180 posts categorized "Grantmaking"

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)

Stacey_Barbas_Regina_R_Smith_PhilanTopic

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.

5 Questions for...Ellen Dorsey, Executive Director, Wallace Global Fund

April 29, 2020

Ellen Dorsey has served since 2008 as the executive director of the Wallace Global Fund, where she helped launch Divest-Invest Philanthropy, a coalition of more than two hundred foundations that have pledged to divest their portfolios of fossil fuel companies and deploy their investments to accelerate the clean energy transition. Dorsey and Divest-Invest Philanthropy signatories were awarded the 2016 inaugural Nelson Mandela – Graca Machel Brave Philanthropy Award.

Earlier this month, the fund announced that it would pay out 20 percent of its endowment this year in support of COVID-19 relief and ongoing systemic change efforts and called on other funders to increase their grantmaking. 

PND spoke with Dorsey about the fund's decision-making process, the moral obligations of foundations in a time of crisis, and the longer-term consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dorsey_EllenPhilanthropy News Digest: What was the impetus behind the fund's decision to commit 20 percent of the endowment to grantmaking in 2020, and how did you and the board arrive at that amount? 

Ellen Dorsey: We have said for a while now that philanthropy cannot engage in business as usual, either by failing to align our investments with our missions or not giving at a level commensurate with the seriousness of the many challenges we face. Before COVID-19, we were already calling for philanthropy to declare a climate emergency and increase giving levels over the next ten years. COVID-19 was yet another overlapping shockwave added to the list of threats that compounded our sense of urgency.  

For too long, philanthropy has been content to give the bare minimum — the 5 percent required by law — while growing its endowments. Even before COVID-19, the Wallace Global Fund felt it was unethical for any foundation to grow its endowment during a five-alarm fire, particularly given the many financial and logistical challenges faced by our grantees. 

As for the percentage decision, it happened organically. We were already planning to spend a significant percentage of our endowment this year on critical work being done within our core priority areas, and we invested 100 percent of our stock market gains — close to 22 percent — in 2018. Keeping our investments aligned with our mission is something that has long been a board priority. We see this as consistent with the legacy of our founding donor, former U.S. Vice President Henry A. Wallace, and his warning that democracies must put people before profits if they plan to survive. 

PND: In a joint opinion piece with the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy's Aaron Dorfman, you argued that "it is no time for philanthropy to think about cutting back...[instead, it should] give more to address the public-health crisis while continuing to fund existing social and systemic change efforts." You've said elsewhere that preserving foundation endowments instead of boosting granmaking was "both immoral and a failure to honor the mandate that foundations have to serve society." Have you received any pushback from CEOs at other foundations? And do you think philanthropy will take this "opportunity to fundamentally rethink past practices and upend the status quo," especially with respect to the mandatory 5 percent payout requirement?

ED: Ultimately, it's an empirical question. We will see. Right now, many foundations are stepping up and making significant pledges to address COVID-19 and the related economic crisis. Will enhanced giving continue as the reality of reduced endowments sinks in later this year and persists into 2021? The fallout of COVID-19, coupled with the spiraling climate catastrophe, requires dramatically more funding, not less. We have a decade to fundamentally reduce emissions and change the energy base of our global economy while creating more sustainable and equitable systems.

What we need from philanthropy goes beyond simply spending more. Frankly, if ever there was a time to fund system change work, it is now. We need to break the corporate capture of democracy, create new patterns of ownership, change the growth-only measures of economic and societal success, level patterns of inequality, and meet the basic human needs of billions, all while reversing the climate catastrophe barreling down on humanity. Philanthropy needs to support movements that are advancing new paradigms, support systemic theories of change that confront our unjust system, and invest its money in a way that is consistent with these values.

PND: As you've acknowledged, some foundations have taken steps to provide more — and more flexible — support for nonprofits, while more than seven hundred foundations have signed on to the Council on Foundationspledge to do so. Are we seeing a shift among foundations toward more grantee-centered practices? Or will things revert to the status quo after we get to the other side of this crisis?

ED: History shows that there is a tendency among philanthropy to scale back when times get tough. For example, in the immediate aftermath of the Great Recession, philanthropic grantmaking dropped by 15 percent. We've been really encouraged to see the groundswell of statements calling for philanthropy to use this moment to break that bad habit. It is particularly important given the unique vulnerabilities faced by nonprofits, movements, and the communities they serve. 

