187 posts categorized "Grantmaking"

[Review] 'It's A Helluva Town: Joan K. Davidson, the J.M. Kaplan Fund and the Fight for a Better New York'

February 11, 2021

Cover Its a Helluva TownIt's A Helluva Town: Joan K. Davidson, the J.M. Kaplan Fund and the Fight for a Better New York by Roberta Brandes Gratz tells the story of how one person and a small family foundation were able to create outsize impact in the nation's largest city and make it a more vibrant, equitable, and sustainable place to live and work. As cities across the country wrestle with unprecedented challenges stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic, Gratz' "case study" on the power, and limits, of philanthropy could not be more timely.

Founded in 1945 by Jacob "Jack" Merrill Kaplan, the J.M. Kaplan Fund today distributes more than $6 million in grants annually and has approximately $140 million in assets, a legacy of the sale of the Welch Grape Juice Company, which Kaplan headed for many years, to a grape growers' cooperative in the 1950s. In 1977, Kaplan's oldest child, Joan Davidson, was named president of the foundation he had created. As Gratz details in the book, Davidson took the responsibility seriously and, with the relatively modest resources of the J.M. Kaplan Fund at her disposal, played an outsized role in transforming New York during the latter half of the twentieth century. 

For Gratz, Davidson and the Kaplan Fund embody an important philanthropic principle: solutions to some of our most urgent social problems do not necessarily have to come with a big price tag.  Indeed, because foundations and philanthropists tend to be risk-averse, moving early and decisively to address a problem can yield impressive results. By way of example, Gratz quotes Aryeh Neier, a co-founder of Human Rights Watch, who credits the Kaplan Fund as  "the first significant funder of Human Rights Watch at $200,000 a year before [the] Ford Foundation came in" and goes on to say "[the fund] was crucial in launching us." To put that in perspective, HRW today has a budget of $75 million, a staff of four hundred and fifty people, and is widely considered to be one of the most effective human rights organizations in the world.

In an entirely different arena and on a smaller scale, the fund awarded a $1,500 grant in 1992 to the Beachside Bungalow Preservation Association in Far Rockaway, Queens, to plant thirty trees and other site-appropriate vegetation as protection against potentially devastating storm surges. Twenty years later, when Superstorm Sandy devastated the Rockaways, the area's bungalows and their residents were largely spared.

One of Davidson's most remarkable accomplishments as leader of the fund was her willingness to support institutions and social movements unafraid to question the paradigms and narratives that others took for granted. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, for instance, the fund supported the efforts to landmark and save the Helen Hayes and Morosco theaters in Manhattan's Theater District from demolition. Legal action seemed to be the only way to save the theaters, and for help Davidson turned to the Natural Resources Defense Council, a young environmental organization and an unlikely ally. Davidson had been a board member of NRDC, however, and understood how it could be useful in this particular fight. Though getting NRDC to take up the cause was a "hard sell," it eventually agreed. Ultimately, the theaters fell to the wrecking ball, but the case was pivotal in defining the strategies employed by the organization as it grew to become a leading player in the environmental advocacy movement — and, as Gratz writes, expanded the boundaries of that work so that "[e]nvironmental issues would never again be limited to the natural; the built and the natural were seen as symbiotic and forever joined." Today, cities and the urban ecosystems that grow up around them are widely regarded as critical components of the "environment," and NRDC has gone on to build an important and impactful urban program focused on putting resilient, sustainable cities at the center of the climate change conversation.

The success of an initiative often is judged by the extent to which it prevents harm. By empowering grassroots activism, philanthropy can play a critical role in stopping projects that pose threats to the environment, communities, and/or the very fabric of society — an idea that has significantly shaped both the historic preservation and environmental movements. As Gratz writes, "Preservation is never about historic buildings alone; it is about urbanism — preserving the whole city — which is simply the sum of its diverse and very interconnected parts." In the 1970s, she adds, "intelligent people had good reason to think that New York was doomed, and that making it more accessible to suburbia (and cars) and easier and safer as a venue for nighttime entertainment (via Lincoln Center) was the way to save it."

One of the linchpins of that vision was Westway, a proposed twelve-lane highway to be built from 42nd Street to Battery Park on land partly reclaimed from the Hudson River. The project, if completed, would have ceded primacy to the automobile in Manhattan — at the expense of mass transit and the ecologically important Hudson River estuary. Thanks to successful litigation supported by Davidson and the Kaplan Fund, however, the project was defeated, and the federal funding that had been allocated to it was used instead to support the city's public transit infrastructure, a critical building block of New York City's comeback in the 1980s and '90s. The book details several such fights against pernicious projects and proposals, some of them more successful than others. But the common thread in all is the emerging power of grassroots activism, which Davidson and the fund were critical in nurturing and sustaining.

More recently, the economic model that propelled New York City to new heights in the opening decades of the twenty-first century has been overturned by COVID-19. Every day during this seemingly endless pandemic, New Yorkers have been challenged to re-conceptualize how they work and live. At the same time, the virus has highlighted the unequal, unjust, and often-racist systems that marginalize communities.  The lesson is clear: now is the time to develop new models and paradigms for cities that give all people who call them home a chance to flourish. It's A Helluva Town reminds us that this isn't the first time New York has found itself at such a crossroads. But, as in the 1970s, headlines like "Is New York City Over?" and "400,000 people flee from the city" obscure the fact that major urban centers like New York are hard to keep down as long as visionaries like Joan Davidson call them home. She, and the people who supported her at the J.M. Kaplan Fund, are proof, as Margaret Meade famously said, "that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."

Nick Opinsky is a senior development officer for institutional giving at American Jewish World Service.

Growing pains & possibilities: planning for growth in your foundation

January 29, 2021

Your-money-growingLet's imagine a typical foundation started by successful businesspeople in order to make charitable contributions each year to a small constellation of nonprofits in their community.

Fast-forward a couple of decades and the founders have achieved more financial success than they ever expected. While undertaking their estate planning, they have ascertained that even after they take care of their children and grandchildren, there will be a substantial amount left from their holdings to donate to the foundation. In fact, the founders anticipate that upon their death the foundation's assets will increase from $3 million (current value) to approximately $40 million. The founders realize that this eventual windfall merits advanced planning to best meet the opportunities that come with such a large increase.

If, like the founders in this hypothetical example, you should find yourself confronting an almost-overnight jump in your foundation's assets, what should you do? How should you plan for such an event and carry your foundation into the future?

The Challenge of Growth

One of the immediate outcomes of explosive growth is a dramatic increase in a foundation's 5 percent minimum distribution requirement (MDR). The MDR is based on the average value of foundation assets in the previous year, so as assets grow, foundations are required to increase their charitable activities accordingly. Although the increased MDR won't impact the foundation immediately, a major infusion of capital provides ample reason for the foundation to develop a plan for programmatic growth alongside its financial growth.

Let's go back to our example above. The foundation had an average of $3 million in assets throughout 2020. Therefore, it has an MDR of $150,000 for 2021. If the foundation were to receive a contribution of $37 million in January 2021, bringing total assets up to $40 million, the MDR for 2022 would be $2 million that would have to be distributed by the end of the year.

Gearing Up Grantmaking

Even though foundations are given some time to ramp up their distributions as a result of sudden growth, they eventually need to bring their grantmaking strategy in line with their new assets. These are questions to guide the development of such a strategy:

What do we want to accomplish as a foundation? This is an ideal moment for board members to consider the foundation's history and explore the increased opportunities that accompany financial growth. With additional financial assets, the programmatic possibilities open up to tremendous innovation, creativity, and potential impact.

What are our unique qualifications for making a difference? When it comes to achieving impact, dollars aren't the only important asset. As board members contemplate the foundation's future, this is an ideal time to take stock of the entirety of resources that the family and its network of contacts might be able to command. Specifically, the board should ask:

  • What expertise, skills, and special talents do we bring to the table?
  • How much time and energy do we have to devote to our cause?
  • What important contacts and connections do we have that can help us?
  • What's our name recognition/credibility/reputation?
  • What level of assets can we afford to commit?

Should we expand our scope? With increased assets, some foundations choose to continue supporting their existing areas of interest but expand their geographic focus. So, instead of restricting funding to their hometown, they adopt a statewide or even national agenda. Other foundations have opted instead to widen the scope of their areas of funding. So, in addition to funding a program that provides meals for homeless individuals, a foundation may choose to start fighting homelessness itself by funding research and advocacy, thereby increasing the opportunity for impact.

Where can we achieve the greatest impact? As your foundation ramps up its grantmaking, devoting resources to research and analysis would be money well spent. If you want to build on your foundation's previous work and expand locally, you might invite local funders or community leaders to help identify unmet regional needs. If you want to pursue an entirely new area of interest, you'll want to know who else has been working on the problem, what has already been done, and what impact that work has had. In that case, you could hire an outside expert to undertake a "field scan" detailing what other funders and nonprofits have accomplished on that issue to date, whether their efforts have met with success, and where your foundation might achieve the most impact going forward. Not only will this help you avoid directing funds toward ineffective approaches or duplication of other efforts, it might also reveal potential new partners and allies. Because the IRS recognizes that private foundations incur expenses in the pursuit of their charitable purposes, tax law allows foundations to count such expenditures toward fulfilling their minimum distribution requirement.

Can we fund things that fall outside of our mission? With a growth in assets, you can have a separate bucket of funds for grantmaking outside your stated mission. This would enable the foundation to fund exciting programs that either present themselves or are uncovered in the course of executing the planned grantmaking strategy. Setting aside a portion of funds can also serve as a laboratory, enabling the foundation to experiment with promising programs before making a more significant or enduring commitment.

A New Way of Operating

A growth in assets provides you with an opportunity to deepen your commitment to the funding priorities your foundation has previously championed. But such an event also affords you an opportunity to break with the past and chart a new course. Regardless of the path you choose, you would be well served to assess whether the moment necessitates a new approach to foundation operations, including:

Guidelines and applications. To attract more targeted and relevant grant requests and to meet an increased MDR, you may want to solicit proposals from more nonprofits. You also might want to develop funding guidelines and a grant application form.

Detailed budgeting. If your growing foundation ventures into a new funding area, implements a new grantmaking strategy, and incurs additional expenses, an ad hoc approach to budgeting may no longer suit the organization's needs. With increased size and complexity, it will likely become harder for your foundation to simply make grants until the MDR is fulfilled. At this point, you may want to create an annual budget, allocating specific dollar amounts to key funding areas, ongoing historical interests, and administrative costs.

A growth in assets provides an opportunity to deepen and expand your philanthropic agenda. Establishing clear objectives and taking the time to plan will help you successfully meet that opportunity.

