Many Haitian community-based organizations in NYC have been successful at serving their clients. But are they at a loss with funders preferring larger or non-Haitian populations?
In New York State, Black women are at least four times more likely to die from pregnancy compared with their white counterparts in 2019. In New York City, women born in Haiti had the highest rates of maternal mortality.
This reality has persisted for decades. Yet resources, specifically for Haitian women, have been hard to come by to address pregnancy-related deaths.
“Although there were a lot of resources and funding and programming being developed to address this [issue of maternal morbidity], there was a huge gap in both engagement and access for those who speak Kreyòl or French,” said Dr. Christina Pardo, a clinical assistant professor at SUNY Downstate Health Sciences University in Brooklyn.
“It was quite visible that there was not the same level of awareness, and they just didn’t have the same programming language access — which is why we started the program,” Pardo said.
In her capacity as deputy director for Life of Hope, a service organization based in Brooklyn’s Flatbush neighborhood, Pardo decided to do something about it. In 2021, she founded and oversaw the Haitian Women’s Birth Equity, under the Central Brooklyn Immigrant Women’s Health Initiative. Funded by Elevance Health, the $531,000 initiative aimed to serve 4,500 participants.
Part of why she was approved, Pardo said, is because the program serves Haitians and other pregnant women living in the area who need these same services.
“When you focus too much on a specific group language or culture, you have a less likelihood of receiving the funding because it’s not expansive enough,” Pardo said. “[When funders] may see or hear that you’re only focusing on the Haitian community, that – in itself – is a barrier when trying to attain funding.”
The existence and success of Haitian Women’s Birth Equity are testaments to the strides that Haitian-led community organizations have made to serve the needs of their core clients — Haitians. But when it comes to attracting institutional donors, Haitian Women’s Birth Equity, like other nonprofits representing a specific population, is forced to ignore the specific issues such as language and culture. Instead, they must address a more generalized concern that numerous populations share, such as maternal morbidity, but without funds to truly fix some of the specific causes.
Minority-led, including Haitian-led, organizations appear hamstrung to find funds proportional to the communities they serve. The “generalization of a problem” is only one of the reasons contributing to the inequity, according to research by the Association of Black Fundraising Executives (ABFE), Haitian Times interviews with municipal agencies, nonprofits experts and leaders of Haitian-led nonprofits.
Other reasons for funding inequity include organizations’ limited resources, philanthropists’ lack of familiarity with communities and certain specifics of grant requirements, which include how a nonprofit describes its project. And, generally, situations that distance philanthropists from Black-led nonprofit organizations.
Grant writing requires certain wording
Research by the ABFE, summarized in 2019, provided aggregate data in its report, “The Case for Funding Black-Led Social Change. Redlining by Another Name: What the Data Says to Move from Rhetoric to Action.” Many of the report’s conclusions supported anecdotal evidence noted by other individuals and organizations interviewed for this article and The Haitian Times’ difficulty in accessing copies of grant applications, tax documents and a general openness to share grant experiences.
“Several of the Black-led organization leaders, who participated in this scan, expressed concerns about the physical safety of themselves, their respective staff, board and supporters; digital and intellectual safety concerns that could cripple their abilities to function effectively; and fears of losing existing and/or future opportunities for funding due to sharing their data and experiences,” said the ABFE report.
Key to grants are language and reporting
“It’s totally a mismatch between the framing of how they see their grantmaking on the foundation side, or it’s a problem that the nonprofit side tries to solve,” said Els de Graauw, associate professor of political science at City University of New York’s Baruch College.
If the community thinks of the problem as one that specifically affects Haitian immigrants, then it’s up to the nonprofits to determine how they can frame the problem, not so much with more “expansive” language, but, perhaps, with words that are more “strategic,” de Graauw said. Applicants must be able to show the need and best practices to meet that need and write grant applications in a way that meets funders’ criteria.
“Black-led organizations and people of color-led organizations are denied access to funding due to eligibility, staffing, and/or grant monitoring requirements that are either unattainable or arduous,” said the ABFE report and cited the existence of “Philanthropic Black Codes.”
These codes are written and unwritten policies and practices, like surprise monitoring visits and multiple grantee meetings in a calendar year, that funders use to ensure grantees are compliant with the terms of the grant.
Funders unaware of size, details of Haitian needs
The balancing act creates a persistent conundrum for Haitian communities, whose need for language access is one of nine major issues plaguing Haitian New Yorkers. Another appears to be that the funding model is not keeping pace with the community’s growth as Haiti’s perennial socio-political crises continue to push its citizens toward the U.S. for a better life.
Haitian immigrants continue to arrive in the U.S. The Biden Administration’s humanitarian parole process for Haitians, Nicaraguans, Cubans and Venezuelans brought more newcomers to the area when it went into effect Jan. 6. Families turned to community resources to seek assistance.