It is hard to say right now whether the status quo will fully return in any sector, but I will say that philanthropy has an obligation to resist it. Getting rid of COVID-19 will do nothing to stop the dire consequences we were already facing as the result of a number of threats, most notably climate change. In fact, if society returns to its established habits of emitting more carbon into the atmosphere, damaging or destroying ecological habitats, and giving corporations free rein to pursue the myth of limitless economic growth, the consequences of climate change will only continue to worsen.

The same could also be said for economic inequality, the rising privatization of public resources around the world, gender-based violence in the Global South, and the rise in misogyny faced by women around the world. There is no vaccine for social injustice. We cannot allow ourselves to be so relieved once the COVID-19 crisis has passed that we ignore the fissures in society it has exposed. Philanthropy has both an opportunity and a duty to partner with people-centered movements that are fighting for systems change and broad, structural reform today, and we must continue to support them in the aftermath of this pandemic. 

PND: This is not the first time the Wallace Global Fund has used its investment portfolio to boost the impact of its grantmaking; in 2018, the fund pledged to invest all its gains from the previous year into organizations working to advance social and environmental justice. Have you seen tangible returns on those investments?

ED: Yes, without a question. We have already seen positive impacts from our funding and there are results to come that we cannot yet see. We fund progressive social movements and systemic change work both globally and in the U.S. We believe building people power is the necessary ingredient to challenging entrenched economic and political interests. We have been funding the fossil fuel divestment movement for over a decade and, to date, there are more than a thousand institutions  around the globe that have divested — institutions with a combined $14 trillion under management. We have funded the youth climate movement, the so-called climate strikers, and those calling for a Green New Deal. They are changing the debate on climate in truly significant ways. We're also supporting groups around the world that are challenging authoritarian governments and defending basic human rights.  

Often those fights seem insurmountable, but defending the front lines is often the only antibody to the virus of authoritarianism and is essential if we are to preserve our democratic ideals and way of life. In the U.S., our grantees are working to transform conditions of inequality, defend democratic institutions, get toxic money out of our political system, and break up monopolies. These are big and audacious goals, not easy to measure in the near term, but they absolutely are critical in terms of the system change work we need. I think it's fair to say we would rather invest in deep change than obsess about lowest-common-denominator metrics. 

PND: What, if anything, do the systemic social change efforts you've urged your philanthropic peers to support — climate action, defending the rights of marginalized populations, strengthening civil society and democracy — have to do with the public health and economic emergencies caused by COVID-19?

ED: It's true that all those issues were issues before COVID-19. For example, we know that seven hundred people a day were dying from poverty in the U.S. before the virus ever reached our shores. But COVID-19 has laid bare the many ways in which it is not the great equalizer many claim it is.

Communities of color have been disproportionately devastated by the virus. Places with higher levels of carbon-based pollution are seeing corresponding spikes in death rates. Voting rights are under increasing threat from a lack of contingency planning and stalled efforts to expand vote-by-mail nationally. And as millions of small businesses were forced to close their doors — many for the last time — American billionaires made more than $300 billion.

These injustices are all interconnected. One of the movement leaders who inspires me most, Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II of the Poor People's Campaign, has built a movement on the simple yet profound notion that the struggles against systemic racism, inadequate health care, poverty, voter suppression, ecological devastation, environmental injustice, and human rights abuses are not separate struggles at all. We are dependent on each other in our quest for liberation, and our narratives must be bound together if we hope to win.

— Kyoko Uchida

The Nonprofit Sector and the 'Shake Shack Effect'

April 27, 2020

Diversity-inclusion-292x300These days, we're hearing a lot about how federal legislation passed in response to the coronavirus public health emergency is bailing out big businesses at the expense of small restaurants, mom-and-pop shops, and immigrant-owned stores. When big chains like Shake Shack and universities with large endowments such as Harvard receive millions of dollars in federal loans, we shouldn't be surprised that the news is greeted by demands the funds be returned.

Inequities in the administration of such programs aren't just a public-relations concern for well-endowed institutions and big businesses, however. At a time when they are desperately needed, historically-underresourced organizations in the nonprofit sector led by people of color and working closely with communities disproportionately affected by the pandemic are concerned about their own survival. Indeed, the pandemic has revealed many of the long-standing structural disparities that exist in the United States. If, as a society, we are serious about addressing such disparities, then funders and donors who support nonprofits must step up to ensure the long-term survival of groups advocating for the needs of vulnerable communities.