Headshot_Elizabeth WongElizabeth Wong is national director of philanthropic advisory services at Foundation Source, which provides comprehensive support services for private foundations.

Prioritize public education in our philanthropic COVID-19 response

January 12, 2021

Children_sky_square_GettyImagesWith the arrival of effective vaccines against COVID-19, the end of the pandemic may finally be in sight. Yet the crisis in public education, one deeply exacerbated by the virus, will continue to wreak havoc beyond 2021.

If they have taught us anything, the last ten months have taught us who and what is essential. As people who work in philanthropy, who care about the future of the country, and as moms, we know that our kids and those who teach them are essential. And yet we as a country are not paying nearly enough attention to the public education crisis unfolding before our eyes — or responding to it as the emergency it is.

Here is what we know: More than fifty thousand students in the Los Angeles Unified School District never logged in to online learning during the spring, and there was a dramatic increase in middle and high school students failing classes in the fall. In Montgomery County, Maryland, almost 40 percent of low-income ninth-grade students failed English in the fall, and McKinsey estimates that Black and Latinx students will lose an average of eleven to twelve months of learning by June if the current state of affairs persists.

Here's what else we know: While learning remotely is not easy for any child, the learning losses from school closures and distance learning are not evenly distributed. As working mothers, we've seen first-hand the difficulties distance learning imposes on children and families, even those with significant privilege in the form of economic security, reliable broadband Internet access, quiet(ish) spaces to study, and parents who are working at home and can help their kids with schoolwork. Most children are not so lucky.

Nationally, nearly sixteen million school children lack adequate Internet service or don't have a device that connects to the Internet. In Los Angeles, where we live and work, at least one in four children in high-poverty schools lacks reliable high-quality Internet access, making it functionally impossible for them to participate in a meaningful way in school. Parents who risk their health every day in essential low-wage jobs have no realistic way to support their children through the daily challenges of distance learning. Meanwhile, students from wealthy and upper-middle class home have been able to resume in-person schooling even as high-poverty schools in the same city remain shuttered. The result is that students from poor and working-class families — kids who deserve and most need quality public education — are falling ever further behind their more fortunate peers.

While this is not a problem that philanthropy alone can solve, those of us with access to resources must find creative and strategic ways to show up for kids. All kids.

In the early days of the pandemic, we saw the difference philanthropic dollars could make. While federal stimulus funds and federal emergency funds allocated to the states took weeks and, in some cases, months to reach those most in need, public-private partnerships in many places were able to move quickly and efficiently to distribute funds. Here in Los Angeles, a group of more than thirty nonprofit organizations came together to form One Family LA after it became clear that low-income and immigrant families would be the most vulnerable to both the health impacts and economic devastation caused by the virus. In the weeks after the One Family was created, and before federal stimulus funds were fully disbursed, the organization was able to move quickly and distribute over $2 million in emergency relief funds to more than forty-five hundred families in need.

But the emergency is far from over. So what can philanthropy do to make a meaningful difference? How can it encourage and support educators and school district leaders to take the longer view that will be needed to recover from the pandemic even as they struggle to manage a seemingly endless list of day-to-day challenges?

First, philanthropy can use its greatest assets — nimbleness, creativity, and the freedom to take risks — to amplify the bright spots that already exist in public education. Chicago Public Schools recently partnered with philanthropists and community organizations to launch a $50 million program aimed at bringing free, high-quality Internet access to every student who lacks it. We know that things like intensive tutoring reliably help students from lower-income households make major academic gains. Philanthropy should partner with schools and school systems to get tutoring pilot programs off the ground, and efforts like these should be replicated by local leaders in communities across the country, with philanthropy providing seed funding and helping to disseminate best practices across city and state lines.

Second, in the months ahead, philanthropy must use its platforms to promote and fund advocacy work that keeps education at the forefront of the state and federal funding conversation. If we believe that creating a more equitable education system is critical, we need to make investments that articulate and put that priority in front of our elected officials. With so many health and economic challenges facing the country, this year's elections barely touched on the topic of education. Public schools across the country are doing the best they can, but they can't shoulder it all on their own. Ignoring months of learning loss and looming budget crises at the state and district levels is asking educators to do too much with too little.

In his book Our Kids, writer and political scientist Robert Putnam explored the many ways in which housing segregation and growing economic inequality have dissolved the social fabric that used to support poor and working-class children. And while most communities used to have a sense of collective responsibility for all children in the community — all kids were "our kids" — now when we speak about "our kids" we usually mean only the kids in our nuclear families.

We will never build the public-school systems we need or the society we want to live in unless we recapture that sense of collective responsibility for all children. While philanthropy is not an appropriate long-term substitute for robust city, state, and federal funding, it needs, at this moment, to prioritize public education in its COVID-19 response investments. At Fundamental and Great Public Schools Now, we are doing just that, because we know it's the best investment we can make for our families, for society, and for all our kids.

(Photo credit: GettyImages)

Ana Ponce_Rachel Levin_philantopicAna Ponce is executive director of Great Public Schools Now, and Rachel Levin is president of Fundamental.

DAF donors showed us who they were in 2020 

January 11, 2021

Money_seedlingGrantmaking from donor-advised funds (DAFs) is up — and it's up enormously. At National Philanthropic Trust, our grant dollars doubled in 2020. Other DAF sponsors reported a similar pattern. What is it about DAF donors that makes them respond so robustly to a crisis? And is this pattern of giving sustainable?

Here are three important lessons we learned about DAF donors in 2020 and why they should matter to nonprofits in the coming years:

1. DAF donors mobilize quickly. Americans have always had a giving impulse; they want to help in the face of challenges such as natural disasters, community emergencies, and neighbors in need. Giving in 2020 was marked with a different kind of urgency and qualifies as the most widespread and sustained form of "disaster giving" I've witnessed over more than four decades working in philanthropy.

The first COVID-specific grant recommendation at NPT came in early March. Within days there were dozens more, and after a few weeks we'd sent out millions of dollars in grant checks. The ability to recommend grants quickly has made an enormous difference in our donors’ philanthropic response and their willingness to support more causes than ever before.

Why it matters to charities in 2021: Swift and impactful grantmaking is certainly a credit to our donors' generosity, but it's also a testament to the organizations that are effectively communicating and addressing critical community needs.  Anecdotally, we know that donors respond to appeals that help meet a specific need — the more hyper-local or hyper-targeted, the more donors understand the impact their support will have.

At the beginning of the pandemic, we saw unrestricted grants flowing to emergency funds at community foundations, hospitals, and research institutions. Those organizations were communicating specific needs: assisting out-of-work hospitality workers in the community, providing childcare for nurses, funding treatment and prevention research. The summer surge of grants in response to calls for social justice mirrored the same sense of urgency, whether it was bail funds at established organizations already engaged in social equity work or racial literacy programs in schools. Organizations large and small continue to communicate what they need and highlight the impact donor dollars are having, attracting even more of those dollars and earning donors' trust.

2. DAF donors are committed to the long-term viability of nonprofits. DAF donors are committed philanthropists. We see this in the grants they recommend. In the aggregate, DAF grant dollars have increased nearly 100 percent in the last five years. We also see it in the payout rate from DAFs. Grant payout, which is a function of how much donors grant from their DAFs relative to total assets, has been above 20 percent for the last fifteen-plus years. This means DAF donors give generously and consistently — across economic cycles, election cycles, and in the face of great challenges.

This was true in 2008 when charitable giving writ large dropped but DAF grantmaking increased, and we are seeing it again in 2020-21. Other signals of long-term commitment? More donors than ever plan recurring grants — whether monthly, quarterly, or annually — to their favorite organizations. Over 15 percent of grants from NPT in 2020 were part of a recurring grant structure, a 34 percent increase from 2019. Recurring grants are a sustainable and predictable way to support nonprofits over the long term. Donors are making unrestricted grants more than ever, too. The number of unrestricted grants  NPT made was up 56 percent in 2020 and the dollar value of those grants jumped a whopping 254 percent. These increases are elements of what is known as "trust-based philanthropy," in which donors understand that charities know their constituents and causes better than anyone and trust them to do what is best to meet their immediate needs.

Why it matters to charities in 2021: To keep those regular, unrestricted dollars flowing, charitable organizations have to continue making their case for support. Communicating with donors — not DAF sponsors — to thank them and keep them engaged is critical. Although DAFs can technically give anonymously, the vast majority (at NPT, it's 97 percent) are made with the donors' names included. It's also good practice to engage every DAF donor, regardless of the size of the grant you receive. The most recent data shows that the average DAF account size is around $166,000, meaning today's sustaining donors could be tomorrow's major-gift donors.

3. DAF donors are "AND type people." DAF donors don’t look at their philanthropy through an either/or lens. They don’t choose either their longstanding favorite charity or a new one; they tend to support both. They don't have to choose either giving today or leaving a legacy tomorrow, they recommend grants now and invest for more grantmaking later. This year has highlighted exactly how important flexibility in philanthropy can be. Instead of making trade-offs, our donors recommended more grants — by volume and dollar value — in every interest area.

Why it matters to charities in 2021: If DAF donors are part of your donor base already, keep them informed and continue to solicit them for support. If they’re not, include them in your regular communication. DAF donors are open to supporting new charities and are upping their grants dollars in the face of today's challenges. The two most important ways to appeal to DAF donors are:

Make it easy. Include DAF language on your website and in your appeals like "send a check or recommend a grant from your donor-advised fund." Not only does this remind donors that your organization is eligible for support from DAFs, but it also suggests sophisticated fundraising knowledge and strategy.

Don't feel constricted by time or season. DAF donors have already signaled their commitment to philanthropy just by having a DAF — every dollar in their fund must go to charitable purposes. They've also already received their tax deduction when they made a contribution to their DAF. This means you can appeal to them whenever your organization's need is greatest. They're positioned to respond and often do so quickly.

DAFs are sometimes called the "rainy day funds" of philanthropy because DAF donors actively use their DAFs to support today's charitable priorities while saving for future needs. Dominated by a global pandemic, a renewed and intensified fight for social justice, and a deeply polarized political environment, 2020 was a year of great need. DAF donors, once again, stepped up to address those simultaneous challenges in creative, generous ways.

Headshot_eileen_heismanEileen Heisman is the CEO of National Philanthropic Trust, the largest national, independent donor-advised fund public charity. Heisman is one of the authors of the annual DAF Report. More at NPTrust.org.

3 ways to decolonize philanthropy right now

December 23, 2020

News_globe_africaThe events of 2020 reinforce how desperately a paradigm shift is needed in philanthropy if it hopes to create more durable solutions to the world's most complex challenges. The COVID-19 pandemic revealed how important it is to have agile, innovative organizations capable of responding quickly to shifting local contexts. At the same time, the reawakening of the social justice movement in the United States crystallized what happens when people are chronically underrepresented and left out of decisions that affect their lives.

