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5 posts from May 2021

5 Questions for...Marisa Franco, Co-Founder/Executive Director, Mijente

May 31, 2021

Marisa Franco is co-founder and executive director of Mijente and the Mijente Support Committee, a Latinx and Chicanx advocacy organization and digital and grassroots organizing hub. Founded in 2015, Mijente's campaigns have resulted in a number of electoral victories, including the defeat of Maricopa County sheriff Joe Arpaio in 2016 and the mobilization of record numbers of Latinx voters in Georgia and other battleground states in the 2020 presidential election.

Prior to founding Mijente, Franco served as national campaign organizer for the National Day Laborer Organizing Network and as lead organizer for the Right to the City Alliance. Earlier this month, Franco was elected to the board of the Marguerite Casey Foundation.

PND spoke with Franco about the politics of immigration enforcement, police violence against people of color, and philanthropy's role in supporting social movements.

Headshot_marisa_franco_mijentePhilanthropy News Digest: Given the growth of the Latinx population in the United States over the last few decades, it's no surprise that Latinx voters are going to the polls in record numbers. From your perspective, what are the factors driving greater voter participation in the Latinx community? And what are some of the obstacles to even higher levels of participation?

Marisa Franco: So much attention was given to the 2020 elections, and Latinx people, across the political spectrum, were definitely impacted. Like many communities, Latinx folks were witness to both the actions of those in elected office during the pandemic and the accompanying economic crisis, and many turned out to vote as a result. It was also the year Latinx people became the largest "majority-minority" group in the United States and came into its own politically. That said, last year was a sort of snapshot of the good, bad, and ugly of where our community stands with respect to realizing its own political power, and there is still much work to be done to nurture and grow our voter engagement. The challenge, in my opinion, is that if Latinos and Latinas don't see real change in their own lives, they will not feel the need to vote.

PND: Earlier this year, Mijente and the We Are Home campaign launched Eyes on ICE: Truth & Accountability Forums, an initiative to collect testimonies that shed light on U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's current practices and policies, spotlight the stories of those who have organized to protest those practices and policies, and share solutions designed to address the worst abuses. How do you hope those testimonies will shape the Biden administration's immigration policies going forward?

MF: There is no question that immigrants were a primary target of the Trump administration. Biden campaigned to restore the soul of America — and immigrants undeniably should be included in that effort. With the Eyes on ICE campaign, we wanted to provide an outlet for people directly affected to register their experience with immigration officials. This information will be critical as the current administration reviews the scope and conduct of officials in the Department of Homeland Security. And, going forward, the participation and engagement of immigrant communities will be critical to undoing the harms of the past several years.

PND: The Mijente Support Committee's #NoTechForICE campaign calls "on every tech company that works with ICE to immediately halt its support for the agency." Are you seeing results from the campaign?

MF: Yes, we are seeing greater organizing efforts among tech workers, students, and shareholders. And it wouldn't have been possible if not for the research, advocacy, and campaigning we and our allies have done to bring public awareness to issues of surveillance. There is growing pressure across the globe to hold technology companies accountable for their actions, including companies that are positioning themselves inside the immigrant and criminal justice system; that is a key addition to the conversation around transparency and accountability.

PND: You've said the Marguerite Casey Foundation can help "seed the next iteration of social movement and organizing ecosystems" and lead the way forward for the philanthropic sector with respect to both supporting and operating with the same nimbleness as social movements. What would that look like? And what steps should foundations be taking to better align their strategies with the social movements they support?

MF: To me it looks like having a practice of being in dialogue and relationship with local leaders and organizations and developing a sense of emerging strategies and an organic network to local leaders. It is finding people doing good work and supporting them to do it better or at a larger scale.

PND: In your view, what should philanthropy be focused on with respect to Latinx communities? And what issues in the broader Latinx community are underfunded?

MF: Philanthropy has a lot of options it can choose from. One of our challenges at Mijente has been that at times it has felt like there are too many opportunities on the table. Youth are key, especially given that the average age of a Latinx person in the U.S. is approximately twenty-seven, making us one of the youngest demographic cohorts in the country. Because of what happened in the last election cycle, I also believe it's important to look at how we can counter mis- and disinformation directed at Latinx Spanish-speaking communities.

—Kyoko Uchida

The pain of leading while Black

May 25, 2021

Wright-GlobalProtestsGeorgeFloydIt's been a year since George Floyd was murdered by people who were supposed to protect and serve him.