As the COVID-19 emergency unfolds, smaller community-based and people-of-color-led organizations are serving as a lifeline for black, Indigenous, Latinx and Asian communities, undocumented immigrants, and queer and trans communities. Domestic violence agencies are supporting survivors, organizations serving Indigenous and African-American communities are ensuring their access to water and health care, neighborhood-based providers are helping people with limited-English proficiency complete government forms, and immigrant-serving groups are ensuring that undocumented people are able to secure legal advice and protections. Beyond these frontline providers, people-of-color led organizations are taking the lead in building power and making demands for structural change, ranging from universal basic income to decarceration to migrant justice.

Even before the pandemic, many of these nonprofits were facing challenges. According to a survey by the Nonprofit Finance Fund conducted in 2018, 65 percent of nonprofits who serve low-income communities were worried they couldn't meet demands for their services, while 67 percent said that federal policies were making life harder for their clients. Our own surveys on race and leadership consistently reveal that nonprofit executives of color face more funding challenges than white executive directors and CEOs, while our 2019 survey found that more than a third of leaders of color (compared to less than a quarter of their white counterparts) reported that they never or rarely get "funding that is comparable to peer organizations doing similar work."

For these and other reasons, community-based nonprofits working closely with those disproportionately affected by the virus should be prioritized in future federal stimulus packages, state supplemental funds, and philanthropic initiatives. Federal and state recovery packages should create carveouts for underresourced organizations working in vulnerable communities so that they do not have to compete with larger, historically-well-funded groups for a limited pool of funds. Given that many small organizations do not have relationships with banks due to historic barriers in accessing loans and because lenders tend to prioritize bigger-budget organizations, the process of accessing loans also should be opened and made more accessible. While efforts are under way in the nonprofit sector to secure expanded access to the Paycheck Protection Program for larger groups and pass a universal charitable deduction, a true racial equity framework requires us to center the needs of organizations working in and closely with the most vulnerable communities. In addition, nonprofit organizations with large reserves that don't need an immediate loan could follow the lead of the #ShareMyCheck effort and opt not to compete with smaller nonprofits and underresourced groups with manifestly greater needs.

For their part, foundations can do more to address the racial disparities laid bare by the pandemic by scaling organizations that are most proximate to needs in vulnerable communities while increasing their support for organizing and power-building strategies. It's also important that foundations review their grantmaking through a racial equity lens to determine whether dollars are actually going to organizations serving the communities most affected by the virus. Foundations such as the Boston Foundation, the Emergent Fund, and the Groundswell Fund have all launched initiatives focused on supporting organizations led by people from and working with communities disproportionately affected by the pandemic.

It's true that most nonprofits find themselves overwhelmed by the scale and scope of the crisis. But not all nonprofits are created equal or have equal access to the resources they need. As a sector, we cannot ignore people-of-color-led community-based groups working to meet urgent needs during this crisis. To close the nonprofit racial equity gap, we must do everything we can to ensure that these groups not only make it through this national emergency but are positioned to thrive. In doing so, we will be sustaining the communities that depend on them and helping to ensure that they, too, come out of the crisis stronger.

Deepa_iyer_frances_kunreuther_for_PhilanTopicDeepa Iyer is senior advisor at the Building Movement Project, director of SolidarityIs, and the author of We Too Sing America: South Asian, Arab, Muslim and Sikh Communities Shape Our Multiracial Future.

Frances Kunreuther co-directs the Building Movement Project and is co-author of two books, From the Ground Up: Grassroots Organizations Making Social Change and Working Across Generations: Defining the Future of Nonprofit Leadership.

Earth Day 2020 Is an Opportunity for a New Philanthropy

April 23, 2020

Water flowing in my cornfield, like a hundred miniature rivers all at once,
carrying a simple message for a complex world.

Earth-Day-blue-2499-sq-1I clearly remember the first time I heard about Earth Day and someone mention the word ecology. Back then, in 1970, ecology was connected to a hip idea that I understood as "don't litter." The movement to clean up the environment was emerging, and many were moved by the Keep America Beautiful (Crying Indian) PSA — the one in which a noble-looking Indian paddles through an industrial wasteland and ends up shedding a single tear on a litter-strewn beach. (One thing we didn’t know, back then, was that "Iron Eyes" Cody, the "Indian" in the ad, was an Italian-American actor who had made a career out of portraying Native Americans in films.)