While addressing these challenges can seem overwhelming, it's clear that one of the most effective ways funders can contribute is to support organizations built around community-driven solutions. Why? Because solutions for the people created by the people have the greatest chance of successfully changing the status quo.

While this may seem obvious, it entails a major shift in the way donors currently approach their giving — indeed, nothing less than a desire to "decolonize philanthropy." Decolonizing philanthropy, a term introduced by writer and activist Edgar Villanueva, requires philanthropists to assess to whom they choose to give as well as how their giving perpetuates the very problems they aim to solve.

Whether in the U.S. or in Kenya, where our organization, RefuSHE, operates, we see countless examples of well-intentioned donors pouring money into solutions they think should solve a problem — without checking whether the solution was created with input from the community most impacted by the problem. In the global development space, this often manifests as NGOs working in the Global South being led by leadership that sits in the Global North, far from the realities of the work and with only an anecdotal understanding of the local context. Too often, this modus operandi funnels money into short-lived solutions that feed an organizational culture of dependency rather than one of sustainability.

The approach itself is rooted in the imperialistic origins of "international development." Following World War II, the U.S. launched the Marshall Plan, introducing the building blocks for the international and humanitarian aid structure we see today. During the long decades of the Cold War, the U.S. awarded aid to other countries with the understanding that those countries would play by our rules and that the aid itself would be used in ways we approved of. At the other end of the spectrum, private philanthropic giving was driven, in part, by a "savior" mentality and the need to "lift up" poor people in other countries. In both cases, financial assistance was "given" from a place of control by people who thought they knew what was best for the communities they were trying to help. Solutions were parachuted in, communities were forced to adopt new ways, and, in many cases, the improved quality of life that was promised often failed to materialize.

To ensure greater progress toward a shared prosperity, decolonizing philanthropy presents an opportunity to make every dollar go further by centering investment in community-driven solutions. Here are three ways funders can ensure their investments are more efficient, effective, and equitable.

Invest in local leadership and programs co-designed with the communities served

Time and again, we've seen that lasting change arrives when communities have ownership of the solutions to the challenges they face. Interventions that feel forced not only tend to have a short life span but often yield less impact. The stories of PlayPumps and READ Global illustrate the difference well. The PlayPump system, a merry-go-round-like wheel that pumps water from wells as it is turned, was heavily endorsed by the international aid community and quickly scaled to more than fifteen hundred pumps in Zambia without much research or surveying of communities in advance. Not unpredictably, within two years a quarter of the installed pumps were in need of repairs. PlayPumps, it turned out, were fragile and cost four times what a traditional pump costs. What's more, many local women where the pumps had been installed reported feeling embarrassed every time they had to get water for their families, while a report by the Guardian found that children would have to "play" on the pumps twenty-seven hours a day to meet the per-pump target of delivering water to twenty-five hundred people. In short, the pumps failed to improve clean water availability in communities across Zambia, and much money and time was invested with little to show for it.

By contrast, READ Global embraced a community-driven approach that has stood the test of time. For more than twenty-five years, the organization has partnered with rural villages in Nepal, India, and Bhutan to establish community-driven libraries, resource centers, and social enterprises known as READ Centers that are owned and operated by the local community. There are now more than a hundred self-sustaining centers spread across the three countries, and not one center has closed since the first one opened in 1991.

Locally driven solutions are most effective when an organization's leadership team understands the local context first-hand and is strongly connected to the local community. Local leaders have a better understanding of how to create culturally relevant programs, how to optimize operations for the local context, and how to build trusting relationships with and beyond the community. All of which creates more opportunity for partnerships between those providing the service and those using the service.

At RefuSHE, we witnessed this first-hand when we invested in bringing on Geoffrey Thige to lead our Kenya operations as executive director. When COVID hit, having that executive presence in Kenya enabled us to navigate the public health crisis much more quickly and effectively. In fact, we were the first organization serving refugees in Kenya to move to virtual learning. And despite initial concerns that some donors might balk, seeing the tangible benefits of Geoffrey's presence in Nairobi gave us the courage to restructure our leadership and shift the majority of our executive functions to Kenya.

Funding is the biggest hurdle facing NGOs looking to similarly restructure. Donors need to trust local leadership and stop supporting organizational infrastructures that are built to cater to them more than the beneficiary communities they are intended to serve. Having an organization's CEO and "top brass" in the West is a relic of a twentieth-century donor model that has lost much of its relevance. Good intentions do not necessarily lead to good solutions. If they truly want to support effective, long-lasting solutions, donors need to move away from creating cultures of dependency that too often are perpetuated and reinforced by a "white guilt" mentality.

Fund collaboration rather than competition

The current donor incentive structure is rooted in competition. Organizations in the same field are constantly competing with one another to secure funds they need to survive. Competition for funding among NGOs working in similar spaces also stifles their ability to share information, data, and learnings. This scarcity model disincentivizes transparency and pushes organizations to keep lessons learned to themselves in order to stand out in the quest for funding.

Real, tangible impact requires collaboration. Our NGO, for instance, equips girl and women refugees with housing, education, counseling, and the vocational skills they need to reestablish some semblance of stability in their lives. While our services are rooted in a holistic approach to the plight of refugees, we don't work on resettlement cases (where refugees are formally resettled to a country like the U.S.); instead, we partner with organizations like HIAS and Refuge Point that specialize in refugee resettlement cases. When funding streams disincentivize an ecosystem of NGOs from collaborating, it is a disservice to the very communities we aim to serve.

Funding — and rewarding — organizations that work together to address the root causes of multifaceted issues enables communities to walk through all the doors of opportunity at once, rather than one door at time. Collaboration also fosters a culture where service providers share learnings and don't waste precious resources repeating mistakes. Above all, it means the people we aim to serve can more easily navigate the various services they need to establish productive, fulfilling lives.

Award unrestricted grants

All too often, funding comes with restrictions on how, when, and where it can be used. This assumes the donor knows best just because they have the money, rather than acknowledging the hard-earned insights of organizations working on the ground every day. Unrestricted funding requires trust in the organizations in which you invest. Unfortunately, this kind of trust too often is awarded to organizations led by leaders in the Global North with whom donors feel most comfortable. While many have good track records, the practice cuts out organizations that may be smaller in scale but that have more depth and experience collaborating with the communities they serve.

It's an open secret in Kenya that if you set up a nonprofit and are hoping for funding from the West, you'll have much better luck if your leaders are white and/or of Western origin. Whether in the U.S. or other developed countries, data backs up the observation that Black and African leaders are not awarded the same kind of trust. This leads to nonprofits where white, often well-connected Western leaders earn the top salaries, sucking up resources that could otherwise be used to attract top local talent that is much better suited for the job but too often undervalued.

Unrestricted funding also has the power to build more durable institutions. It allows organizations to balance how much is invested in program implementation and how much is invested in competitive salaries, technology infrastructure, and/or new facilities that can enhance the organization's operations over the long term. (We should all toast Mackenzie Scott for shattering the philanthropic establishment glass ceiling with her unprecedented giving in the form of large unrestricted grants.)

The time for change is now

As with any change, there will be those who resist it, those who say there isn't enough local talent to fill the available leadership positions, and those who say local leadership team won't get enough face time with donors if those donors are based in far-off countries. We ask those naysayers to take a critical look at how that critique is rooted in an imperialist mindset that blames communities in need for their problems rather than seeing them as the solution to those problems.

The movement to decolonize philanthropy is a big step forward in terms of making the most of every dollar invested in social good and creating inclusive, durable solutions to economic prosperity. We can make the choice to stop wasting money on short-sighted solutions. The time for change is now.

Thige_adly_refuSHE_philantopicGeoffrey Thige is the current executive director and incoming CEO of RefuSHE. Jailan Adly is the organization's outgoing CEO and incoming managing director.

5 Questions for...Starsky Wilson, President and CEO, Children's Defense Fund

December 18, 2020

In September, the Rev. Dr. Starsky D. Wilson was named president and CEO of the Children's Defense Fund (CDF), succeeding Marian Wright Edelman, who in late 2018 transitioned into the role of president emerita of the organization she founded almost fifty years earlier. Wilson started his tenure as president and CEO of CDF on December 7.

Wilson previously served as president and CEO of the Deaconess Foundation, a faith-based philanthropy focused on child well-being in St. Louis, and as pastor of Saint John's Church, an interracial, inner-city congregation. In the wake of the 2014 police shooting of Michael Brown, Wilson was asked to co-chair the Ferguson Commission, convened by then-Missouri governor Jay Nixon; the report issued by the commission, Forward Through Ferguson: A Path Toward Racial Equity, called for sweeping reforms to policing and the criminal justice system as well as a renewed commitment to child well-being and economic opportunity for all.

Earlier this month, PND spoke with Wilson, who serves as board chair of the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy and as vice chair of the Forum for Theological Exploration, about the intersection of faith, racial justice, and philanthropy; the rising generation of racial justice activists; and Marian Wright Edelman's legacy.

Headshot_Starsky-Wilson_childrens_defense_fundPhilanthropy News Digest: As the former co-chair of the Ferguson Commission, what was your reaction to the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer and the nationwide protests that followed? And have we made any progress toward racial justice since Michael Brown was shot dead by a Ferguson police officer?

Starsky Wilson: The video of the eight minutes and forty-six seconds in which George Floyd was killed by Officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on his neck in Minneapolis was a triggering reminder of the four hours Michael Brown, Jr. lay in the street in Ferguson, Missouri, after being killed by Darren Wilson. Six years passed between those tragedies, and yet so much was the same: the days waiting for the responsible police officers to be arrested, the outpouring of pent-up rage and pain from decades of oppression and brutality.

Six years have passed and little has changed in the response of these systems. On the other hand, much progress has been made in the activation and mobilization of community leaders on the ground, and in building the capacity to change narratives and organize people for long-term impact.

The only way to stop police violence is to address the root cause directly and deeply. Racist oppression and myths of criminality lead to public lynchings of Black people by those sworn to protect them. We need effective leaders who are not afraid to stand up and speak out about racial injustice. We must lift up and listen to the voices of impacted communities that for decades have been crying out about police brutality, violence that endangers our children and youth. We must take meaningful action on a systemic level: removing the police presence from our schools, ending the cradle-to-prison pipeline, and investing in programs that allow marginalized children and their families to thrive.

PND: As an early supporter of and participant in the Black Lives Matter movement, you're seen by many as a bridge between Marian Wright Edelman's generation of 1960s civil rights-era activists and a new generation of millennial and Gen-Z racial justice activists. As the new president and CEO of the Children's Defense Fund, how do you see your role in the movement for racial justice?