I can spend time analyzing how the nonprofit sector has — or hasn't — changed since then; but there are plenty of others who will do that in the coming days. Instead, I have been reflecting on what it means to lead a national organization centering racial justice as a Black woman moving through a world in which my Black skin could get me killed for merely existing.

The reality is, I walk through the world scared for my life, my child, and my man. We are George. Ahmaud. Sandra. Tamir. Even Ma'Khia. The pain never ends. Today, the video of Ronald Greene's torture at the hands of police has been making the rounds. And even in those rare moments when supposed "justice" is served, I am forced to sit back and witness others continue to justify the murders of people who look like me.

The weight of this compounded trauma is crushing me, and other Black leaders, too.

There is no handbook on how to lead while reliving trauma. It's not even talked about much outside of "Black spaces." And while philanthropy has been talking more about anti-racism and anti-oppressive practices, I've seen very little to show me that the sector understands what leading through this pain looks like, feels like, and sounds like.

So much of the anti-racism work in our sector focuses on moving white-led organizations to center Black people and their voices. But then what? Are we actually changing the dynamics of the industry or simply putting a new face on the same problem? As the first Black executive director of re:power, I can assure you, we don't have this figured out yet.

I am trying to create a new reality for people like me — not only in our impact work but also within my organization, and so are many of my fellow executive directors of color across the country. We are all trying to answer an impossible question: How do we lead when faced with the never-ending and persistent trauma we are experiencing in America?

Truth moment: when George Floyd's murderer was convicted, I took the day off and spent most of it crying on my bedroom floor. I shared this truth with my staff and asked them to prioritize their own peace as well. We are all very busy, often stretched, but we were quiet that day. And I think we're better for it.

What has become increasingly clear for me is this: if I don't invest in my own self-care as a Black woman executive, I can't effectively lead my organization to do its important work. When I have ignored what I need to do to take care of myself, my pain is multiplied — and is also transferred onto the folks closest to me, including my staff.

Taking my time to protect my peace is not a selfish act. It is an act of self-preservation and resistance. 

The smartest thing any executive director of color can do right now is take the time necessary to give our organizations the leader they need. Philanthropy can and should help by acknowledging that Leading While Black presents unique challenges to those who do it and addressing those challenges in its funding priorities.

Ask leaders of color what they need to take care of themselves right now, not just what they need to continue the work. Seeing our humanity should be part of your work as an anti-racist philanthropic institution. Philanthropy is focused on creating big impact, changing the material conditions of people who look like me through large-scale policy reforms and power-building. But how do leaders like me, who identify as a member of one of the "marginalized groups" we serve, fit into the picture?

If the philanthropic community wants to see real change and support the centering of Black folks within our sector, we can't forget about those who are tasked with leading the way.

Heashot_karundi williamsKarundi Williams is the executive director of re:power, a national training and capacity-building organization focused on racial justice. re:power trains primarily Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) leaders and organizers who are reclaiming their power for radical change.

How trust-based values can transform philanthropy

May 21, 2021

PhilanTopic_hands_collaboration_trust_GettyImages_Prostock-StudioWinston Churchill is credited with being the first to say, "Never let a good crisis go to waste." While the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in immeasurable pain and suffering, it has also inspired action around how philanthropy can better address global crises in the future. At the start of the pandemic, more than eight hundred philanthropic organizations agreed to provide greater flexibility to and eliminate administrative barriers for their grantees. With a pandemic raging, funders who signed the pledge recognized they needed to act swiftly and to lean into the expertise of their nonprofit partners. By committing to the values of trust-based philanthropy, an approach to giving that seeks to address the inherent power imbalances between funders, nonprofits, and the communities they serve, the signatories to the pledge agreed to put faith in and share power with those hardest hit by the crisis.

As the world begins to emerge from the pandemic, the philanthropic community must resist the urge to return to the status quo. The need for such a pledge underscored the reality that funders need to do more to make their grantmaking accessible, equitable, and empowering for grassroots leaders. And they can do that by moving to a trust-based philanthropy model.

I know firsthand the power of trust and service. Before taking the helm at The Pollination Project, a micro-granting organization that provides funds to community leaders in support of early-stage projects, I spent a decade as a monk. Four values guided my daily life during that time: faith, humility, relationship, and service. All four show up in the trust-based philanthropy model and offer a framework for how funders — and our grantee partners — can better solve the global challenges of today, and tomorrow.

