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Liberty Hill Foundation Pushes for Higher Social Justice Standards

December 05, 2018

Liberty Hill Foundation's approach over the last forty years has been to ask grassroots community organizing leaders, "How can we help?"

NCRP-2013logo-color-no-taglineStaff would do what communities asked of them, providing general operating support and multiyear funding, when possible, and stepping back so that community organizers could take the lead.

This is why Liberty Hill won an NCRP Impact Award in 2013; its grantee partners have won important policy and social victories, including passage of the California Domestic Workers Bill of Rights.

But, recently, the foundation has acknowledged the extent of its power and influence and made a conscious decision to leverage it more aggressively.

In the wake of the 2016 election, Liberty Hill staff observed that many of their allies were overwhelmed and feeling pressure to respond to the onslaught of policy and social threats to their communities. They knew that defending the gains made by progressive social movements was important, but they also knew that being in Los Angeles made it easier to secure gains that weren't possible in other parts of the country.

Liberty Hill staff engaged board members, donors, grantees, and other allies to discuss how, beyond, funding, it could strategically support the work of progressive nonprofits in Los Angeles.

The resulting Agenda for a Just Future aims to:

  • End youth incarceration as we know it.
  • Fight for a roof over every head.
  • Eliminate oil drilling near homes and schools.

The foundation does not compete with its grantees but instead looks for ways to exercise its power in roles that support grantees. For example, it has organized pooled funds to advance policy initiatives. Foundation staff have met with the editorial board of the Los Angeles Times to influence the coverage of issues that are important to grantees. And staff are working to leverage longstanding relationships with public officials, advocate around grantee issues, and organize wealthy progressive philanthropists to move more of their funds to grassroots groups.

The foundation's long-term investment in building relationships with grassroots leaders makes it easier for it to be effective in the face of urgent threats. It's also why community organizers are willing to provide forty hours of their time over a four-month period to serve on a community funding board and help Liberty Hill’s staff and board make grant decisions. While they can ask for reimbursement for their service, very few do. The advisory board, in turn, helps build accountability within the foundation and fosters stronger ties to and trust among members of the community.

Funders in communities less progressive than Los Angeles can have the same kind of impact by adopting two practices modeled by Liberty Hill:

  1. Invite grantees to inform your strategies, decisions, and practices via surveys, grantmaking and advisory boards, and ongoing conversations.
  2. Keep asking, "How can we help?" and use your foundation's power to play an advocacy role that complements your grantees' strategies.

Liberty Hill Foundation did not panic in the face of systemic attacks on the communities it is committed to serve. Instead, the foundation's leaders, informed by the deep relationships they had forged  over decades, made an honest assessment of the foundation's role in the social justice ecosystem in Los Angeles. Our current social and political climate requires other funders to do the same: recognize and step into your power and, in partnership with marginalized and underrepresented communities, use it to move our economic, legal, and educational systems toward greater equity.

Headshot_jeanne_islerJeanné L.L. Isler is vice president and chief engagement officer at the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy.

Comments

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Sweet. Still, wondering when funders are going to start connecting the dots on climate and climate justice. Shutting down oil drilling (and fracking operations) are only one piece of the puzzle here. Drawdown is equally critical. And supporting youth and communities to organize around actions to achieve climate justice will help support progress in other areas of traditional interest (public health, jobs, migration, etc.). Look at the growing interest in a Green New Deal. Listen to youth. Respect the power of nature and what the scientists are trying to communicate about the urgency of the issue. Donors need to start paying attention. We don't have time to waste.

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