SW: Child well-being and racial justice are intimately and forever interconnected. Many people don't realize that 2020 is the first year in American history where the majority of children in this country are children of color. This makes the civil rights legacy and child advocacy vision that the Children's Defense Fund has woven together for nearly fifty years even more vital.

That's also why I am honored to join the organization built by Marian Wright Edelman. She has understood since she founded the Children's Defense Fund in 1973 that it is essential to weave together the struggle for civil rights and the fight for children in order for both movements to succeed. That means any action we can take toward providing opportunity, relieving social and economic burdens, and expanding healthcare access for the nation's children helps build a safer and more equitable society for people of color. At the same time, any action we can take to dismantle the policies and structures that uphold systems of racism in this country creates a better nation for our children.

Holding and earning the trust of leaders within the Movement for Black Lives is just as high an honor. I have been pleased to stand with, beside, and behind them on the streets and the public square, to invest in their work, and to strategize with them. At CDF, I look forward to working with these same leaders to extend the movement for justice that so many are inheriting at about the same age that Mrs. Edeleman was when she planted the flag of her work for justice.

PND: CDF recently was awarded a $1 million grant by the Thriving Congregations Initiative at the Lilly Endowment. As a pastor and a nonprofit leader, how do you see the relationship between faith and social justice advocacy? And how will the organization use the grant?

SW: Only faith in some idea, expression, or being greater than ourselves gives us the capacity to see justice in the face of injustice and to sustain strength to pursue it. Faith leaders like Rev. James Lawson and the late Rev. C.T. Vivian taught me that, at critical moments, we must win locally with spiritually grounded activism before we can win globally with on-the-ground activism. My job as a faith leader is to stir our collective imagination, encourage moral action, and pursue justice and righteousness as I encounter those themes in sacred texts and communities. When we bring our beliefs and bold action into the public square, we nurture the change that can transform a nation and help children flourish.

The Children's Defense Fund has a long history of working with faith leaders and communities to activate champions for our children through programs like the Proctor Institute for Child Advocacy Ministry and the annual National Children's Sabbath. The generous grant from the Lilly Endowment will take that work to new heights by allowing us to pursue a focused partnership with a small group of congregations to help strengthen the connections between the teachings and actions of their places of worship with the challenges facing children in their communities and across the country.

PND: Over the course of your career you've been focused on the well-being of children, and that includes your work on the CDF Freedom Schools summer literacy program and the Proctor Institute for Child Advocacy Ministry. Have you had time to determine what your top priorities for CDF are over the short to immediate term?

SW: There was already so much work to be done to make sure our most marginalized children can flourish — and that was before the COVID pandemic set those children back even further in their learning, their development, and their safety and well-being. The top priority at CDF will always be to be a strong, effective voice for the more than seventy-four million children who cannot vote, lobby, or make campaign donations to the lawmakers with the power to help them. Our immediate focus right now is urging Congress to pass robust COVID relief that will help our children and their families stay housed, fed, and safe in the difficult weeks ahead.

More broadly, we will continue to push those in power to take a holistic view of our children. They are not just students and future employees; they are entire human beings who need to be supported mentally and physically to lead joyful lives. We must be proactive in supporting children in all aspects of their life, not just working on the back end to dilute the damage after they have experienced a traumatic experience. We will not solve the complex, interconnected set of challenges facing our most vulnerable children unless we as a society adopt that kind of approach to serving them.

PND: Many foundations have come to the realization that they need to do more to address systemic racism and support efforts to advance racial justice. What are the one or two things foundations could do in 2021 to really accelerate progress toward a racially just society?

SW: First, foundations must make good on their public statements and commitments made in response to the reckoning we saw in 2020, from COVID-19 to racial uprisings to the presidential election. To truly and faithfully advance racial justice, they must invest in an equitable recovery from the pandemic, including supporting responses designed to correct the disproportionate health and economic impacts on Black and brown children and families. That will require higher payouts, the application of a racial equity lens to their grantmaking, and the adoption of a systems-change approach to everything they do.

Philanthropies must invest in Black-led social change and listen closely to leaders and organizations in impacted communities. Just before coming to CDF, I led the Deaconess Foundation's work to invest $4 million into Black-led pandemic response and racial healing initiatives. That type of deliberate, focused action is what is needed to produce the results foundations say they want in their mission statements and theories of change.

Finally, leaders of foundations can lift their own voices to amplify the demands of those whose voices are too often drowned out or ignored. The freedom to advocate afforded to foundations and their leaders is a powerful tool when it's used to shift narratives and educate the public. And I am truly glad to hear some of these leaders already speaking out loudly and forcefully.

Kyoko Uchida

Challenging ableism through language justice

December 03, 2020

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Social justice movements have long recognized the power of language. The idea of language justice — "the right everyone has to communicate in the language in which we feel most comfortable" — has helped bridge the equity gap when people who speak different languages work together. Multilingual spaces can connect movements across language barriers and build shared power across language differences. Below, we argue that the concept of language justice needs to be enlarged to other contexts and forms of communication — in particular, that by and about disabled people.

In 2017, we launched the Open Society Community Youth Fellowship Program, with a focus on engaging young people as individual grantees through a diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) lens. Through this experience, we learned that certain words can have unintended and damaging consequences and can reinforce stigmas related to oppression and ableism. We also learned what it means in practice to apply language justice to all stages of grantmaking, centering disabled people in these processes. Here we want to share these lessons, which both involve listening to and learning from disabled people, in accordance with the disability movement's key principle of "Nothing about us without us."

Shifting power through word use

Discriminatory and stigmatizing words are often used in everyday exchanges. Since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic and with the current political instability in the U.S., there has been widespread use — in emails, tweets, and mainstream media — of expressions such as "You're not nuts. This is a really crazy time!" or "I hope this finds you well during these crazy times," "falling on deaf ears," and "interrogating our blind spots." Politicians are referred to as "mad," "psycho," or "narcissistic." These everyday uses of language can reinforce stigma, implying, even when it is not the intention of the speaker or writer, that people with mental health conditions never make sound judgments, that being deaf means being stubborn, or that being blind means being unaware. Terms like "crazy," "nuts," and "insane" can be especially discriminatory and offensive, particularly when metaphorically used to mean "bad," "bizarre," or "very unusual" (as in "these crazy times").

In applying a language justice approach as funders, we also learned to be intentional in analyzing the words we use to talk about disability. In some parts of the world, disability rights activists tend to prefer "person with disability" to "disabled person," which, they argue, can suggest that one's identity is wholly defined by one's disability, perpetuating stigma and discrimination. In the United Kingdom, however, "disabled person" is widely used by activists due to the stronger prevalence of the social model of disability, according to which a person is disabled not by their sensory, motor, intellectual, or other impairments but by physical barriers, gaps in provision, and social attitudes that marginalize or exclude them. Adherents to the social model prefer "disabled person" because it emphasizes the disabling effects of society and they do not see such phrasing as discriminatory. It needs to be recognized that both of these naming conventions — "person-first" and "identity-first" — are widespread.

The example of autism highlights a different dimension of this debate. The term "neurodiversity" stresses that all people are different in terms of their expectations and identities, and moves us away from pathologization. It was once considered appropriate to say "people with autism," using person-first terminology. But some with lived experience have stated that autism is part of their identity, not an addition, and therefore prefer "autistic person." Disability activists often emphasize a point that Tom Shakespeare has succinctly stated: "[I]t is a good principle to call people by the names they themselves prefer."

Judgments about what terms are acceptable or discriminatory change over time. Many words referring to people with intellectual disabilities that are now regarded as highly stigmatizing were once used in scientific communities, as well as in official medical and educational policy documents, as legitimate descriptions of certain individuals and their genetic conditions. This does not mean that those words were not already problematic; it just means their connotations and the extent of their social acceptance changed over time until they eventually became unacceptable and taboo.

The word "cripple," and in particular its shortened form "crip," is a particular case. In the last two decades, disability activists have reclaimed "crip" and "cripple" as positive terms, as a badge of identity, flipping their connotations against their oppressive usage in much the same way "queer" was reclaimed by the LGBT movement. As an article written early in that process explained, "by reclaiming 'cripple', disabled activists take the image in their identity that scares outsiders and make it a source of militant pride." It remains problematic, however, for non-disabled people to use the term, even if their intention is to express solidarity with the disability rights movement. Here, too, people with disabilities must be in control of decisions about language that refers to them.

The point is not to "police" or "cancel" certain ways of talking, to ban certain words and elevate others, but to argue that we all need to be aware that expressions like these carry considerable power and can reinforce negative narratives, stereotypes, and discriminatory attitudes. Prejudiced language is endemic in society. As funders working through a language-justice approach, we need to recognize this and be guided by what disabled people themselves feel and say is discriminatory, stigmatizing, offensive, and/or hurtful. This is a basic principle of language justice in relation to disability.

Shifting power with language justice in grantmaking practices

In a grant-giving context, as elsewhere, a language-justice approach can help shift power and challenge ableism at each stage of a grant cycle. We learned that implementing these approaches meant rethinking timelines and systems based on notions of urgency and perfectionism. It does take longer to create the conditions and the spaces where people can exercise their power in their own language and in ways that are accessible for them. Looking, even inadvertently, for conventional kinds of "perfection" in applicants or our own operational processes can reinforce existing power relations and made us reflect on the intersections between ableism and other forms of discrimination, as highlighted by the Disability Justice movement. Based on our experience, we offer some suggestions on how language justice can be implemented through grantmaking practice.

First, reduce barriers and widen participation, calls for proposals must be accessible. This means application materials should be translated into the languages used by potential applicants' communities and also re-worked into Easy-to-Read, a format that conveys information in short sentences with widely used and easily understood words in combination with images, or Plain Language. Word, PDF, and Power Point documents should use accessible document formats. Informational webinars or events should be conducted in the languages used by applicants (with interpretation for the funder, if needed), as well as offered with sign language interpretation and Communication Access Real-Time Transcription to enable better information access.

Second, applicants should be given the choice to submit their materials in different communication formats (written, video, audio, etc.). No one method of communication should be imposed. For example, requiring only written submissions — even for only one part of the application — could exclude some signing Deaf people. If interviews are conducted, simultaneous or consecutive interpretation should be made available.

Third, once the successful applicants have been selected, welcome documents and other important information should be provided in Plain Language, and in the languages and formats used by the communities they represent. The same applies to reporting requirements, which are often daunting and technically complex. Grantees should have the option of submitting reports in their language or format of choice (video, audio, etc.). In our case, this then meant transcribing reports to meet the required formats of our institution. When grantees come together for virtual or in-person meetings, they must be asked well in advance what accessibility and accommodation supports they will need. The Autistic Self Advocacy Network and European Disability Forum offer excellent guidance for accessible meetings.