Here's how those values can reshape philanthropy:

Faith

Monks believe that everything in life is a dynamic proposition of faith. A trust-based funding approach is similar, in that it calls on funders to reevaluate their grant application process to allow more opportunities for smaller organizations. Automatically rejecting volunteer-led organizations or early-stage projects, for instance, closes the door to many deserving recipients.

Over half of the grant dollars awarded by U.S. foundations are directed to just 1 percent of recipient organizations. Black, Indigenous, and people of color leaders historically have been overlooked by philanthropy and often receive fewer grants, less money, and are given less freedom to decide how to use that money than their white counterparts. We are at risk of perpetuating these inequities unless we lead with faith and understand that those most directly impacted by an issue almost always are in the best position to solve it.

Directly investing in communities isn't just a moral issue; it works. For years, The Pollination Project has supported projects that mainstream philanthropy would likely deem risky, including providing seed funding to grassroots volunteers without a traditional educational background or nonprofit experience. But we go a step further than the current trust-based model by committing to an open application process through which anyone can share their vision for a project and seek funding. By providing grants directly to individuals, we allow those without access to other sources of institutional funding — especially underrepresented groups such as Indigenous people, women in the Global South, and religious and ethnic minorities — to launch impactful, meaningful projects. Take, for instance, a volunteer in Kolkata, India, who mobilized marginalized youth to manufacture hand sanitizer and distribute it to families living in urban slums at the start of the pandemic. Community leaders have the passion, skill, and trust to drive local efforts, and philanthropy should grant them the resources to do so.

Humility

Trust-based philanthropy recognizes that because philanthropic leaders don't have all the answers, they must redistribute and share decision-making power. Too often, those making funding decisions at nonprofits are disconnected from the communities they serve. Paternalism and elitism are deeply rooted in philanthropy, and it takes humility to give back some of that power.

A peer-to-peer giving model is one way to redistribute power. In such a  model, a network of grant advisors — none of whom is paid staff and most of whom are previous grant recipients — decide which projects receive our funding. By democratizing funding decisions, philanthropic organizations can address the inherent power imbalance between funders and grant recipients.

Relationship

The ability to forge meaningful relationships is critical to driving social change; in 2020, however, fewer than a third of foundations provided any assistance to their grantees beyond the grant itself. To make the greatest impact, funders must move from solely providing financial resources to viewing ourselves as a partner to our grantees and ensuring their long-term success by offering non-monetary support such as introductions to other funders, capacity-building training, and promoting their work to our networks.

Monks recognize the power of relationships. We lean into the vulnerability required to develop authentic relationships and find strength in connection. I've used these teachings to foster a global community of four thousand changemakers who share learnings, work to build capacity, and form community with one another. Smaller and people of color-led organizations typically don't have the same resources as larger nonprofits, which in turn drives inequities in the field. Philanthropic leaders can support the long-term success of such organizations by ensuring that their relationships with grant recipients don't end with a check.

Service

The trust-based philanthropy model recognizes that nonprofits currently spend a lot of time completing funder-required application forms and reports, which takes precious time away from their mission.

As philanthropists, we must remind ourselves to whom nonprofits are accountable and consider how we can be of more service to the ones we support. We must ask ourselves how we can minimize bureaucracy and free would-be change agents to do what they are called to do. Putting more value in conversations instead of written reports or applications allows small organizations with limited bandwidth to focus more on their work and on creating a kinder, more compassionate world.

One thing COVID-19 has taught us is that philanthropy works better when power is distributed equitably and those closest to the issues have the opportunity to lead. By embracing trust-based and monastic principles, philanthropic leaders can make a more direct and immediate impact in communities. Crises can be an opportunity to change things that no longer work; let's not waste this one.

(Photo credit: GettyImages/Prostock Studio)

AJ Dahiya_PhilanTopicAJ Dahiya is a former monk who is now a writer, speaker, and chief vision officer at The Pollination Project, a global community of four thousand-plus grassroots volunteer leaders in over a hundred and twenty-five countries.

Intentional philanthropy to diversify science

May 17, 2021

News_scientists-in-labLast week, Michael Bloomberg announced a $150 million gift to my alma mater, Johns Hopkins University, to provide permanent funding for a hundred STEM PhD students from minority-serving institutions. The gift is noteworthy not for its amount but rather for its potential to increase PhD attainment for Black and Latinx students in STEM fields.

