Dennis Quirin’s philanthropic work changes young people’s lives, and the world they will inherit, for the better.
Dennis Quirin ’95 is in the business of creating a better world for young people. The executive director of the Raikes Foundation in Seattle, he inspires and oversees ambitious efforts to fund organizations devoted to reshaping public education, ending youth homelessness, and supporting impact-driven philanthropy for equity and systems change.
“We envision a society where race, socioeconomic status, gender, and sexual orientation will no longer predict life outcomes for young people,” he says, “and where individuals can reach their full potential, and prosperity is widely shared.”
One of the most influential leaders in philanthropy in the United States, Quirin received Carleton’s College Alumni Association Award for Distinguished Achievement in 2020. He is also the first Black executive director of the Raikes Foundation.
“I’m thrilled the field of philanthropy is becoming more diverse as we move forward in our work,” he says. “Our sector must reflect the reality of the U.S.; it must look like our communities if we are ever to succeed in building a more equitable world.”
Founded in 2002, the Raikes Foundation has awarded grants to organizations such as the National Equity Project, which supports school districts, governmental organizations, and foundations focused on creating just communities; and The Mockingbird Society, which is focused on reforming the foster care system. In August 2020, a year after he joined Raikes, Quirin formed the foundation’s Black Leadership & Power Fund, awarding $1 million in grants to organizations committed to stamping out racism.
“[The foundation] had been investing in racial equity a few years before I came on, but it hadn’t funded this work in the community in a more targeted way,” Quirin explains. Inspired by the power fund’s success, the foundation is now launching the Resourcing Equity & Democracy grantmaking portfolio.
Raised by a Black-immigrant mother and a white father in Minneapolis, Quirin lived in student housing (Dad was getting his PhD), and played with kids from a wide range of backgrounds. At age eight, when the family moved to the moresegregated Nashville, Quirin stood out—“a stranger in a strange land,” as he puts it—and saw how other people of color were unfairly treated.
“It wasn’t until college that I sat more deeply with what it means to be a biracial Black man,” he says. Majoring in art at Carleton, Quirin joined the Men of Color group and started a club for multiracial students. “Carleton created a safe space for youth to explore their identities,” he says. “And a liberal arts degree exposed me to a wide variety of concepts, ideas, histories, and ways of thinking at a formative time in my life. I left there with the tools to navigate a complicated world, the resilience to overcome complicated experiences, and the insight to know I wanted to help others get unstuck in their own life journeys.”
After a string of corporate-sector jobs, Quirin received a fellowship at Public Allies, which supports underrepresented, young-adult leaders. The experience introduced him to nonprofits working for social change in Los Angeles and around the country. “I saw communities linking arms and fighting causes together,” he says. For the next two decades, he supported various social- and racial-equity initiatives, as an organizer, funder, campaigner, and fundraiser. From 2013 to 2019, he was president of Neighborhood Funders Group, an association of grantmaking institutions for Black, indigenous, people of color, and low-income communities.
“Dennis exemplifies integrity, compassion, and humility and inspires others to take a similar orientation to their work as he keeps his eye on the prize—improving material conditions for communities of color and other underserved people,” says Archana Sahgal, president of Hyphen Partnerships, a facilitator of public philanthropic initiatives,
To see community members learn and show up for one another fuels Quirin and helps him face sometimes steep odds. “Their dedication motivates me to continue working for organizations like the Raikes Foundation, where we listen to the lived experience of those affected by America’s broken systems, in dire need of redesign, to better support young people and advocate for policies that will empower them.” Along with those broken systems, the biggest challenge Quirin sees is that “America’s democracy is eroding before our eyes. We can’t fix the dysfunctional systems within it until we have a strong, representative, and multiracial government.
“I would encourage everyone to go beyond their comfort zones and connect with the everyday people impacted by economic, social, and racial injustice in America. Listening to these communities, learning from their experiences, and building empathy for each other is the first step towards a more equitable future. The next step is investing your time and resources.”