When I was about ten years old, my grandfather taught me how to whistle like a meadowlark so I could have conversations with them. By varying the pitch, rhythm, and tone of my whistle, meadowlarks would respond to me, and we would toss our calls back and forth until my mouth became too tired or dry to whistle any longer. The language of the meadowlark is theirs alone, but I knew they were trying to communicate with me. Later, in college, I learned that our planet and the universe are incredibly complex, yet in that field with the meadowlarks, the world was a simple and beautiful place. It was Albert Einstein, I think, who said: "Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler." I couldn't agree more.

The COVID-19 pandemic is causing even the biggest players in philanthropy to rethink and readjust their strategies and forcing them to come to grips with unexpected forces that could threaten the stability of our society and the planet. It's enough to make one cry, but if we think of Earth Day 2020 as a new starting line, there are several things we can do to get us moving forward with renewed vigor.

Reject a return to normal. A large part of the globe is trying to look past the pandemic and is hoping for a return to normal. But most of us know "normal" has not been satisfactory or adequate, especially for marginalized peoples. As a result of deliberate policies, millions of people around the globe are subject to living conditions that unfairly aggravate their efforts to obtain nutritious food and clean water, particularly in times of crisis. Truth be told, too much of the global population is not resilient, and far too many of us exist on the edge of a precipice. If nothing, the coronavirus pandemic has taught us that the global economy is dangerously fragile, and when it is disrupted, panic, anxiety, and anger ensue. When systems fall out of balance, as they have over the last three or four decades, significant human and financial resources must be deployed to restore the balance.

Communicate a message of compassion and reciprocity. We live in a world filled with damaged people and people who have been left behind. We also live in a world of environmental limits. We cannot continue to take from the planet without giving back, and we must not continue to neglect vulnerable people. You and I know this to be the case; now is the time to share the message widely and from a place of compassion.

Take justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion in your grantmaking seriously. If your board and staff and those of your grantees are not ready for change, you need to let them know that the time for change is now. It is up to you to use your grantmaking to confront asymmetries of power. And it makes sense this should be so. We need the broadest spectrum of skills and talents if we are to develop solutions to the complex problems we face.

Direct your support to local and regional philanthropic channels. Let's be frank: community foundations and other local organizations know their social, cultural, economic, and political contexts better than you do. It's up to you, therefore, to build their capacity to do more of what they're doing. It’s an efficient and effective strategy that you need to invest in, if you aren’t already.

Native peoples have long known that land and water conservation is inseparable from food security and is the responsibility of each of us. I am also firm in my belief that preserving Native languages as vessels of traditional knowledge is a critical component of social and environmental resilience, not only in reaction to a crisis but as a human right. What has been happening in Native communities around the world for many years now is just one more example of the "canary in a coal mine." It's time to pay attention.

Against the backdrop of COVID-19, Earth Day 2020 is our chance to start anew. It's an honor for me personally to be a part of the environmental community during this challenging time. We are principled and moral people. We sometimes make mistakes, but we learn from those mistakes and move forward. We walk toward challenges, not away from them. We commit to do better because we want to make the world a more beautiful place.

Recently, standing beside the spring that waters my property, I understood that the water was speaking in a language I had known all along. Not a language of words, but of sound, a simple abstraction of the glory of the natural world, a world we must love and protect for generations to come.

Headshot_Jim EnoteJim Enote is a Zuni tribal member and CEO of the Colorado Plateau Foundation. For over forty years, he has tackled land and water conservation issues around the world and is committed to conserving and protecting his own and other Native cultures.  

Why Philanthropy Can't Forget About CBOs in a Public Health Crisis

April 21, 2020

Gathering_for_justice_march_kidsIt's become clear over the past few weeks that these are unprecedented times. And the fact that philanthropy has stepped up quickly to fill gaps and protect vulnerable populations — the homeless, farm workers, day laborers, people who are incarcerated — is testament to the increased diversity, in terms of both background and experience, inside our philanthropic institutions.

It shows, among other things, that the hundreds of foundation staff members across the country who once worked at community-based organizations (CBOs) before making the transition to philanthropy are being heard. That said, it's critical right now that philanthropy engage with CBOs, bringing us into planning conversations as thought partners who can help reframe who is considered "vulnerable" in an even more inclusive way.