Final thoughts

Language justice is about challenging a widely accepted and internalized reality of exclusion and the dominance of institutionally powerful cultures and people. For us it has meant checking our own privilege as people holding particular kinds of institutional power. It has also meant acknowledging that we need to learn from the communities we want to support. Listening carefully is just as important as speaking.

Rachele_tardi_zachary_turkRachele Tardi is the director of and Zachary Turk is a program officer with the Youth Exchange at the Open Society Foundations.

To help communities survive crises, trust and invest in their leadership

September 08, 2020

Kresge_fresh_lo_initiative_2Amid multiple ongoing crises, foundations are struggling with how best to support the nonprofit sector — in particular, community-based organizations working to address a raging pandemic, police violence, and systemic racism.

Led by people with a wealth of lived experience, community-based groups have long been a critical source of support for under-resourced neighborhoods struggling to rise above interconnected challenges, including insufficient access to fresh and affordable food, clean air, and safe, healthy housing.

By listening to and investing in local organizations, philanthropy has helped accelerate resident-centered collaborative approaches that have made it possible for such groups to pivot to meet immediate COVID-related needs and maintain their financial footing during an economic downturn that has forced many nonprofits to shut their doors.

One such group, the Memphis-based Binghampton Development Corporation (BDC), which works to promote people-first property development, support affordable home ownership, and train new food entrepreneurs in English, Spanish, and Arabic, hasn't missed a beat since COVID emerged as a public health crisis earlier this spring. Although the virus forced the organization to pause its regular programming to ensure proper social distancing, it is still hard at work making sure the small food businesses it supports have the resources they need to navigate these uncertain times and sustain themselves in a post-pandemic world. Recently, for example, it secured a catering deal for one local entrepreneur to prepare food for emergency medical staff, helping that small business owner earn the income needed to survive while supporting critical frontline workers.

And BDC isn't alone. Montbello Organizing Committee, a group of community organizers and developers based in Denver’s multiracial Montbello neighborhood, responded to the pandemic by immediately organizing emergency food distribution and working with partners to distribute meals to more than eight hundred people a day. In New Brunswick, New Jersey, resident-led nonprofit Elijah's Promise has provided twice-daily meals to locals out of its community soup kitchen and is serving more than three times as many meals today as it did before the virus became a concern. And through its Corner Store Witness initiative, the Chicago-based Inner-City Muslim Action Network (IMAN) and its community partners recently held a virtual convening to discuss the challenges immigrant-owned corner stores in inner-city neighborhoods are facing and what can be done to provide a path forward to long-term healing and the building of real community power. All these organizations are working locally to meet the needs of the communities in which they are embedded and are examples of the idea that in times of crisis, hyper-local investment is essential for community survival.

About five years ago, the Kresge Foundation developed a grant program, Fresh Local & Equitable (FreshLo), to support resident-led approaches to community challenges that prioritizes cultural expression and food as a social determent of health. A joint initiative of Kresge's Health and Arts & Culture programs, FreshLo intentionally integrates food, art, and creative approaches to community building to drive neighborhood revitalization equitably.

One of our top priorities is raising up resident-centered, collective action that includes the voices of those who live and work in the community. During the grantmaking process, we intentionally looked for neighborhoods that have lacked access to foundation funding — especially those in the South and Midwest. We knew that groups on the ground were already doing important community-driven work and we hoped the funding we could provide would help seed new networks, bring resident-led projects to life, and develop infrastructure that could support their neighborhoods over time.

The twenty-three community-based groups we selected were already doing the work needed to drive long-term neighborhood change — the type of work Kresge has been exploring for nearly a decade through its Creative Placemaking efforts, which are based on the idea that progress depends on a more nuanced understanding of urban inequality and how arts, culture, and community-engaged design intersect with strategies to expand opportunities for residents in low-income communities.

It was the social cohesion and vision shared by residents in these neighborhoods that excited us and created, in our view, the essential pre-conditions for long-term change. That vision also served as a vital ground wire for the collective action needed to mitigate some of the impacts related to the pandemic and structural racism.

Over the past six months, we've seen these organizations evolve their programs and services to meet emerging needs of their communities. We had a hunch that investing in resident-driven collective action and cultural solutions would help strengthen communities that had been neglected for decades; the pandemic has proven that hunch right. The results of our grantees' efforts show that place-based, culture-first investing is critical in times of crisis.

In Minnesota, Native-led community organization and FreshLo grantee Dream of Wild Health has tripled its farmland with support from Kresge. During a pandemic — when food sovereignty is paramount — the organization's sustainable farming practices, informed by Indigenous knowledge and traditions, have proven key to meeting the growing food needs of its community. Not only is the group cultivating its land to yield more fresh produce for current and future generations, it's also delivering food to elders who are at higher risk of becoming seriously ill with the virus and supporting other members of the community impacted by COVID and ongoing protests against racial injustice.

Similarly, In Oakland, FreshLo grantee Planting Justice has spent decades mobilizing people impacted by mass incarceration to work toward neighborhood revitalization and food sovereignty. Since the pandemic began, the organization has shifted work at its plant nursery to provide critical produce and smoothie distribution to more than a thousand neighbors a week. As its community faces job loss and economic challenges, it also has taken on forty paid interns, creating new opportunities for professional development and routing money to local families, supported by additional COVID-response funding from Kresge.

Like Montbello, Elijah's Promise, and IMAN, the organization's ability to quickly pivot and use resources where they are most needed is a testament to the trust it has built up and its commitment to its neighbors. Investments in social infrastructure and the leadership of groups like Dream of Wild Health and Planting Justice can only strengthen their work.

For historically underresourced and marginalized neighborhoods, and the people who live in them, responding to crises is nothing new. But they are more likely to survive a crisis when strong community connections already exist and they receive the support needed to take neighborhood-level action. The lessons from the FreshLo initiative suggest that investments in social cohesion, local leadership, and community enterprises can yield huge dividends.

The crises we are grappling with today — and those to follow — require that we lean on our neighbors. The strongest safety nets are constructed out of local knowledge, relationships, and community action, and philanthropy should do what it can to support them.

(Photo credit: Kresge Foundation Fresh Local & Equitable Initiative)

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Stacey Barbas is a senior program officer in the Health program and Regina R. Smith is managing director of the Arts & Culture program at the Kresge Foundation.

5 Questions for...Monique W. Morris, Executive Director, Grantmakers for Girls of Color

August 24, 2020

Launched in 2015, Grantmakers for Girls of Color (G4GC) has since grown from an online platform into a grantmaking organization focused on addressing the structural inequities faced by girls and young women of color and centering their voices in philanthropy and movement building.

Based on focus groups and surveys of girls and young women of color, the organization's 2019 report Start from the Ground Up: Increasing Support for Girls of Color identified nine types of structural barriers to the success of young women and girls of color, including disproportionately applied school discipline, insufficient financial aid, poverty and the struggle to meet basic needs, gender discrimination and patriarchal power dynamics, mental and behavioral health challenges, and exposure to community, domestic, and interpersonal violence. The study also found that funders and girls of color often frame the same issues differently.

Before becoming the inaugural executive director of G4GC, Monique W. Morris co-founded the National Black Women's Justice Institute, which works to reduce racial and gender disparities across the justice continuum. She is the author of Sing a Rhythm, Dance a Blues: Education for the Liberation of Black and Brown Girls and Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools, which was released as a documentary in 2019.

PND spoke with Morris about her vision for G4GC, the impact of COVID-19 on the Black community, and what the reenergized movement for racial justice means for philanthropy. 

MoniqueMorris_G4GCPhilanthropy News Digest: What is your vision for Grantmakers for Girls of Color as it makes the transition from a funder network into a grantmaking organization?

Monique W. Morris: Girls and gender-expansive youth of color live at the intersections of sexism, racism, and other forms of oppression. My charge is to do all I can to help realize Grantmakers for Girls of Color's vision of mobilizing philanthropic resources so that Black girls and other girls and gender-expansive youth of color achieve equity and justice in this critical moment in our history.

I became the executive director of G4GC at the beginning of April, just as the country had shut down because of the pandemic, and then in May we saw the beginnings of a global movement for racial justice and against anti-Blackness. As an independent entity under the fiscal sponsorship of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, we are now able to shape our own future and determine how to best move forward. The needs mapping we're doing right now will help us inform that process. And while we will continue to serve as a resource for donors and funders seeking to support girls, fem(mes), and gender-expansive youth of color, we will also be increasing our capacity in the areas of research and grantmaking. 

Soon after I joined G4GC, we launched the Love is Healing COVID-19 Response Fund, our first grantmaking initiative as an independent organization, and to date we've awarded more than  $1.5 million to over eighty organizations across the country. I'm excited about what lies ahead, and we hope other funders will join us in this critical work. We have lots of other exciting partnerships and opportunities on the horizon.

PND: We hear you're planning to introduce a participatory grantmaking program. How would that work?

MWM: Yes, we believe participatory grantmaking is a critical driver of broader systems change. We see our partner organizations serving as agents of change rather than constituents. At this moment, all across the country, we're seeing girls, particularly girls of color, leading change in their communities, organizing protests, and advocating for justice. We see girls of color playing an important role in facilitating the paradigm shift this country needs and deserves.

That's why I am so excited about the Youth Advisory Committee we're forming to explore participatory grantmaking. We want to connect funders to the issues faced by girls and young women of color and help them better respond to those needs. The committee will help us figure out how to strengthen the capacity of girls of color to be active decision makers in the grantmaking process.

PND: According to Pocket change — how women and girls of color do more with less, a report published by the Ms. Foundation for Women, less than 1 percent of total foundation funding is awarded in support of women and girls of color. How do you explain that, and how can it be addressed?

MWM: In philanthropy, in academia, in the media, and in movement and policy circles, we generally adopt a male-centered approach to the fight for racial justice. If we think about Black girls and other girls of color at all, we tend to think of them as trickle-down beneficiaries of our work and investments in these issues. That has to change if we want girls — and our communities — to thrive. 

That study showed that of the $66.9 billion given by philanthropists in 2017, just 0.5 percent was awarded to organizations representing women and girls of color. That's about $5.48 per woman/girl. What it shows is that funders continue to operate with the assumption that the money they donate will "trickle down" to groups that are doing the work of empowering women and girls of color. And that is not happening. We have to be more intentional with our investments.

PND: In response to the pandemic, G4GC launched the Love Is Healing COVID-19 Response Fund, which, as you mentioned, has awarded more than $1.5 million to date. Given how the virus has disproportionately impacted African-American communities and highlighted existing health, economic, and other structural disparities, do you expect grantmaking to nonprofits serving girls of color to increase more broadly in the sector over the coming months and years?