The initiative has the potential not only to signal change but to drive it. In the decade from 2010 to 2019, the share of Black Americans among all PhD recipients rose just over half a percentage point, from 4.9 percent to 5.5 percent. Assuming that representation at Hopkins is reflective of the national data, Bloomberg's gift could double the number of Black and Latinx students in Hopkins PhD programs. It's an important start, but not enough; long-term change will require a sea change in culture across all STEM fields.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) and other funders have been working to address the problem for decades, but several recent studies suggest that targeted funding at the PhD level does not translate to higher retention of Black and Latinx scientists in academia. A 2017 study found that Black faculty members made up only 0.7 percent of tenure-track faculty in biology across forty top institutions in the U.S., highlighting the dramatic attrition of Black PhDs over the course of the typical academic career trajectory. While most PhD scientists go on to have successful careers outside academia, it is nevertheless important to monitor the data for those who stay — not least because academic researchers play a key role in training future scientists, interfacing with clinical trial participants, and directing scientific inquiry. If Black scientists are choosing to seek other careers, we must stop to ask why and address the issues so that efforts to increase representation among scientists translate to all settings where scientists are engaged.

Funding, equity, and community

A decade ago, a study found that Black scientists were significantly less likely to receive a research grant from NIH than similarly qualified white colleagues. In 2019, NIH published a follow-up report showing that one contributing factor to the disparity was that Black researchers applied for funding in areas that were of lower overall priority to the federal agency. A seemingly obvious solution to the problem would be to encourage Black researchers to apply for grants in higher-priority areas. However, the critical questions should be: "Exactly who is determining health research priorities?" and "Are these priorities addressing the needs and perspectives of the whole population?"

Shifting to nonprofits and philanthropies, it is well documented that advisory recommendation boards lack diverse perspectives and are therefore less able to navigate and guide health research in ways that are most impactful for a diverse population. Increasing the diversity of the bodies that set priorities will feed back into research settings where Black scientists struggle to access funding for the topics they see as most important.

Beyond the differences in fields of study that Black, Indigenous, and people of color scientists choose, NIH has noted that the standard process by which scientific proposals are evaluated may drive disparities in funding. Overall, Black scientists are half as likely to receive key research grants from NIH. The agency has noted that proposals from BIPOC scientists are less likely to be discussed and, when discussed, tend to score lower on average. Given that the applications all came from highly accomplished researchers, the finding not only suggests systemic racism, it underscores how it is perpetuated.

Finally, funders and institutions must pay attention to how Black and Latinx student-scientists are supported when there are so few faculty members available to them. Nearly 6 percent of biology PhD recipients but only 0.7 percent of biology PhD faculty are Black — an imbalance that places a disproportionate amount of mentoring and role-modeling responsibilities on a relatively small number of faculty. Increasing diversity among STEM scholars and scientists must not come at the expense of increasing the workloads of BIPOC faculty. Funders and institutions can help address these challenges by providing more support for Black faculty and/or acknowledging the existence of these disparities in the review process.

Last fall, many of us celebrated MacKenzie Scott's investment in the endowments of historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs). Today, we cheer Mike Bloomberg's effort to connect these programs to top-tier STEM PhD programs. And we hope his investment will set the stage for other funders, philanthropic and public, to support scholars of color at every stage of their scientific careers. All funders must take a deep, critical look at their priorities, vetting processes, and advisory protocols. After all, what better way is there to further the change you want to see?

Altimus-Cara_PhilanTopicCara Altimus, PhD, is a senior director at the Milken Institute Center for Strategic Philanthropy.

Strategies for nonprofit success in a post-pandemic landscape

May 11, 2021

News_keyboard_donate2A recent survey by the Nonprofit Finance Fund found that 60 percent of nonprofits experienced conditions in 2020 that threatened their long-term financial stability. As a result, most nonprofits had to reimagine how they engage with donors and the beneficiaries of their programs and services. Looking ahead, there are several strategies nonprofits can leverage to ensure their success in a post-pandemic world.

The power of storytelling

COVID-19 has underscored the importance of organizations staying connected to their mission and core values. Creativity and innovation are essential to engaging donors effectively, not only in terms of telling the "right story" but also in selecting the best virtual platforms to engage donors, who want to believe their contributions will have a direct impact on the causes they believe in.

Take the Downtown Women's Center (DWC) in Los Angeles. After the pandemic forced most things to shut down, the organization established a series of virtual community meetings to stay in touch with its clients; began to send regular email updates to donors, volunteers, and community stakeholders; and converted its largest fundraising event of the year — its annual in-person gala — into a virtual event. But its best move might have been the decision to adopt a peer-to-peer fundraising strategy. The resulting three-week campaign, Together Housed, encouraged donors and volunteers to leverage their own personal and professional networks on behalf of the organization, with DWC providing step-by-step instructions on how to set up a fundraising page, as well as email templates and social media content. Sure enough, at the end of three weeks the organization had exceeded its fundraising goal for the campaign by 35 percent and had secured support from eight hundred new donors.

