Eileen Farbman’s 30-year philanthropic journey began with a focus on issues facing women, from domestic violence to human trafficking. As she became closer to the problems and saw families navigate the prison system, she began to realize how the systems were stacked against communities of color. She also began to recognize that nonprofit leadership was often white, yet serving Black and Brown communities. With this knowledge, Farbman’s giving continues to support issues facing women with a strong focus on movement building and advancing racial and gender justice. In fact, she has made a priority supporting organizations and efforts led by Black women and other women of color.
Now, Farbman, and her son Leo, — who has followed his mother’s activism and philanthropy efforts as both a lawyer and next-gen donor — are encouraging others to join them in funding the Movement for Black Lives (M4BL). Through the Kolibri Foundation (the family’s foundation), the Farbmans have made a 10-year commitment to the platform, but acknowledge that their gift is only a small fraction of what’s needed to make real progress. As more donors begin to recognize the intersection of racial equity across all issues — from the environment to education — the Farbmans hope that their story will inspire others to take real action.
The Farbmans recently spoke to Giving Compass about their own awakening to white privilege, centering racial equity in their giving, and their advice to other donors. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Learn about the Movement for Black Lives.
Why did you decide to make a long-term commitment to the Movement for Black Lives? What led you there?
Eileen: [In my earlier philanthropic work], what was really striking to me was how broken the systems were and how the systems were competing with each other and not really helping communities of color. This led me to realize that change was critical and the only answer for me was to deepen my funding of Black-led organizations. They really know the answers for their community. They understand the unmet needs.
[In a recent funders call], M4BL asked for generational and legacy funding and we really wanted to step into this moment. We truly believe in trust-based funding and long-term funding is truly about building a base and an infrastructure for real change. We knew that this wasn’t going to be possible if we just gave a small short-term gift.
Leo: My mom and I had conversations about what we both learned working on the service side in mostly white-led organizations, and it became more clear that solutions had to come from those of the same community. That’s when we dived into funding Black organizing. Solutions had to come from people who saw the whole spectrum.
We leaned into listening and trusting what [M4BL] asked for. We felt we were in a place where we can help fortify that network and build a foundation. Movement for Black Lives is particularly positioned to receive a large gift and hopefully repair the past and build a more beautiful future for all of us.
Who are you learning from? What are you learning?
EF: We’ve been on a learning journey for the last year or longer as we try to create a foundation and decide the most true way we want to show up in our grant-making. In addition to learning from Solidaire, we’ve been learning from a variety of wonderful movement leaders and we’ve been trying to de-center ourselves and cede power in all of our conversations. We are in a constant study of our unconscious bias and our white class privilege. We are trying to be extremely mindful and accountable.
LF: I’ve gotten involved with Resource Generation, which organizes young folks with class privilege. There’s a need to study and there’s a need to listen. White class privilege leads us to wanting to be the first and last voice in any meeting. That’s an ongoing learning that we’re figuring out.
What kind of change/outcomes are you hoping to see?
EF: We’re hoping to create this model so people can look at this and realize it’s an important thing to do — and provide long-term support for M4BL where they can reach a point in time where they don’t have to worry about paying their employees, they have an infrastructure that’s built, and they can support their ecosystem.
LF: I’d like to see the building of a more inclusive world, socially, economically, and environmentally. That will take way more than 10 years, so we’d like to see more high-net wealth folks, family philanthropy, and white folks join us and grapple with our involvement in this. I want to see more people leaning into what reparations mean, and sitting with those uncomfortable questions. The more movement we can see around that and the more money that’s being moved, and the more respect that’s being offered, I think the more change we can see.
What do you want other donors to know? What guidance would you give?
EF: Take a look at M4BL’s policy platforms and learn about the issues, like defunding the police. When you unpack what that actually means, it’s much more palatable to people. Once this moment passes and it’s no longer in the headlines, we need people to still understand why it’s really important to fund M4BL’s ecosystems and all of the collectives that they work with. Having a better understanding is critically important.
LF: There’s still a lot of anti-Blackness and people questioning [the movement]. M4BL is still very underfunded. Practice moving money that makes you uncomfortable. It doesn’t have to be perfect. M4BL isn’t about one charismatic leader. This is 130-plus organizations that are figuring out what the Black community needs and deserves. Trust in that.