusion in the philanthropic sector, and how celebrity foundations will play a part in ABFE’s upcoming conference.

Hometown: Hempstead, New York
Education: Bachelor of Arts, English and Political Science, Fisk University; Masters of Social Work, Howard University
Honors/Awards: ABFE Connecting Leaders Fellowship, 2005; Schott Foundation for Public Education Change Agent of the Year, 2009

How did you get your start in philanthropy?

While I have always been in the helping profession, my early career was in public service both at the federal and local level. In the mid 1990’s, I was contacted by a search firm looking for talent for a nonprofit consulting group who primarily worked with foundations to plan and document initiatives serving children and families. I was hesitant to leave my “good government job,” but I was curious about the way in which the philanthropic sector could facilitate policy and action in this country to improve outcomes for kids – helping children has always been my primary interest.

The consulting experience at the Center for Assessment and Policy Development (CAPD) provided me with the opportunity to work with several of the large national and corporate foundations here in the U.S. My impressions about how organized philanthropy works with and on behalf of vulnerable children and their families were not all good! Two bold foundation engagements stood out for me during my time at CAPD. One was an effort called Project Change funded by the Levi Strauss Foundation to alleviate the impact of racism…not poverty, but racism… in five communities across the country. That effort was an early insight for me on the potential role and power of foundations on issues of racial equity. The second were a set of current and planned initiatives funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation on family and neighborhood strengthening – these efforts were built on principles of community leadership and engagement. I was offered and accepted a position with Annie E. Casey in 1999.

What led you to take the position as the President & CEO of ABFE?

My experience at the Annie E. Casey Foundation was an amazing learning opportunity that connected me with people, ideas and solutions that work for vulnerable children. I was fortunate to join a foundation that had a diverse staff, many of whom were strong advocates for racial and social justice. Five years into my nine year tenure at Casey, I took a position as a Senior Associate on Equity, Diversity and Inclusion to work with program staff and grantees on strategies to reduce racial disparities. While the work was challenging, it taught me that there are more allies in the field of philanthropy than we probably know. This was also around the time that I received my ABFE Fellowship that connected me to professional development and nine African American leaders in my peer group – together we had the sense that we could make things happen! When the ABFE CEO position opened up, I thought it would provide an opportunity to work with more foundations that were willing to lead on issues of race and in particular, to be explicit about support to Black communities. I stepped out on faith!

What trends are emerging in black philanthropy and how will ABFE address them?

One of my interests while at ABFE is to contribute to the development of new and recent research on Black giving; unfortunately, the data is scant. That said, we know that our long history of giving is still strong – according to the Federal Reserve 2007 Report on Consumer Finances, Blacks gave more than 12 billion dollars to various charitable causes. The economic recession hit us hard; the Black community lost millions in assets and wealth due to foreclosures and we have yet to see the impact. But the fact remains that Blacks give more of their discretionary income than any other group.

We are also watching the growth and new visibility of Black giving circles through groups like the Community Investment Network. For this reason, ABFE is reaching out beyond our primary audience of foundations to support the work of Black donors. We also know that important resources are moving through long-standing civic organizations like the Links, the Masons, fraternities and sororities. For this reason, ABFE will do more to ensure these groups are privy to the investment strategies and lessons learned that colleagues in foundations have access to regarding Black communities. This includes informing donors on foundation strategies and lessons learned to reduce racial disparities in public systems (education, justice, child welfare, etc.); initiatives that support sub-population groups (Black men and boys, Black families); building the next generation of Black leaders and supporting Black-led and/or serving organizations. We plan to do more networking, showing-up at other organization’s events and targeted outreach for our convenings and consulting in the field.

What are your thoughts on equity, diversity and inclusion in the philanthropic sector?

This is the core of our work and it’s important to say that progress has been made yet there is so much more work to do. We know that the foundation leaders do not reflect the diversity of this country and the browning of America over the next several years will widen this gap. Many foundations want to support vulnerable communities; communities of color disproportionately suffer poor outcomes and available data suggests that communities of color are underfunded and few foundations actually identify communities of color as a focus in their missions or grant making guidelines.

This April, ABFE will host its 41st annual conference in Los Angeles. What are some of the sessions planned?

We are excited about our upcoming conference in April - our theme this year is Responsive Philanthropy in Black Communities: Mobilizing our Resources for Community Impact. As described earlier, we are interested in organizing a broad philanthropic movement to improve outcomes for Black communities and plan to have a different mix of colleagues convene in Los Angeles. For example, as part of our Leverage the Trust Campaign, we will have a track tailored specifically to Black foundation trustees – a critical leadership group that we have not connected with in an intentional way. We also will have tailored workshops for regionally-based civic organizations as well as representatives from celebrity and athletic foundations. These groups will join our primary audience of foundation executives for a set of training, professional development and networking opportunities.

We will feature our ongoing Conference activities like our James A. Joseph Lecture and Awards Programs on Excellence in Philanthropy as well as our Insight Forum where we will hear from the Black Philanthropic Network of regional Black philanthropic associations from around the country. Don’t miss Los Angeles!

What is one of the greatest career lessons you've learned? There are so many lessons! I just always tried to make my Mom and Dad proud; to build on the work of our ancestors. That means, always do your best….that’s really all we can do! And keep an eye on those coming up after you looking for support.

ABFE 2012 Conference & Awards Program
ABFE is currently accepting nominations for its 2012 Annual Awards Program that will be presented at the conference, April 27-29 in Los Angeles. The deadline date to submit nominations for the James A. Joseph Lecture on Philanthropy, the Emerging Leader in Philanthropy Award, and the Institutional Award for Philanthropic Leadership is February 14.

To learn more about ABFE, submit a nomination, or register for the conference, visit

1 comment:

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