Although grants from foundations tend to be top-of-mind for many organizations, the majority of giving to nonprofits comes from individual gifts and donations (Giving USA). No surprise, then, that building successful, long-term relationships with individuals is an important development strategy — and that donor retention strategies, including peer-to-peer fundraising and the use of third-party auction platforms, are critical.

Adaptive leadership is crucial

The pandemic also highlighted the importance of creativity and innovation for every organization. In the months and years ahead, nonprofits need to allocate time for experimentation and learning if they hope to adapt their programs and revenue-generating efforts to changing needs and opportunities. According to an article in the Stanford Social Innovation Review by Community Wealth Partners, the organizations that thrive during challenging times tend to have strong and decisive leadership able to make quick decisions in response to evolving challenges.

Nonprofits should also evaluate their boards to ensure that the composition of the board is appropriate for where the organization is in its lifecycle. As BoardSource notes, "High-performing nonprofit boards are both thoughtful and intentional in creating a strategically composed board of directors […] Every board's ideal composition should be considered in the terms of the specific needs, strategies and lifecycle of the organization as the board looks forward several years."

A recent article by sgENGAGE echoes the importance of investing in leadership. Organizations should invest in diverse talent and provide opportunities for employees at all levels to grow and develop.

Modernize to engage donors

Innovative virtual programming is the key to creating new revenue streams. Not only is such programming a good bet to generate additional funds, it also is a wonderful opportunity to reach audiences beyond an organization's traditional geography.

A great example of how it should be done is the Petersen Automotive Museum, which last year launched its first-ever virtual museum and vault tour. The tour, along with a number of other innovative programs designed to keep virtual visitors returning for more, enabled the museum not only to reach a wider audience but to raise much-needed funds from people who had never heard of it.

Do not delay digital transformation

In its most recent Nonprofit Trends Report, Salesforce highlighted the correlation between organizations with high levels of "digital maturity" and those with the most innovative and confident responses to change. According to the report, 85 percent of nonprofits say technology is important to their long-term success, yet only 23 percent have a long-term strategy or vision for how to use it.

In a digital-first environment, nonprofits must be able to leverage data to inform decision making, reach new audiences, personalize communications, and make accurate fundraising forecasts. And with a reasonable investment in a virtual platform, there's no reason to restrict outreach and programming to an organization's local geography.

The thing to remember is that what worked in the past is less likely to work today or in the future, so establishing and tracking key performance metrics and trends across key functions is essential. According to the latest Charitable Giving Report from the Blackbaud Institute, the share of giving done online has grown steadily over the last three years. If they hope to maintain and improve their donor retention rates, nonprofits need to be on board with online giving and other important trends in giving. And if those retention rates are not improving, or are falling, it's probably a sign that the organization is not directing enough resources to its donor engagement efforts.

Seize the day

The pandemic brought much of the world to a standstill, but things are beginning to open up. For nonprofits that took a hit last year, investing in technology to improve program service delivery and impact measurement is a good place to start. Organizations should also evaluate their internal processes to ensure they are as efficient as possible and that their strategic plan is still aligned with their programs and mission. And they should have regular conversations with key funders — not only to keep them engaged, but also to make sure that appropriate actions can be rolled out quickly if a funder decides to shift priorities or cut back on its support.

Community Wealth Partners agrees: "First and foremost, make time to revisit your vision for social impact — the impact you are trying to create and how you plan to create it. This helps ensure that your work remains relevant."

Whether the end to the pandemic comes in two months or two years, the need for the kinds of services provided by nonprofits is not going away. Nonprofits with forward-thinking leadership and staff that can keep up and innovate in an ever-changing digital world are most likely to thrive and create the greatest impact. No one says it's going to be easy, but the alternative isn't really an option.

Wilson_Donella_philantopicDonella Wilson, CPA, leads GHJ's Nonprofit Practice and serves as president and chief philanthropy officer at the GHJ Foundation. She was recognized in 2018 as a "Women Executive of the Year" and in 2017-20 as one of the "Most Influential Women in Accounting" by the Los Angeles Business Journal.

Quote of the Week

  • "[L]et me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is...fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance...."


    — Franklin D. Roosevelt, 32nd president of the United States

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