Justice Is A Verb

By Pia InfantePosted under What is a Justice Funder?

December Mo(u)rning


It’s December 1st and I remain shaken to the core that yet another officer and yet another police department are not being held institutionally accountable for the murder of yet another unarmed black youth – this time in #Ferguson, Missouri.  Simultaneously, I am heartened and fired up at the profound galvanization of the #blacklivesmatter efforts – some of whom are meeting with the White House today.   I guess that is where my definition of justice stems from this morning.  It may also be that I attended the closing night of Party People, and am awash in the voices and images of Black Panthers and Young Lords who fought and died for justice in the 60’s and 70’s – and how that legacy continues to be lived, because the same inequities persist, today.


For me, justice is about action – actions towards creating equity that can be demonstrated and named.  It is in our actions that equity can be created in a philanthropic system that exists inherently because inequity persists.


Equity in Practice

At The Whitman Institute, we believe that investing in equity requires that our giving practices demonstrate equity.

Based on a decade of practice and feedback, we have learned that the following approaches create deep trust and authentic partnership with grantees.  Our grantee partners, in third party and self-conducted evaluation, have expressed that our investment in deep, mutual, authentic partnership in and of itself engenders an experience of equity. 

While we are still honing this characterization of our approach, we have come up with the following set of practices that form the foundation of our approach to funding towards equity, and justice.  The order reflects the priorities of our core grantees we recently polled.

Nine Key Practices of Trust-Based Investment  


Provide Unrestricted, Multi-Year Funding – There clearest way to demonstrate trust is to rely on the grantee to determine the best use of its resources. Unrestricted funding also kindles the freedom to learn, adapt and take risks. It is critical in supporting an organization’s sustainability and effectiveness.

Partner in a Spirit of Service – We enter collaborations with humility by listening first and responding directly to the needs of our partners.  Universally, they have much more knowledge of their work, fields and challenges than we do.  We place ourselves shoulder to shoulder, not ahead of, our grantee partners as we iterate and learn, together.

Support Beyond the Check – We are committed to offering support beyond money if our grantees see it as helpful, and there is not expectation or provision requiring grantees to receive support beyond the check.  Some of the ways we do this include opening doors; highlighting their leadership and work; being a sounding board and source of advice; providing spaces for reflection; connecting and convening; and generally, being of service where needed to bolster leadership and organizational capacity.

Offer Open and Responsive Communication – Our two Co-Executive Directors, who are also Trustees, operate with an open door policy.  We acknowledge and send requests in timely ways so as not to surprise or overburden our partners, who are busy changing the world. 

We Do the Homework – The burden of proof in determining whether a leader and organization is a good fit for our portfolio is on us.  We do the footwork and conduct the due diligence before inviting leaders to invest their time and attention.

Solicit and Act on Feedback – We actively partner with leaders and organizations whose work models relationship, dialogue, and equity in ways that inspire and inform our own. We also regularly solicit, reflect on, and take action on feedback from our grantees. 

Encourage Transparency – We have empathy for the messy and complex inner workings of teams and organizations; we don’t want our grantees to have to pretend that change strategies are perfect or team dynamics are seamless. Consequently, we strive to model transparency in ways that minimize power dynamics and move the work forward.

Simplify and Streamline Paperwork – We seek to minimize our digital and paper footprint with grantees, and are generally quite satisfied with proposals and reports crafted for other funders.  We also look for opportunities to consolidate our respective due diligence efforts.

Host Restorative Retreats – Of the number of ways we offer support beyond the check, our grantees have lifted up the value of our retreats.  We convene current (and some previous) grantees along with like-hearted funders and capacity builders to harness inspiration and renewal; encourage cross-sector connection; build and strengthen relationships; support peer learning; and encourage self-organized collaboration of all kinds.

These practices reflect for me the notion that in order to get closer to justice, our daily actions must connect our values and vision for a just society.  Justice is both a state of being and visible action – it is a noun and, as the #Ferguson organizing that has erupted nationwide tells us, indomitably a verb.



Pia Infante is the Co-Executive Director of The Whitman Institute (TWI), having been a part of the TWI staff family for 10 years.  Pia was the Director of Organizational Partnerships at Rockwood Leadership Institute for 3.5 years prior to this new post – conducting capacity building initiatives for nationally recognized social justice movement leaders and organizations.