Bringing Our Whole Selves to Philanthropy and Our Grantmaking

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, Ryan Li Dahlstrom, Program Officer for the Fund for Trans Generations at Borealis Philanthropy, reflects on ways funders can live their values in their work.


 

Ryan_Li_Dahlstrom_headshot.jpegOften times in philanthropic spaces we are not encouraged to bring our whole selves—to share and reflect on how our identities and values as people and as funders intersect. This year, during my first time attending the Neighborhood Funders Group (NFG) convening, I was thankful to be able to bring my full self, as both a funder and an organizer, to the experience.

I see my role in philanthropy as helping to redistribute resources from a reparations framework. I know it is a privilege to be in these spaces and I feel an incredible responsibility and accountability to my communities to share back learnings, help make connections, and serve as a bridge of information and knowledge between philanthropy and grassroots communities.

I was fortunate to experience my first NFG convening as a member of the Program Committee thanks to the leadership and invitation of NFG VP of Programs, Adriana Rocha, and conference co-chairs Marjona Jones and Retta Morris.

In my experience on the committee, I was heartened by the centering of people of color, specifically women of color, including trans women of color, in the planning process. There was a strong commitment to intersectionality and members showing up as their whole selves. 

The recognition of people’s multiple identities and centering of communities that are traditionally marginalized in philanthropy continued from the planning process into the convening. One highlight was how disability justice and accessibility were uplifted: at the opening of the convening, Sebastian Margaret, who served as an advisor to the conference to help ensure stronger accessibility within the space, provided a 10-minute overview of what disability justice is and why it matters, along with concrete ways that every participant could co-create an accessible space for people of all abilities. Making a space accessible means that more people can participate, and we have a more inclusive and democratic conference.

For example, Sebastian instructed us to look at the floor – were our backpacks in the middle of the aisle? Had we cleared walkways so people can easily enter a space? That moment reaffirmed that we must all do a better job at truly addressing how and why disability justice is integral to every issue and community we care about.

Screen_Shot_2018-07-10_at_5.23.31_PM.pngWe were also pushed to consider how we are living our values during the workshop session by the Movement for Black Lives. Given the history of slavery and genocide coupled with how most people have accumulated their wealth, philanthropy must begin to truly address what it means to approach grantmaking from a radical redistribution of wealth framework and recognition of how wealth has been made from stolen land and on the backs of Black and Indigenous bodies in particular. “Caring about Black lives” means investing in Black-led work not just because it’s timely and long overdue, but also because it’s the right thing to do.

The number of funders and grassroots leaders who “came out” as survivors of sexual violence as part of what shapes their work as organizers and/or funders was another powerful moment in which people were able to share more of their full experiences, particularly amidst the #MeToo movement-moment. All too often funder spaces mirror a certain level of middle-class, white, professionalism that asks people to leave parts of themselves at the door. This felt like a different and new moment in which more people were able to courageously tell their truth and be heard so that others too know that they aren’t alone in this collective struggle to end all forms of violence – particularly sexual violence, assault, and harassment.

I’m looking forward to joining the #metoo strategy conversation that will bring funders together to talk about how philanthropy can better respond to sexual harassment and violence happening within the sector and in social justice movements. (This conversation is taking place in September and is for members of NFG’s Funders for Justice program – to get involved, write to fundersforjustice@nfg.org.)

My time at the conference left me with five reflections on how we can be more responsive, responsible funders by living our values and recognizing people’s full selves in our grantmaking:

  1. Believe in and fund constituency-led work. That means investing in the leadership of Black, Brown, immigrant, queer, trans, intersex, women of color, poor and working class, disabled, and currently and formerly incarcerated communities.
  2. Trust the people doing the work on the ground. Communities have the solutions and strategies that work best for them. People closest to the problem are also closest to the solution.
  3. Provide flexible, multi-year, general support grants. Strengthening grantees’ capacity to do their work comes through a steady stream of reliable resources that they can choose how to use.
  4. Reduce barriers to access and apply for grants. Ask yourself, why is our process so laborious? Are there ways we can simplify the burden on current and prospective grantees? Could we eliminate some reports? Could we take applications or reports over the phone? Ask for advice from other funders.
  5. Invest in alternative and anti-oppressive systems. Support healing justice, transformative justice, anti-criminalization, and anti-violence work that seeks to create alternative futures where all of us can be free from oppression, policing, and violence.

I look forward to seeing you at the next NFG event, and learning what brings you to your work as a funder.


Connect with Ryan Li at @ryanlidahlstrom and FTG@borealisphilanthropy.org.

Follow Borealis Philanthropy at @BorealisPhil.


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