4 posts categorized "author-Jeanne Isler"

NoVo Foundation: Empowering Marginalized Women to Drive Change

December 08, 2018

Too often funders doubt the ability of grassroots leaders to drive change, but NoVo Foundation's grantee partners are proving them wrong.

NCRP-2013logo-color-no-taglineNoVo believes that centering the leadership of people who live every day with injustice is the single most powerful way to create transformative change.

The foundation's consistent adherence to its values was a major factor in it being named an NCRP Impact Award winner in 2013. In making the announcement, NCRP highlighted the foundation’s investment in training, coaching, and networking grassroots women leaders through its Move to End Violence initiative, which continues to support leaders in the U.S. working to end violence against girls and women.

Today, NoVo is putting these values to work in even more ways.

Against the backdrop of the #MeToo revolution, NoVo has spent the last year convening hundreds of donors and funders to hear directly from activists working to end violence against girls and women. In New York, London and Los Angeles, these activists challenged philanthropy to meet this once-in-a-lifetime moment of opportunity for transformative change, made possible by millions of girls and women speaking truth to power, sharing their stories, and demanding safety and dignity. Now that effort is poised to bring new resources to the table. In the coming weeks, NoVo will stand with a dynamic group of funders to launch a new landmark fund to end gender-based violence and build women's power.

In 2017, in response to Donald Trump's election, NoVo announced the launch of the Radical Hope Fund, a new $34 million commitment to support bold and transformative social justice work around the globe. In its first year, the fund has supported nineteen projects spanning six continents that leverage new partnerships for innovative and transformative social justice work.

The Florida Immigrant Coalition, which includes women leaders from more than nine organizations, received $2 million over four years to advance a new initiative, Radical Hope Florida, aimed at sharpening the feminist lens of existing racial, economic, and gender justice organizations in the state, transforming the values and politics of Florida.

The Center for Justice at Columbia University received $2.5 million over four years for the Women Transcending initiative, an effort to support a network of women impacted by mass incarceration and help them organize to transform the structure of the justice system.

The Radical Hope blog raises up the social justice work of these and other grantee partners for anyone who is interested. NoVo notes that the Impact Award was an endorsement of the power of their grantee partners’ work, and the blog lends additional credibility to the voices of those who often go overlooked by society.

NoVo also is one of the initial partners in Grantmakers for Girls of Color, a network committed to expanding support for girls of color in the U.S., and it is launching The Women’s Building at the site of a former women’s prison in New York City. The transformative space is expected to provide leaders working to end violence and discrimination against all girls and women with a place where they can collaborate and leverage their shared power to create lasting change.

NoVo Foundation models what it means for a foundation to be anchored in its values. Through its grantmaking and other practices, it invests in collaborations with others who share its goals and vision, while making space for its partners to operate in similar fashion.

The foundation would not have achieved the impact it has, however, if it wasn't willing to put its trust in the innovation and wisdom it routinely finds in marginalized communities.

The lesson? Funders can achieve the broader social impact they seek when people who are directly affected by injustice have access to unrestricted funding, platforms on which to share their vision, and a seat at the tables where philanthropic decisions are made.

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

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.

Woods Fund Rejects Notion of Philanthropic Risk, Acknowledges Risk of Status Quo

December 03, 2018

Grantees of Woods Fund Chicago are working to move $25 million from Chicago's operating budget to support trauma-focused and mental health services for some of the most marginalized and vulnerable residents of the city. Without the investment, people in areas without city-run clinics may lose access to much-needed healthcare services. Winning the budget fight will save people's lives.

NCRP-2013logo-color-no-taglineSouthside Together Organizing for Progress, better known as STOP, is one of the organizations working to secure the $25 million, and it knows what it takes to win. In 2016, the organization was part of the Trauma Care Coalition, a group of community-based organizations that mounted a campaign demanding that the University of Chicago open a Level 1 adult trauma center in its South Chicago neighborhood.

When one compares the value of an adult trauma center (not to mention a $25 million investment) for a community like the South Side with the $30,000 general operating support grants the Woods Fund has awarded to STOP annually since 2005, one quickly realizes that any risk for the funder is slight.

Yet many funders look at community organizing and advocacy as something too risky for them to support. Yes, strategies that seek to change systems and advance equity can create conflict and challenge powerful individuals and institutions, but they are also the drivers of the kinds of long-term solutions that philanthropy considers its raison d'être. Funders must always remember that the perceived risk of investing in systems change strategies led by marginalized people cannot compare to the actual physical, financial, and emotional risks of grassroots leaders.

The Woods Fund makes a habit of the kind of "risky" grantmaking so many other funders avoid. Its 2013 NCRP Impact Award acknowledged its support for grantees like the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights and the SouthWest Organizing Project, which helped win policy changes allowing undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses.