MWM: I certainly hope so, and we are pushing with our partners to make that a reality. The COVID-19 crisis has shown how important it is that we dismantle the structural barriers that keep BIPOC girls from thriving. I wrote an op-ed in May about how, while the media and thought leaders had begun to acknowledge the harsh light that COVID-19 was shining on the racial inequities, less attention was being paid to how the crisis had exposed another ugly truth: the long-term marginalization of girls and gender-expansive youth of color. 

Unless we act now to close the disparities these kids face in every aspect of their lives, we will deprive them of their rightful opportunity to thrive and have a long, healthy life. This is a time for the philanthropic community to step up for young girls and women of color.

According to the CDC, there is growing body of evidence that suggests the virus is having the greatest impact on BIPOC communities. The majority of frontline workers — restaurant staff, cleaning crews, daycare workers — are people of color. Health care is too expensive for many of them. Organizations that had already been working to address these longstanding issues through an intersectional lens and need support are why we created this fund. The grant partners we have been able to identify and support through the Love is Healing COVID Response fund had been fighting to end the marginalization of girls of color well before the pandemic. These organizations have responded to COVID with creativity, courage, and compassion — and philanthropy, too, must meet the moment in similar fashion.

PND: Has the reenergized Black Lives Matter movement and the push to end police violence against people of color caused you to change your plans for G4GC? And are you hopeful, here in the summer of 2020, that the arc of the moral universe, to quote Martin Luther King, Jr., bends toward justice and that the United States will finally live up to the promise of its creedal documents?

MWM: It has reinforced and lent even greater urgency to our mission. We cannot continue to allow the issues and experiences impacting the quality of life for girls of color — Black, Indigenous, Latinx, Muslim, and Asian-American and Pacific Islander girls — to be relegated to the category "niche," which can lead to underinvestment and erasure that prevents the realization of their potential. It is my hope that in our efforts to provide more resources to movement work, we are able to embed a robust investment strategy that supports and ultimately provides opportunities for our girls.

This is a potentially historic moment of reckoning and reconciliation for our country around race, and I am heartened to see the beginnings of the radical transformation that those of us who do this work day in and day out have long hoped to see. But we won't get there unless we are intentional about centering the needs and lives of Black girls and gender-expansive youth. The philanthropic sector and society more broadly are not paying enough attention to the unique issues these girls face. In this moment, when more funders are asking how they can support the struggle for racial justice and anti-Blackness, we need to put Black girls and girls of color at the center of those efforts. We need to be there for the young people who desperately need our trust, allyship, and support.

— Kyoko Uchida

International grantmaking during COVID: a focus on equitable access to education in Latin America

August 12, 2020

International grants_tinker foundationIt’s safe to say that no person or organization is having the 2020 they expected. At the Tinker Foundation, the pandemic has caused us to shift course significantly as Latin America, the region central to our mission, struggles with a once-in-a-century health, economic, and social crisis. And while our home base is New York City, we are challenging ourselves to put our assets to work for the organizations and communities at the epicenter of the pandemic there.

Like many other foundations, when the coronavirus emerged we reached out to our current grantees to offer support. At that point, in mid-March, we questioned whether it might seem "U.S.-centric" to send a communication about a virus that had not yet reached large swaths of the hemisphere. In retrospect, that concern seems quaint. By mid-May, a New York Times headline, "Latin America’s Outbreak Rivals Europe’s. But Its Options Are Worse," was sounding the alarm. As of this writing, the region leads the world in deaths from COVID-19.

As we talked with our grantees, we noted how quickly many were mobilizing amid the uncertainty (and despite, in some countries, official denials that the virus was a problem). One grantee, the Argentine fact-checking and investigative journalism organization Chequeado, repurposed travel funds from a grant to prototype a website dedicated to combating misinformation about the virus. Within weeks, they had secured additional funding and launched a regional effort with more than twenty other organizations.

Within Tinker, we recognized the need to begin taking action — just as our grantees had — while at the same time laying the groundwork for more substantive grantmaking. We started small, reallocating funds from other budget lines to support rapid-response grantmaking. These early grants prioritized the immediate needs of vulnerable populations, including the millions of Venezuelan migrants and refugees unable to work as stay-at-home orders rolled out across Latin America. Two small grants to Tinker grantee partners in Central America focused on vulnerable children affected by school closures. Another sought to support civil society organizations working to shift strategies in response to the crisis.

As we began making plans for the remainder of the year, the scale of the COVID catastrophe in Latin America became clearer. Ecuador experienced a devastating early wave of infections that collapsed the health system in Guayaquil, its largest city. Brazil, Chile, Mexico, and Peru all appeared in the list of seven countries with the highest incidence of COVID. A virus first introduced to Latin America by international travelers returning home from abroad was now tightening its grip on vulnerable populations across the region, from residents of crowded informal settlements, to migrants and refugees, to Indigenous and Afro-descendent communities.

As a midsize foundation, we knew we had to make the most of our grantmaking resources. But we had other important assets we could draw on, too, including longstanding relationships and networks, operational flexibility, and an engaged board willing to operate differently in response to a crisis. In addition to maintaining some longer-term grantmaking across our program areas, we decided it made sense to identify one COVID-related priority to focus on in the remainder of the year and give it our all.

Discussions with grantees, staff, experts, and board members all pointed to the impact of the pandemic on education, an existing Tinker program area. We learned, for instance, that by June, 95 percent of students in the region were out of school. As in other parts of the world, ministries of education, administrators, and teachers had quickly shifted gears — introducing online instruction strategies meant to replace classroom instruction. And yet past crises suggested that students would incur significant learning losses, and that many would not return to school at all, with the impacts likely greatest among students who had faced barriers to equitable education pre-pandemic.

In late June, Tinker launched a $500,000 funding initiative to help address the specific educational challenges generated by the pandemic. Over the coming months, we will partner with Latin America-based civil society organizations working to address the near-term effects of school closures. Many of these organizations have already hit the ground running, using their own resources to fill gaps, pilot innovative approaches, and support teachers and students. Additional funding can enable further experimentation and help consolidate and scale what is already working. Critically, the initiative will seek to complement and build on the priorities and initiatives of public education systems in the region.

The enormous response to our initiative highlights the urgent need for more funding for education as the virus continues to upend systems and the status quo. We received more than five hundred letters of inquiry, approximately five times what a typical call for applications from our Education program attracts. Following a review of a subset of full proposals, we will announce grants in September.

The applications we’ve received speak to the predictable but profound challenges of ensuring equitable access to education in a pandemic context — particularly in rural and low-income urban areas where students have limited access to the Internet or Internet-enabled devices. The proposed projects also demonstrate the resilience and creativity of schools, teachers, and civil society organizations, all of whom are imagining new ways to reach and engage students, as well as reinvigorating older tools like community radio. A number of applications call for investment in social-emotional learning and other efforts to address the trauma occasioned by the pandemic as a critical enabler of continued learning.

Following this round of special grants, we will work closely with our partner organizations to learn from their work and identify broader areas for research and innovation, larger-scale funding, and policy change. As a foundation that works across Latin America, we also hope to connect and convene local actors that share a commitment to protecting access to education throughout the crisis.

COVID-19 has created profound challenges across many domains — all of them competing for policy makers' and the public's attention. But when we look back on this challenging time, it may well be disruption to education that casts the longest shadow over Latin America. If millions of students fall behind or become permanently disconnected from school, the impact could last at least a generation. At Tinker, we will continue to support those in Latin America who are imagining and taking action to ensure a better future for the region’s children and young people.

Headshot_caroline_kronley_squareCaroline Kronley is president of the New York City-based Tinker Foundation. Prior to joining the foundation, she worked as managing director for strategy at the Rockefeller Foundation, leading the development of new programmatic initiatives, and before that she was a management consultant at Katzenbach Partners and at Booz & Company, where she served a broad range of clients on strategy and organizational performance.

What grantees need most — a partner

July 21, 2020

NorthBergen_Healthy_Places_by_DesignFor better or worse; for richer, for poorer; through sickness and health.

You may not associate this vow with your typical funder — unless you've had the good fortune to partner with New Jersey Health Initiatives (NJHI).

Among the many things that make NJHI unique is the value it places on shifting power to communities, making longer-term commitments so that grantees have the time needed to achieve community transformation, and forming authentic relationships with grantees and partners.

NJHI was established in 1987 as a national program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF). In New Jersey, RWJF's home state, NJHI plays a leading role in advancing the foundation's efforts to build healthier communities through grantmaking and investments. Since its inception, NJHI has supported more than forty statewide funding initiatives encompassing over five hundred grantees across all twenty-one counties in the state, making grants in support of youth-led initiatives, health and well-being, mental health, and community-based capacity development.

Recognizing that the communities it supports are best positioned to create the most impact and sustainable change, the organization strives to be flexible, nimble, and innovative. "We allow community partners to determine the best use of grant funds based on their specific community needs," says NJHI director Bob Atkins. "We have focused our grantmaking on engaging more voices and stakeholders in the communities in which we work, and to have them inform our thinking and approaches to making their communities healthier and more equitable."

As a community-led funder and partner focused on a single state, NJHI can make multiple investments in the same communities in ways that are strategic and complementary, rather than duplicative. "It has been exciting to see past and current grantees weave in elements of what they first received funding for five or ten or fifteen years ago," says NJHI deputy director Diane Hagerman. "We know that changes to health outcomes may not be seen for five or even ten years, so seeing work that was funded in the past resurface in a more current context speaks to the commitment of communities to make lasting change."

NJHI also recognizes that needs and context are not the same across communities, even within a single state. "We've analyzed our approach and become increasingly aware that some of our more distressed communities want help to build their own organizational and collaborative capacity," Hagerman notes. To address those requests, NJHI increased the amount of technical assistance it provides to applicants from distressed communities, many of which don't have a paid grant writer on staff.

More recently, a reimagining of NJHI's approach put greater focus on how it works with communities — as opposed to for communities. "One of the most valuable roles we can play," says Atkins, "is to set the table for grantees and community partners while they decide and create buy-in around what will help them achieve their goals." As such, NJHI leverages its influential role as connector and convener to help its community partners expand their networks and access additional resources, including coaching and collaborative learning and networking opportunities. Such investments provide exceptional returns in terms of building capacity at the community level.

"NJHI not only invests in communities, it invests in leaders and has built a movement across the state of people passionate about health equity," says Mary Celis, director of health initiatives at United Way of Passaic County. "Being a part of the NJHI family means you always have thought-leaders to problem-solve with and learn from."