We are still in the phase of this public health crisis in which "vulnerability" is framed in terms of who is getting sick and who is not. Such framing is necessary if we want to "flatten the curve" and prevent the exhaustion of our healthcare resources. But "sick or not sick" does not capture the full scope of the problems people are, or will be, facing. Because of the intimate, community-focused nature of the work we do, CBOs are uniquely positioned to help philanthropy as it thinks about and continues to provide resources to address the long-term impacts of the pandemic.

In our community of Stockton, California, CBOs have taken up the calls of community members and pushed for their concerns in a coordinated way. For instance, Justice League CA, a volunteer organization powered by The Gathering for Justice, advocated forcefully for the city to close its schools in response to the spread of COVID-19 but urged it to continue to provide free lunch and work plans to students and families who needed them. The Gathering also is one of the CBOs working with Mayor Michael Tubbs on Stockton Strong, a city-sponsored webpage that is constantly updated with information about mental health, housing, and food assistance resources, emergency funds, and other critical services. We've also led calls for San Joaquin County to release youth held in juvenile facilities for low-level offenses, as well as adults held in jails and prisons, in order to reduce density among the county's incarcerated population, and we continue to advocate for additional funding of reentry services.

We've always been intentional about making our work accessible to the communities we serve. But CBOs like ours urgently need philanthropy's consistent support as we work to meet communities' short- and long-term needs. Even as the number of COVID infections nationally rises, staying at home is not an option for many Americans — whether it's because their economic situation forces them to live in cramped quarters with others, they are victims of domestic violence, or they must navigate stressors such as drug abuse. Similarly, many of the outlets that young people take for granted like playing sports or music have been put on hold. This can lead to an increased risk of encounters with police as structured time turns into unstructured time — encounters that often are dangerous and even deadly for young black and brown people. Individuals who cycle through our jails, detention centers, halfway houses, foster care group homes, and other institutional environments — where frequent handwashing or keeping a safe distance from others is difficult if not impossible — also are more likely to come into contact with the virus.

Unfortunately, it's becoming clear that, as resources are prioritized for and shifted to address the public health emergency, CBOs aren't going to receive the same amount of funding they've come to rely on. Most CBOs operate on extremely lean budgets, stretching dollars and regularly "making miracles happen" as they work to meet needs in their communities. During the 2008 financial crisis, many CBOs went under, resulting in adverse consequences for low-income people, migrants and undocumented individuals and families, LGBTQIA+ young people, people formerly or currently incarcerated, people with disabilities, and other groups often struggling on the margins of society.

Now, as then, COVID-19 is forcing us to look at how we show up for each other. What does dignity look like when parents working two and often three jobs have to scramble to replace the child care and nutrition provided by local schools, or are forced to stand in line outside a food pantry as bags of desperately needed staples are passed through a door? What does community healing mean when a public health crisis leads to the mass closure of "mom-and-pop" businesses that millions rely on? What does "beloved community" and restorative justice look like as we all try to navigate a period of increased social and economic stress?

As the Federal Reserve and federal government move to support small businesses with lower interest rates and paycheck protection programs, it's essential that philanthropy step up to support CBOs struggling to keep their heads above water. At this critical moment in our history, we urge philanthropic organizations to think of us as not only as vital community resources but as thought partners who know what vulnerable populations want and need. We will do more with less if we have to, but our capacity to help is critical if marginalized communities are to survive this public health crisis. In the coming weeks and months, we need to be with at the table with philanthropy so that the strategies it crafts to help these communities survive are more comprehensive, holistic, and just.

Carmen Perez_Jasmine_Dellafosse_for_PhilanTopicCarmen Perez is president and CEO and Jasmine Dellafosse is senior regional organizer at The Gathering for Justice.

Nonprofits and COVID-19: No Money – No Mission

April 09, 2020

Foodbank_feeding_americaWith more than 12.5 million employees and over 1.3 million organizations, the nonprofit sector is the third largest private-sector employer in the United States, after retail and manufacturing. Nonprofits touch the lives of one in five Americans, helping to feed, heal, shelter, educate, nurture, and inspire them. 

Over the last month or so, however, COVID-19 has laid bare the reality of the nonprofit mantra "No Money – No Mission." In our current volatile environment, some nonprofits will thrive, some will be forced to close, and some — with the help of smart, speedy planning — will survive.  