“The Haitian population is not shrinking, it is growing exponentially,” said Georges Fouron, a researcher and professor of education and social sciences at SUNY Stony Brook. “Those who rely on the Census to assess the size of the Haitian population in the NY region are greatly mistaken.”
In the last census, many Haitians did not fill out the forms for a variety of reasons — trust in the government, illiteracy, and lack of documentation. Plus, there is the emergence of the third and fourth generations of Haitians in the U.S.
“Many of them, for many reasons, identify themselves as African Americans,” Fouron said.
Since funding is so largely based on numbers, not only should the Census be more accurate in its ethnic data, but more education on those discrepancies is needed for both donors and the public.
New York City’s Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs, for instance, recognizes 52 languages spoken in the city. The agency offers a webpage listing resources for immigrant New Yorkers in Kreyòl. Only some parts are in Kreyòl, and many links, such as Learn English, send users to a site with no Kreyòl translation. Such is the case as well for Chinese and Spanish, two of the city’s major languages.
Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs doesn’t track ethnic status, according to agency spokesperson Shaina Colonel. To determine the level of funding Haitians have received and how that compares with other ethnicities, Colonel referred The Haitian Times to the office’s numerous press releases during the last five years to determine the tally.
That’s why funders often turn to community-based organizations that know their clients.
Pardo understands that aspect of funding, saying it’s hard for any institution or group to adequately help a community if it lacks the awareness of a specific community’s needs.
“Once you’re from a community, you understand how to engage and how others receive, how they’re more likely to agree or to participate or understand what’s available to them,” Pardo said.
Life of Hope’s Haitian Women’s Birth Initiative first received funding based on public data. It showed the community has language and cultural barriers, Pardo said. Its grant application to Elevance Health to extend the program, however, didn’t refer to the Haitian immigrant community or the difficulties that resulted because mothers in the community didn’t speak or read English.
Eighteen months into the program, the Haitian Women’s Birth Initiative provides maternal and prenatal support, supplies, education, and referrals to and from other organizations. The birth initiative has served clients referred from every hospital in Brooklyn. Haitian families have also called from places such as the Bronx, Long Island and even Connecticut — locations miles away from Brooklyn.
Funders ‘hesitate to embrace’ hot-button topics
Grantmakers look in terms of problems they’re seeking to solve. Foundations help organizations provide services to senior citizens or schooling issues or youth — problems experienced by a range of different communities, de Graauw said.
As a result, the grantors may want the organization to expand its clientele, which can be challenging. While Haitian nonprofits provide language capacity and expert cultural knowledge to new families in the area, opening their services to more people doesn’t necessarily translate to Mexican or Chinese immigrants and their families.
Moreover, immigration remains a political hot button.
“Grassroots groups are the beating heart of the pro-immigrant and pro-refugee movement. They organize community defense, provide critical services and strengthen the power to win local fights that shape the country,” reports the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy in a 2022 brief.
National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy found that the pro-immigrant, pro-refugee movement’s share of all foundation grants shrank 11% since DACA, an immigration protection relief, was introduced in 2012.
“A lot of foundations are, I think, hesitant to fully embrace immigration,” said de Graauw, whose recent research examines immigrants and their reception, media coverage, services and rights.
Other granting characteristics don’t serve Haitians and others
In addition, foundations change their funding priorities every three to five years, said de Graauw, which he added requires yet another level of flexibility on the part of organizations to remain operable.
Nonprofit organizations serving people of color experience greater financial difficulties than those groups that serve whites because they face more challenges with resource development.
Lastly, it’s been documented that Black-led organizations receive less philanthropic funding than white-led groups.
“While there is an uptick in racial equity related retooling of foundations through trainings of personnel and the reframing of organizational policies and practices, there has yet to be a comparable increase in the levels of funding to Black-led or other people of color-led organizations,” said the ABFE report.
That’s why Abundance, an effort to help grantmakers fund Black-led nonprofits, is in the works in the Chicago area. In addition, board and staff members at the James Irvine Foundation, recognized, they had not made “racial equity an explicit priority.” As a result, they spent 18 months in racial-equity training and discussion to be able to take a stronger stance in their strategy and outreach.
Pardo has felt some uncategorizable difference while appealing to funders for Haitian-based projects.
“There’s just something, when you mention the Haitian community, where there is maybe a defensive response or an apprehension,” Pardo said. “There’s always kind of some stigma around the Haitian community.”
Read other stories in our year-long series about nonprofit organizations serving Haitians in New York City: “Community study reveals major needs,” “Servicing Haitian New Yorkers,” “HAUP strives to respond,” “Lack of funds, a common struggle.”