Choosing to be a Liberated Gatekeeper

In June 2018, Neighborhood Funders Group convened hundreds of local, regional, and national funders for the NFG 2018 National Convening, Raise Up: Moving Money for Justice. Here, Amoretta Morris, — Director of National Community Strategies at The Annie E. Casey Foundation, NFG Conference Co-Chair, and NFG Board Member — reflects on the theme of her opening plenary address.  


 

people-amorris-headshot_(1).jpgRecently, a trusted social justice leader called me a philanthropic gatekeeper. And hearing those words stung — a lot.

But once I got over my initial defensiveness, I realized it was true.

Gatekeepers, after all, control the flow of power, funds, information and resources, and they’re often in a position to speak for and translate for people without access to those things.

Sounds pretty similar to grantmaking at times, doesn’t it? 

As good progressives, we’re used to examining privilege and how that shapes the experiences of marginalized communities. But what about our own privilege as philanthropists? How often do we turn the mirror around?

If we did, we’d see that we are all gatekeepers. Whether I am a program officer deciding what to advance to my director and board, or a trustee approving an investment strategy — we are controlling the flow of resources that folks need, often with only their limited say.

Merely wanting this to be untrue because of our commitment to justice doesn’t change it. We have to acknowledge the inequity of philanthropy and our role in it in order to change the way these systems work.

Another blind spot, especially for people of color in philanthropy (regardless of our current income level), is our own unexamined history and feelings about money and wealth. Left unchecked, these things can stand in the way of us effectively moving money to our people.

Access to information is yet another gate we’re keeping. As grantmakers, we often see that full inbox and stack of reports as a burden. Just another thing we must read and squeeze into our day. The reality is, a lot of folks on the ground would love to have those materials and the nuggets contained within them. We must be more intentional about sharing that information; otherwise, we’re unintentionally keeping that gate locked. And that’s not helpful or why we got into these roles in the first place.

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It’s certainly not why I did.

Being back in St. Louis for the Neighborhood Funders Group conference felt great — and it’s what inspired me to reflect on my journey. Though I started organizing during high school in Houston, going to college in St. Louis during the late 90s is where I got politicized as an adult.

And what was true then is still true now. Not enough philanthropic resources are going to low-income communities or communities of color to build power and advance justice.

In addition to many structural factors, this continues because grantmakers experience internal and external barriers to moving resources aligned with their values. I feel them, too.

Here’s the good news, though: No matter what we have or haven’t done up until now, we can do more.

It starts by asking ourselves these questions: How can I stretch? And what skills and support do I need to do it?

I’m here to tell you that your fellow NFG members can help.

Before I was a funder, I was an organizer. Following that, I worked in local government. Though I’d served on the board of a small national feminist foundation, Third Wave Foundation (now the Third Wave Fund), I was new to grantmaking when I joined the Annie E. Casey Foundation. The learning curve was steep.

My colleague introduced me to NFG’s place-based working group and I breathed a sigh of relief. NFG has been my political home in philanthropy since then. And, by taking advantage of NFG’s network calls, learning tours and the annual conference, I’m becoming what we want more of: a liberated gatekeeper.

When we deny the power we hold as grantmakers, we allow ourselves to be unaccountable to communities for that power. Rather than deny our positional privilege, let’s consciously use it to disrupt power and shift it to the people we’re aiming to serve. Let’s open the gates, keep them open and work daily to break these explicit and implicit gates down. Let’s strive to be liberated gatekeepers who are accountable to our communities.

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There are three C’s that can get us there: Connect, Celebrate and Commit.

Connect and build your community within NFG. Get to a know a new person who you can call when in doubt or when you need to talk through a strategy.

Celebrate victories and the incredible work that is happening on the ground and inside our institutions, then help others replicate it. In NFG, we focus as much on how we do the work, as what work we should be doing. We want you to know that no matter what type of institution you are in, or where it falls on the political spectrum, there are tangible steps you can take to align your grantmaking with your values and advance justice.

Finally, we want you to commit to moving a specific amount of resources by this time next year. Set an intention for yourself about how you will get more money and resources to our people to advance justice.

No one program officer, director or board member can do it all. But collectively, we can shift more resources toward communities and give those on the frontlines more resources to win. We can create a world that works for all of us.


Connect with Amoretta on Twitter at @rettaworld.

Follow The Annie E. Casey Foundation at @AECFNews.


Find more posts about the NFG 2018 National Convening on our Member Blog.