Nonprofits on the front lines of the coronavirus response, including nonprofit hospitals, social service providers, and food banks, need immediate funds to scale their operations. The good news is that many of these nonprofits will come out of the crisis stronger than ever. 

Other nonprofits are at real risk. Smaller, local nonprofits that have meager or nonexistent reserves are already feeling the strain — especially museums, performing arts groups, botanical gardens, and other cultural organizations that depend on ticket sales and walk-in donations for revenue. Meanwhile, nonprofits that rely on galas, special dinners, and events such as walkathons, bikeathons, "mudfests," and other large-scale gatherings are in trouble. 

Even before the emergence and spread of COVID-19, the situation for most nonprofits was fairly dire. In 2019, the vast majority (92 percent) of nonprofits in the U.S. had revenues of less than $1 million, while approximately half (50 percent) had operating reserves of less than a month. These small and often local nonprofits are especially vulnerable to the lockdowns and shelter-in-place orders that have been imposed by governors and mayors across the country — and the deep recession  likely headed our way.

Continue reading »

Ladder Funding: A Collaborative Approach to Changing the World

March 23, 2020

Pollination_projectAccording to the National Center for Charitable Statistics, there are more than 1.5 million charitable organizations in the United States. Despite the many different forms they take, all of them have something in common: a desire to create meaningful change in the world. Yet despite this commonality, nonprofits have a tendency to operate in silos. Some years ago, that realization led me to a question: What might happen if like-minded funders actually worked together to bring about the change they wished to see in the world?

As the executive director of The Pollination Project (TPP), a public nonprofit that provides seed funding to early-stage grassroots projects around the globe, the question is particularly germane. We believe there is significant untapped wisdom and power in solutions that emerge and grow from the bottom up. We use the money we raise to support a vibrant grassroots community of global changemakers who seek to spread compassion for the benefit of all. 

Every day of the year, our network uses an intentional, peer-led vetting process to select a new project to receive $1,000 in seed funding. That's right — every day. As individual projects blossom, their leaders can access capacity-building support, encouragement, and networking opportunities within a specific geographic or focus area. We've found that supporting individuals at the local level is a particularly robust way to bring about change.

But as our grantee network has grown and the projects we support begin to reach maturity, the need for project leaders to be able to access financial capital beyond the scope of our micro-grants has become ever more clear. In response to that need, we have developed a collaborative approach with other funders we call Ladder Funding.

Continue reading »

Advice to Funders in the Covid-19 Era

March 18, 2020

For people born after November 23, 1963, 9/11 was an emotional and psychological shock unlike any we had experienced. The financial crisis of 2008 and the Great Recession that followed were a shock of a different kind: slower, murkier, more abstract — until, that is, people we knew and loved started to lose their jobs. In the weeks and months that followed, I wrote a number of posts for PhilanTopic (here, here, and here) aimed at helping my social sector colleagues navigate the difficult funding environment in which we suddenly found ourselves.

The coronavirus pandemic is a crisis of a different sort — both a biological threat as well as a threat to our economic security, stunning in its scope and the rapidity with which it has unfolded. In other words, existential.

Given the seriousness of the threat and the urgent need for a rapid, coordinated response, I offer these suggestions, with humility and deep respect, to my colleagues in the funder community. 

  1. Be flexible with your grant support.
  2. Endeavor to fast track your grants.
  3. Use community-based vendors whenever possible.
  4. Facilitate online meetups for grantees where they can air their concerns and share best practices and resources.
  5. Do not assume that your current grants are sufficient to cover the extraordinary demand, costs, and burdens that many nonprofits will be faced with over the coming months.
  6. Allow grantees to alter the budget terms of grants they have already received so as to maximize their flexibility.
  7. Be prepared to make long-term commitments and be in it for the long haul.
  8. Understand that while the virus is first and foremost a public health emergency, its impact will extend to a host of other  areas.
  9. Do your utmost to support local, culturally competent organizations, which are often the first point of access for at-risk individuals and groups.
  10. Remember the bigger picture and be generous with grantees with respect to your reporting requirements.

Michael Seltzer is a distinguished lecturer at the Marxe School of Public and International Affairs, Baruch College, City University of New York, board  chair of the Gbowee Peace Foundation Africa-USAand a long-time contributor to PhilanTopic. To read more from Michael, click here.

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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