NJHI's responsiveness during the COVID-19 pandemic provides another example of how it has grounded its investments in relationships. The large number of coronavirus infections and deaths in the state have underscored the important policy and systems work NJHI grantees do to address health disparities in their communities. NJHI was quick, for example, to provide timely funding resources and other critical information to grantees, and it devoted its April monthly Learning Collaborative session to an open discussion about the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic in grantee communities. It was reassuring for NJHI grantees and partners to hear a funder be transparent about the ways in which the crisis has impacted the work it funds, and that the funder was committed to providing maximum flexibility in terms of its current grants.

The focus on developing meaningful partnerships has been critical to NJHI's efforts to reduce health disparities and create healthier communities in New Jersey. "This work cannot be accomplished alone or in silos," Atkins says. "To be effective in what we are trying to achieve requires partnering with our communities and other organizations. We don't want to simply be seen as 'the funder' — we are their partners, committed to learning from and alongside them."

That strategy serves NJHI, its grantees, and their communities well — and New Jersey is a healthier state because of it.

(Photo credit: New Jersey Health Initiatives/North Bergen Municipal Alliance)

Joanne Lee_PhilanTopicJoanne Lee is collaborative learning director at Healthy Places by Design, an organization that serves as a strategic partner for communities and those who invest in them.

Leading in solidarity to reshape the nonprofit ecosystem

July 01, 2020

SolidarityWe are five women of color leading five organizations deeply embedded in the nonprofit ecosystem of Detroit and southeast Michigan. We have five missions, five work styles, and five voices. With mutual intentions and hearts, we have decided to work as a collective that honors the history and resiliency of Black and Indigenous people and communities of color. Together, our work offers nonprofits the critical support needed to advance their missions. Today, we stand in recognition of the privilege and responsibility we have to speak as leaders of nonprofit support organizations.

We embrace the challenge and opportunity presented by this unique moment. Here in southeast Michigan, as elsewhere, the Black community has suffered disproportionately from the COVID-19 pandemic. And we have borne witness to brutal injustices at the hands of police. It has been tough. Some have responded to the moment by issuing statements of solidarity with the Black people of America. Individuals and organizations across the nation are reckoning with their experience of racism and anti-Blackness. But what does solidarity mean, especially in a moment like this? Our humanity demands we recognize ourselves as part of a larger whole, and the nature of our work in the nonprofit sector demands we recognize solidarity as an ongoing practice and process.

As human beings, as organizational leaders, and as stakeholders in the nonprofit ecosystem, we are tired of the neverending effort needed to beat back the stereotype that nonprofits are not efficient or able to survive without constant handouts. Some of our community-based organizations have been serving residents of southeastern Michigan for more than seventy years! (We see you, Russell Woods-Sullivan Area Association.) In this moment, we see an opportunity to rise up, to reimagine our work, and to cultivate a more just and beautiful world in transformative solidarity with others.

Our work together began with a look back at the history of and policies that have shaped the nonprofit sector. The nonprofit universe contains complexities with which all of us need to grapple. Events of the past few months did not create racial and gendered inequities in philanthropic funding. Nor did they shape the failed policies and misplaced public funding priorities that necessitated the creation of nonprofits in the first place. The pandemic and the brutal killings over the last few months of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade, and George Floyd have created a fierce urgency, within us and others, around the need to address the structural inequities that pervade so many of our systems.

Solutions to the challenges our communities face must come from those closest to the issues. And solidarity begins when we recognize that missions, needs, and fate of community-based nonprofits are interconnected. Such a recognition changes our work as nonprofit support providers. In the short term, we’re working together more than ever to address acute needs created by the pandemic; over the longer term we’re committed to addressing chronic needs at the systems level and leveraging our understanding of power dynamics in the sector to shape solutions that are inclusive, sustainable, and grounded in community-based structures and knowledge that already exist.

The most challenging aspect of solidarity is the revolution that takes place in our thoughts and actions when it is embraced. Our leadership practice in this moment disabuses the notion that leadership is the responsibility of a single, heroic figure. The five of us have learned to share leadership, and our work together has challenged us to interrogate the conventional wisdom around capacity building, fund development, data analysis and evaluation, and other nonprofit practices. It also has led us to acknowledge that self-care and the overall well-being of our organizations and staff require tending and attention, even though the dominant structures and culture in which we operate often contest and frustrate that process.

Support is synonymous with "holding up" or "bearing." It's a word we use to describe our function as leaders and organizations in a nonprofit ecosystem. Solidarity has brought us together to make all our internal structures and processes stronger. That scaffolding includes a growing trust in each other and the journey we've embarked on to reimagine leadership. As we continue to push ourselves to grow, we do so with the recognition that our Black and Brown sisters and brothers in nonprofits need more voices like ours to stand up and join with like-minded others to achieve the glorious futures we imagine for our communities.

Allandra Bulger is executive director at Co.act Detroit. Madhavi Reddy is executive director at Community Development Advocates of Detroit. Shamyle Dobbs is CEO at Michigan Community Resources. Yodit Mesfin Johnson is CEO at Nonprofit Enterprise at Work. And Donna Murray-Brown is CEO at the Michigan Nonprofit Association.

5 Questions for...EunSook Lee, Director, AAPI Civic Engagement Fund

June 25, 2020

Launched in 2014 with support from the Carnegie Corporation of New YorkEvelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund, Ford Foundationand Wallace H. Coulter Foundation, the AAPI Civic Engagement Fund works to foster a culture of civic participation among Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs). Since its inception, the fund has provided funding to strengthen the capacity of twenty-five AAPI organizations in seventeen states working to inform, organize, and engage AAPI communities and advance policy and systems change. 

EunSook Lee, who has served as director of the fund since its inception, coordinated the 2012 National AAPI Civic Engagement Project for the National Coalition for Asian Pacific American Community Development and, prior to that, served as senior deputy for Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA), as executive director of the National Korean American Service & Education Consortium (NAKASEC), and as executive director of Korean American Women In Need.

PND spoke with Lee earlier this month about xenophobia and racism in the time of COVID-19, the importance of civic engagement in an election year, and her vision for fostering a greater sense of belonging among Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

EunSook Lee_AAPI CEFPND: The AAPI Civic Engagement Fund was created by a group of funders who saw a need to expand and deepen community and civic engagement among Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, who historically have been both a community of color and a predominantly immigrant and refugee population. After more than a hundred and sixty years of immigration from Asia, why, in 2013, midway through Barack Obama's second term, did the AAPI community become a focus for funders?

EunSook Lee: While we launched the fund in 2013, it was conceived as an idea after the 2012 elections, a season that was emblematic of how funding had flowed in the past to AAPI communities: episodically and chaotically. Just months before the presidential election, a burst of investment came in from civic participation funders and political campaigns in support of efforts to get out the vote in AAPI communities. As part of that influx, the Wallace H. Coulter Foundation pledged $1 million for a national project focused on civic engagement and identified National CAPACD as the organization to host the effort.

In a very short period of time, we made grants to dozens of groups, connected them to State Voices and other civic engagement entities for the first time, and provided support where we could to help them execute their plans for the election. With a few exceptions, most AAPI groups had not been sufficiently resourced or supported to develop their infrastructure. We couldn't sit back and hope they would succeed, so we did a bit of everything to help them build the capacity they needed to get the word out in their communities.

We also decided it was important to show how AAPI communities had voted, so we partnered with the Asian American Legal Defense and Education FundLatino Decision, and others to hold a first-of-its-kind multiracial election eve poll that polled Asian Americans in their own languages. The resulting data enabled us to shift the narrative on Asian-American civic engagement, demonstrating that the Asian-American community had turned out in record numbers and that its views on most issues were in alignment with the views of other voters of color.

Following the 2012 elections, a number of funders became interested in pursuing a longer-term effort to build year-round capacity for AAPI groups and put an end to the cycle of episodic funding tied to election cycles. And that's how the AAPI Civic Engagement Fund was born.

PND: The coronavirus pandemic and some of the political rhetoric it has engendered have heightened the visibility of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in ways that have not always been positive or welcome. What are you hearing from grantees about the kinds of challenges they are facing as a result of the public health crisis, and how is the fund responding?

EL:  The challenges resulting from coronavirus are layered. At the AAPI Civic Engagement Fund, we acknowledge how difficult the work is for AAPI groups that may not have the resources or capacity to meet current needs but know they cannot turn their backs on the communities they serve.

Language barriers are a primary obstacle for our partners right now. Local and federal agencies are setting up new programs, processes, and rules as they go, and that basic information is not reaching non-English speakers. Whether it is about applying for unemployment or getting information about small business loans or helping your child with online learning, monolingual AAPIs are navigating a maze with little to no language support. At the same time, physical offices are closed, so those who are not familiar with Zoom or struggle with Internet connectivity are unable to get the information through other means.

After the three Vietnamese papers serving the tri-county Philadelphia area had to shut down due to the coronavirus, Philadelphia-based VietLead and other grassroots groups started making wellness calls to community members. Others are translating support materials and posting them online, holding in-language webinars on Zoom, and posting information on YouTube and Facebook, which are easier for many people to access. Some have also distributed information directly to homes along with drop-offs of basic food supplies. And because those who are undocumented have been unable to access the majority of relief programs, a number of AAPI groups have set up their own cash-relief programs for those who have been left out.

The anti-China rhetoric that began with the Trump administration has exacerbated and exposed longstanding bigotry against Asian Americans in this country. A number of our grantee partners are working with their communities to track incidents of racism, and all have heard from community members who have been subjected to verbal abuse and bullying, denial of service, vandalism, graffiti, and even physical assaults. Some of the cases of discrimination are occurring in the workplace and may be considered civil rights violations. Others rise to the level of a hate crime.

NativeHawaiians and Pacific Islanders (NHPIs) have been especially impacted on account of existing inequities. One-fifth of NHPIs are uninsured, and in general they suffer from higher rates of heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. Partly because of those factors, the latest figures for California show that NHPIs are nine times more likely to contract COVID-19 and are dying at a disproportionately higher rate than any other group in the state.

We are working to support and amplify the various ways AAPI groups that are responding to this health crisis. We established the Anti-Racism Response Network Fund, which to date has made emergency grants totaling over $1.5 million to an estimated forty groups in twenty states. We are also working with sister funds to direct some of their COVID relief funds to AAPI groups. We also plan to support the online convenings of these groups as they do what they can to support each other, learn about each other's programs, and find ways to collaborate and amplify the voices of progressive AAPIs.

PND: Voter registration and turnout rates among AAPIs, despite being historically lower than those of other populations, have risen in recent years. As highlighted in a 2019 report from the fund and the Groundswell Fund, 76 percent of AAPI women said that they had encouraged friends and family to vote in the 2018 midterm elections. How do you see that trend playing out among the AAPI population in the 2020 elections? And what kind of role do you think AAPI women might play?

