March 19, 2015

Can place-based grantmaking help turn the tide of inequality?

By Dennis Quirin and Steve Patrick

Today we see many local communities – urban, suburban and rural - swamped by historic disinvestment and the growing tide of economic and social inequality in our country. Place-based grantmaking can play an important role in turning this tide,
but not without addressing the core structural barriers that have produced and propelled it. In local communities, addressing the lived experiences of people who are marginalized by racism, poverty, immigration status, gender discrimination, homophobia and disability will require many funders to retool their approaches to understanding and solving systemic community problems.

Fortunately, in recent years there has been renewed interested in deeper community investment among many national and regional foundations. The pendulum has begun to swing back to place-based grantmaking – and the opportunity exists for the field to learn from the challenges of the past, as well as from promising practice.

Last fall a group of over 100 funders and field leaders met at the Aspen Institute in Aspen, CO for Towards a Better Place, Promising Practices in Place-Based Grantmaking . Place-based grantmaking is not new; in fact you can argue that it’s the oldest form of grantmaking. The recent resurgence of interest in place-based grantmaking, especially on the part of larger funders, presents an opportunity for historically marginalized communities. There isn’t one way to approach place-based grantmaking, nor is there a robust field of practice to support it. Yet all who gathered agreed that this is an opportunity that we can ill afford to get wrong.

When the Aspen Forum for Community Solutions and Neighborhood Funders Group organized the conference last September, our intent was to start a national conversation that would be relevant for a wide range of funders who design strategic place-based initiatives, as well as funders based in the communities where they fund. While these two broad categories of funders often have very different approaches, we believe that there is an important conversation that is relevant to both groups of funders. That shared conversation centers on the practice or craft of place-based grantmaking, which served as the guiding theme for our conference.

To help share the rich discussions and learnings from the conference, the NFG and the Aspen Forum have just released a conference report and resource guide for place-based grantmakers. Some of the key lessons shared at the conference include:

  • Make the shift from being a grantmaker to a changemaker and co-learner. To be a changemaker, program officers must be co-learners with those doing work on the ground rather than “coming with the answers.
  • Keep equity at the center. Place-based investors have to bring an equity lens to the work. They must ask critical questions about who holds the power in communities? Who is being served? Who is at the table and who needs to be?
  • Resource community engagement and collaboration. It is not enough to just provide project grants. The foundation must also deploy resources to ensure that residents are deeply involved in the process.
  • Make a long-term commitment. Staying a long time allows you to gain greater perspective on the place, learn what the community wants, and avoid making incorrect assumptions. And long-term commitment makes deep collaboration possible.
  • Coordinate multiple funders working in the same place. Funder alignment and coordination can significantly ease burdens on community groups, for example by developing common learning metrics. Coordinating funder efforts also creates the potential to multiply the impacts of their investments in the same place.
  • Co-invest in good work that is already happening or emerging from community partners. Don’t force collaborations or initiatives. Rather than coming with the issues, figure out with the community what would make a big impact and build on what is ripe there.
  • Leverage the foundation’s name and status to increase visibility and access of partners on the ground.  Foundations engaged in place-based work can do much more than just funding – for example developing relationships, positioning community partners in a way that is influential and engaging in policy advocacy.
  • Learn as you go and be open to different pathways to success. Often in place-based work, the outcomes that have been most successful were unplanned and unforeseen. They arose from long-term relationship building and the development of new leadership that didn’t exist in the beginning.

The problems facing marginalized communities today are weighty and complex, and no conference will solve them. But the beginning conversations at Towards a Better Place lifted up some important lessons from place-based grantmaking that can help funders rethink their strategies and practices. The Aspen Forum for Community Solutions and NFG will continue providing opportunities for funders to engage with peers on these questions. We invite more funders to join our learning community and help develop the kinds of partnerships in places that can better position communities to address the root causes of inequality.

Dennis Quirin is the President of Neighborhood Funders Group. Steve Patrick is the Executive Director of the Aspen Forum for Community Solutions.

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September 3, 2019

Capitalism and Racism: Conjoined Twins

By Marjona Jones, Co-Chair of Funders for a Just Economy and Senior Program Officer at Unitarian Universalist Veatch Program at Shelter Rock

Marjona Jones speaking at a podium.

A few weeks ago, Democracy Now! aired a segment with Ibram X. Kendi, author and founding director of the Anti-Racist Research and Policy Center at American University, where he discussed white supremacy, anti-racism, and the increase in mass shootings. What struck me about the segment was his illuminating statement about the origins of capitalism. Kendi views capitalism and racism as "conjoined twins" and that “…the origins of racism cannot be separated from the origins of capitalism… the life of capitalism cannot be separated from the life of racism.”

Kendi continued by discussing how the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade allowed for the massive accumulation of wealth in Europe and the Americas. Centuries of wage theft, trading in human bondage, insurance claims on "lost" cargo, and reparations for slave owners after emancipation entrenched this capitalist system with inequities based on race built into it. Slave owners protected their concentrated wealth by shaping our socio-economic and legal systems to benefit themselves and the industry of slavery, as well as limit democracy.

As I celebrate the worker movement’s victories on Labor Day this year, this segment and past conversations with grantees has triggered an important question for me: What does the notion that capitalism and racism are inextricably linked mean for our work as funders of racial and economic justice? Our grantee partners tell us how workers are implicated in the entangled web of these “conjoined twins” of racism and capitalism. Many worker-based organizations state that the best vehicle this country has in pursuit of economic justice is through organizing workers, but traditional labor hasn’t always been the best vehicle for racial justice. As Bill Fletcher Jr. and Fernando Gapasin discuss in Solidarity Divided: The Crisis in Organized Labor and a New Path toward Social Justice, while many unions integrated in the 1920s, some unionists decided to resist integration to ensure wins and job quality for white workers. These traditionalists understood the idea of “conjoined twins.”