And the foundation not only shares its power and resources with marginalized leaders through its grantmaking but also in the way it goes about its work. For example:

  • It contracted with three of its grantees to test and evaluate a new online grantmaking system.
  • It launched a pilot to support small, emerging grantees and hired a consultant to help the organizations navigate the new system and complete their applications.
  • Its leadership commits at least 30 percent of the foundation’s investments to socially responsible businesses led by marginalized people.
  • One of its core strategies is to invest in people and then get out of the way – behavior that invariably makes some funders uncomfortable.

After a convening of the foundation's grantees in 2017, grantees wanted to continue to share wisdom and advice with each other about how to best leverage community benefits agreements. Woods Fund staff did not attend the convening, but they supported the grantees that organized the event, and the foundation subsequently committed to organizing more of these "peer-shares" in the future.

Another important milestone for the foundation was the decision by its leaders, almost ten years ago, to make a commitment to racial equity. Once the board made clear its decision to commit to goals and practices that advance equity, the rest was relatively easy. The NCRP Impact Award in 2013 merely inspired the foundation to push ahead with its already impressive record of innovative grantmaking.

Based on its record of impact, Woods Fund Chicago's rejection of the notion that investing in grassroots groups equals risk has served it well. Our advice to other funders? Don't be afraid to reframe your idea of risk and acknowledge that, sometimes, it goes hand in hand with movements and community organizing. Think about what you're willing and able to do to ensure that the communities in which you work are health and thriving. And remember: grassroots groups are just as committed to their neighborhoods and communities as you are, if not more so.

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

Hill-Snowdon Foundation's Courageous Philanthropy Defends Democracy

November 28, 2018

Since winning an NCRP Impact Award in 2014, the Hill-Snowdon Foundation has been unrelenting in calling out white supremacy and anti-black racism while taking risks to invest in black-led social change work.

2014-ncrp-impact-awards-winner-badgeThe D.C.-based foundation's grantmaking has long been bold, but the leadership it has modeled through its Defending the Dream Fund matches the urgency of the real threats to our democracy. The foundation's decision in 2017 to simplify its practices and collaborate with other funders in creating the fund has resulted in more than $1 million in rapid-response grants being moved to groups working to fight policies that threaten the most vulnerable populations in the United States.

Even in 2017, however, the foundation knew this moment in American history — one that has seen the emergence of movements calling for just and fair elections, human rights for LGBTQ people and people of color, and economic equity — would not last forever.

So the foundation launched its Making Black Lives Matter initiative (MBLM), pushing philanthropy to look beyond the immediate moment and invest in longer-term infrastructure for black-led social change work. Grantees, funding partners, and other nonprofit groups in the community have rated that work as the most impactful they have done in recent years.

How did the foundation do it?

The Hill-Snowdon board of directors worked for almost fifteen years to understand what it really means to seek systemic solutions led by the people who are most impacted by the issues the foundation cares about. Consultants helped educate board members about the reality of systemic change, and with that information in hand the board went out and hired Nat Chioke Williams, a longtime youth and community organizer who had served as a program officer at the Edward Hazen Foundation and the New York Foundation, as the foundation's executive director. When Williams approached the board a few years later about wanting to speak more publicly about Making Black Lives Matter, the board readily agreed. Within two months, the board went from talking about it to releasing a request for proposals in the area of black-led organizing and leadership development.

Unsurprisingly, the 2016 election inspired even more action from the foundation. In the months following the election, and after conversations with other funders, Hill-Snowdon developed a framework to "defend the dream" against the growing threats to our democracy. The framework made the fund actionable, and within a year other funders had pledged almost $600,000 to it.

That collaboration has helped "stretch" the foundation and its partners to fund groups new to their staffs, streamline their proposal processes, and support issues outside their regular portfolios.

Throughout the process, Hill-Snowdon focused less on building its own influence and more on using the influence it had to move others to act. And it succeeded. The Defending the Dream Fund has attracted other funders and activists who have come to the foundation because of the sharp analysis it offers around anti-black racism.

In developing MBLM and the Defending the Dream Fund, the foundation modeled three practices that funders of today's most important social movements would be wise to consider:

  1. Executive Directors/CEOs: The foundation's leadership engaged board members in discussions and activities that helped them internalize an intersectional equity analysis so that when opportunities emerged, they were well versed in the issues and able to move quickly.
  2. Boards: HS board members trusted and empowered staff to make courageous strategic decisions that advanced the foundation's mission.
  3. Staff: HS staff committed to a culture of accountability and ownership and used all the foundation's resources – reputation, status, networks – to advance bold ideas anchored in a racial equity analysis.

The Hill-Snowdon Foundation has shown its peers that funding systems change work requires a commitment to facing hard truths, a willingness to act, and resilience in the face of challenges. When staff, board, and foundation leaders take the time to educate themselves and hold one another accountable, they build a solid foundation for the impact they hope to achieve. Today, movement leaders across the country are making a real difference. They need more funders like the Hill-Snowdon Foundation to step up and support their efforts.

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

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