EL: The Wisconsin primary was disastrous in terms of protecting the health of voters and running the election efficiently. AAPI groups focused on civic engagement and the empowerment of their communities are vital to advocating for safe, efficient alternatives such as vote by mail, ensuring language access, and getting the vote out. We have heard about a range of systems failures that COVID-19 has exacerbated, especially cases of incompetent leadership at various levels of government. Because our groups are connected to their members, they are best positioned to galvanize them to vote.

More specifically, AAPI women are being recognized as critical organizers and community leaders. Our 2018 Asian American Election Eve Poll talked about how they not only were more active in protests and at the polls but also effectively mobilized others. In fact, twenty of our twenty-two core civic engagement grantees are led or co-led by women. There is no question that AAPI women will continue to power this movement through the 2020 elections and beyond, driving voter turnout and raising awareness about the issues most important to their communities.

PND: AAPIs Connect: Harnessing Strategic Communications to Advance Civic Engagement, a report recently published by the fund, notes that "[t]echnology offers the potential for AAPIs to be more connected with one another and to [the] larger society, but...it also has the potential to exacerbate divisions and create a more disconnected America." How is technology exacerbating division and disconnection within the AAPI community? And what are the biggest challenges AAPI groups face in building capacit — not just in the area of communications, but overall?

EL: At one time, there were a few mainstream media outlets that most Americans relied on for their news. For those who were bilingual or monolingual, in-language media supplemented that access to information. While there is now an explosion of platforms where information and news is being disseminated, some of the critical in-language news outlets are financially unstable or shutting down. Our national conversation has suffered as a result. At the same time, AAPI communities are being left out of many conversations. Not only is there a greater likelihood of our being isolated from the mainstream or from other communities in terms of the information we consume, there's also a greater possibility that we may end up being uninformed or misinformed.

AAPI groups have an opportunity to play a greater role in addressing this disconnect by looking at ways to build their communications infrastructure. But they need support and funding to deepen that work and make an impact on the local, bi-multi-lingual/biliterate, harder-to-reach populations.

As in other areas, AAPI communities and community-based organizations are often playing catch-up. According to our grantee partners, the biggest barrier they face in building communications capacity is a lack of resources. That includes funding to support dedicated staffing, skills building, and tools that equip them to communicate the critical work they are doing in their communities.

That has become a focus for our fund, to support the training and building up of the strategic communications capacity of AAPI groups. Funders can help by dedicating more resources in terms of grants and other learning opportunities so that AAPI groups can establish their media and communications muscle and infrastructure. They can also look at ways to strengthen movement-wide tools and overall creating funding strategies with a racial equity and intersectional justice lens.

PND: Over the course of your career, you've led grassroots nonprofits, served as a congressional staffer, and worked as a consultant to funders. Having observed the process of social change from all those perspectives, what is your number-one recommendation, in this moment of uncertainty, for groups that are looking to bring about social change?

EL: It is essential in this moment that AAPI organizations be seen — and see themselves — as part of this larger movement-moment in an authentic, non-performative way. We cannot be used as a wedge to divide or undermine the focus on systemic racism. We must commit to genuine and radical solidarity over the long term based on an understanding of how freedom for our respective communities is intertwined. We must push forward pro-Blackness in our communities and share analysis on the root causes of anti-Blackness, which is keeping us from true systemic change.

Many AAPI organizing groups are centering Black lives and framing anti-Blackness through the lens of our lived experience. Civil rights and organizing groups are including AAPIs in their efforts to tackle poverty, health inequities, and barriers to reentry for individuals emerging from incarceration. But there is an opportunity in this moment to dig deeper, to acknowledge that your organization may not have done as much as it could have to follow Black leadership and work with organizations that have deep ties to the Black community and have been doing this work for many years.

It is important that AAPI organizations examine our practices and past policy decisions to better align our future actions with our words. We must think more deeply about what it means for organizations to be anti-racist, to tackle systemic inequities, and to embrace an agenda that goes beyond our immediate self-interest. To achieve this, we need more AAPI organizers and social justice organizations, not fewer, better infrastructure and increased capacity, and more financial support for that infrastructure and capacity.  

— Kyoko Uchida

Sharing power, getting results: engaging community in foundation decision-making

June 22, 2020

HelpingadiversetalentthriveWe are living in a singular moment, one with little precedent. A global pandemic followed by an economic recession followed by nationwide protests against police misconduct and systemic racism — all of it occurring in the span of a few short months. In many ways, philanthropy has responded nimbly and creatively to the moment, setting up response funds, easing application and reporting requirements, and even tapping new models of funding.

But what of philanthropy's response beyond this moment? Will the response we've seen translate into fundamental changes in foundation practice — changes in the way philanthropy shares power and thinks about sustainable community change?

One of the most meaningful changes foundations can make in their practice and decision-making is to directly engage those impacted by racism and race-based inequity.

We know that Black, Latinx, and Native communities have been particularly hard hit by the health and economic impacts of the pandemic. Likewise, the protests sparked by the killing of George Floyd are shining a light not only on inequities in policing, but on racial inequities in every area of American life.

By failing to tap the expertise of the people it is trying to help, philanthropy — which remains largely white and unrepresentative of the communities it serves — risks overlooking much-needed solutions and insights that could catalyze the transformative social change required in this moment.

Indeed, foundations that have engaged community constituents in their decision-making say that doing so helps them get better results, enabling them to center their work in the realities faced by the communities they seek to serve and heightening their accountability to those communities. Community input also helps foundations identify critical funding priorities, infuse cultural competency into program design, and enhance their communications and evaluation and learning processes.

While foundations often engage grantee partners in their work, research shows they are far less likely to engage community members themselves. Here are three steps foundations can and should take on their equity journeys:

1. Take a close look at your existing practices and protocols. Is there room to be more inclusive? Can you engage community members in grant reviews? Is it possible to conduct a brief survey of community priorities before making final decisions about resource allocations? If you're working on an evaluation, are there ways to engage community members in data collection and/or in helping make sense of the findings? Reinventing processes from scratch can feel like a mountain too high, but tweaking existing practices can be a way to test out new ways of doing things, learn from missteps, and build on those learnings over time.

2. Determine whether it would be helpful to have intermediaries or partners broker relationships with constituents. Many foundations, especially larger ones that work nationally, do not have particularly strong community-level relationships and may not have made an effort or had the time to establish trust among community members. By partnering with a trusted local or regional organization (e.g., a regional association of grantmakers, regional foundation, or community development finance institution), foundations can get closer to the ground, develop stronger relationships with community members, and gain a better understanding of the priorities in the community.

Articulate organizational values for engaging those directly impacted by inequities in decision-making. As foundation embark on their equity journeys, it's important they not only articulate their organizational values but are clear about how those values will be operationalized. To the degree there are shared expectations about how to partner with communities and create more responsive philanthropy, organizational culture will follow.

To be sure, there are no shortcuts when it comes to partnering with a community. It is not easy work, and for many foundations it will require a fundamental shift in how they operate. To get started, we've provided a roadmap as a resource for foundations, one that recognizes that short-term shifts in practice coupled with longer-term changes in culture are both needed to truly embed shared decision-making in foundation practice.

We hope funders have the clarity and courage to challenge the status quo. This is the moment for philanthropy to reflect on how it can share power and, in doing so, make a deeper impact on the communities it strives to serve.

Headshot_seema_shahSeema Shah, PhD, is founder and principal of COMM|VEDA Consulting, which provides research, evaluation, writing, and project management services to mission-driven organizations. She is the author of two recent reports, Partnering with Community for Better Philanthropy and A Foot in Both Worlds: Working with Regional Organizations to Advance Equity, both developed with support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Billions of Dollars Need to Be Mobilized to Combat COVID-19

May 05, 2020

Due-diligenceAs self-isolation and self-quarantine, lockdowns, and social distancing are adopted to combat the spread of the novel coronavirus, poor and less affluent communities, in both the Global South and North, will be especially vulnerable. The world, perhaps more than ever, needs to come together to help those affected.

Governments, banks, foundations, and humanitarian and charitable organizations are already mobilizing their resources and directing them to the front lines of the fight. That said, more needs to be done to support those most likely to be impacted by the social and economic impacts of the virus. People’s lives and livelihoods are at stake, and we need to move quickly to ensure that help is provided as humanely and transparently as possible. Indeed, the way in which we handle this crisis is likely to become the norm in crisis management for decades to come.

Challenges in mobilizing financial resources

The COVID-19 outbreak has already exacted a toll on Africa’s economy, with low and middle-income countries experiencing negative impacts in several sectors, including tourism, agriculture, and health.

The World Bank's Africa’s Pulse report warns that the first recession in sub-Saharan Africa in twenty-five years is about to descend on the region, noting that "growth in sub-Saharan Africa has been significantly impacted by the ongoing coronavirus outbreak and is forecast to fall sharply from 2.4 percent in 2019 to -2.1 to -5.1 percent in 2020."

In other words, we need to mobilize financial resources as quickly as possible to support the countries that need help the most.

As was the case pre-COVID, however, funders are likely to want answers to a key question before they commit to a grant: "How do we know the funds we disburse will be used for the purpose stated?"

It's a valid question. When the post-pandemic dust finally settles, no funder will want to be the subject of a journalistic expose of the misuse or misappropriation of funds.

Transparency and speed are paramount

Generally, funders engage in due diligence to reassure themselves they are investing in organizations that are governed effectively, transparently, and accountably.

Different funders use different due diligence frameworks to assess the financial stability of the organizations they would like to fund. Some frameworks are simple and only take a few weeks to work through, while others are more complicated and involve considerable work.

What's a funder to do, however, when the problem is urgent and setting aside months to complete and circulate paperwork is an unaffordable luxury? One solution is obvious: we need to standardize our due-diligence processes to promote efficiency in grant funding. The Global Grant Community, a financial governance platform of the African Academy of Sciences (AAS) that provides funders and grantees with a one-stop self-assessment/due diligence tool, attempts to do that. Funders who opt to use the online platform are able to:

  • Invite organizations they are interested in funding to assess their financial management capacity against the requirements of the international standard for Good Financial Grant Practice (GFGP) and a Non-GFGP Assurance Framework.
  • Review due diligence assessments completed by organizations "ready to be funded" and provide funding to those that meet their criteria in support of the speedy implementation of COVID-related activities.
  • Search a directory to identify and connect with organizations that have demonstrated robust internal procedures, policies, and processes, thereby reducing the risk of mismanagement and corruption.

Yes, the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic require the global community to act fast, but not to act blindly or irresponsibly. We need to ensure that our limited but much-needed funds go to organizations that can manage them effectively and put them to use quickly to help save lives and livelihoods. Time is of the essence.

Headshot_michael_kilpatrickMichael Kilpatrick is senior advisor to the Global Grant Community at the African Academy of Sciences.

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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