Racial and economic justice movements have exposed exploitative and extractive practices within capitalism, making it less secure to accumulate wealth through those means. However, as Michelle Alexander points out in her book, The New Jim Crow, exposing capitalism for what it is forces it to transform and evolve. For example, following the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863, agriculture was still the main economic engine, and free exploited labor was needed for this industry to survive. Capitalism evolved while maintaining its racist and exploitative roots through policymakers passing the Black Codes of 1865 and 1866, making it easier to imprison recently freed slaves to continue that supply of free labor.

We are catching up to the fact that capitalism was never meant to work for everyone. What will the next evolution in capitalism bring as our movements fight even harder for racial and economic justice in the face of harm to workers and marginalized communities?

Funders for a Just Economy (FJE) has created an intentional space to begin discussing what these questions mean for our work and the grantees we support. Capitalism’s origin story is a critical part of analyzing how this system operates. By acknowledging the “conjoined twins,” we acknowledge the role of race and the legacy of slavery. FJE believes that there is a renewed opportunity to support a working-class movement that builds the power of all workers, especially Black, Trans and LGBQ workers, women, and immigrants—and lift their role as the main strategists to change the system. If we believe another world is possible, then so is another system that bakes in justice, equity, and respect.


  

Join FJE for these conversations and more at the upcoming Racial Capitalism, Power and Resistance event on October 17 & 18 in Brooklyn, NY. More information and registration link here.

Stay tuned for an upcoming Power Building Study Group for Neighborhood Funders Group members, and the Disrupt the System: How Labor and Philanthropy can Build Worker Power in a New Era event co-convened by the AFL-CIO, the LIFT Fund, and FJE on December 11 in Washington, DC. More information coming soon!

 
August 15, 2019

Beyond Outrage: A Clarity of Purpose

Dimple Abichandani, Executive Director of the General Service Foundation, urges grantmakers and the philanthropic sector to take concrete actions to defend democracy and speak out against racist attacks on people of color. This post was originally published here on the foundation's website.

Dimple was part of the first Philanthropy Forward: Leadership for Change Fellowship cohort, a joint initiative of Neighborhood Funders Group and The Aspen Institute Forum for Community Solutions. General Service Foundation, which partners with grassroots organizations to bring about a more just and sustainable world, is a member of NFG.


  

Dimple AbichandaniWe live in dangerous times, and every passing news cycle contains another outrage, another violation of norms, another threat to our democracy, another threat to our planet.  

In the face of escalating racial attacks, (be it imprisonment of kids on the border or the racist rhetoric being tweeted from the white house) many have noted, rightly, that philanthropy as a sector has been too cautious and too quiet.  The Communications Network, in it’s recent piece, Silence Speaks Volumes, calls on foundations to use their voices in this moment.

Yes, it’s meaningful for people from all sectors of our society to condemn the Administration’s attacks on people of color.  And, for those of us working in the philanthropic sector, these times call on us to use all of our tools in defense of our inclusive, multi-racial democracy.  We are more than commentators or observers– as funders, our role is to resource a more just and equitable future. What we do in this moment will be far more important than what we say.  

As painful as this moment is, it is also a time in which the work to be done has become more clear. The vulnerability of our democracy has become more clear.  Racial anxiety and social divisions are being stoked in order to prop up a reckless system that benefits only the wealthiest. As we condemn the most recent of a long list of outrages, can we also use this moment to deepen our own clarity of purpose, and ensure that our funding will bring about a more just future? 

As funders, we can not only speak out but also take action to bolster our inclusive democracy.

  1. Support those most directly impacted by injustice. Instead of wielding of our own voice and power as a foundation, we can support those most directly impacted by injustice to build their voice, power, and leadership. They must lead the way to a more just world; it is our job to uplift and resource their visions and voices. National organizations such as Color of Change, New American Leaders, and National Domestic Workers Alliance, regional and state-based organizations such as Western States Center, Black Voters Matter and Workers Defense Project and so many others are seeding a future in which racial, gender and economic justice will be the norm.
  2. Invest in the creation and dissemination of narratives that reshape cultural attitudes around belonging in our country.  The recent escalation in the use of racist and sexist rhetoric is not happening in a vacuum– rather it builds on broader public narratives shaped by white supremacy and male dominance.  We need to normalize new narratives that humanize all of us, that value all of us. Organizations such as the Pop Culture CollaborativeReFrame, and the Culture Change Fund, for example, build capacity for narrative equity and culture shift.
  3. Question the default funding habits and practices that limit us from making a bigger impact in this moment. As funders, we sometimes have a blind spot for how our internal practices create unnecessary burdens and barriers for organizations that do the important work we support. This moment calls on us to question our practices, shift to ways of working that account for the gravity of the problems we face, and center the people who are leading the social change efforts we support. Could your foundation increase its payout, provide more general operating support, increase the length of grants, and minimize busywork for grantees? Could you shift your grant strategy to more boldly meet the moment or more directly address the imbalances of power in our society? The Trust Based Philanthropy Network has tools and stories of inspiration from foundations who have increased their impact by changing their practices.

So many of us in philanthropy are eager to do something meaningful in this tumultuous time.  Let’s challenge ourselves to use this moment to put our institutional values into practice. Let’s walk the walk as boldly as we talk the talk.