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.

Find More By:

News type: 
October 24, 2019

Reflections from Philanthropy Forward's First Cohort

Philanthropy Forward: Leadership for Change is a CEO fellowship program created by Neighborhood Funders Group and the Aspen Institute Forum for Community Solutions. The program's first cohort started in October 2018 in furtherance of building and advancing a shared vision for the future of philanthropy.

Hear perspectives from members of the first cohort as they reflect in this video on their work together as strategic thought partners, addressing philanthropy's most challenging issues and aligning to build a financial engine for social change.

2018 - 2019 Philanthropy Forward Cohort

A grid with individual photos of each of the 20 members of Philanthropy Forward's 2018-2918 cohort..

Click here for participant bios

  • Dimple Abichandani, General Service Foundation
  • Sharon Alpert, Nathan Cummings Foundation
  • Elizabeth Barajas-Roman, Solidago Foundation
  • Ned Calonge, The Colorado Trust
  • Irene Cooper-Basch, Victoria Foundation
  • Farhad A. Ebrahimi, The Chorus Foundation
  • Nicky Goren, Meyer Foundation
  • Justin Maxson, Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation
  • Joan Minieri, Unitarian Universalist Veatch Program at Shelter Rock
  • Maria Mottola, New York Foundation
  • Mike Pratt, Scherman Foundation
  • Jocelyn Sargent, Hyams Foundation
  • Pamela Shifman, NoVo Foundation
  • Starsky D. Wilson, Deaconess Foundation
  • Steve Patrick, Aspen Institute Forum for Community solutions
  • Dennis Quirin, Raikes Foundation
September 10, 2019

For Love of Humankind: A Call to Action for Southern Philanthropy

Justin Maxson, Executive Director of the Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation, calls on fellow funding organizations based in the South to respond to the federal government's anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies with three concrete actions. This post was originally published here on the foundation's website.

Justin 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. The Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation, which strives to help people and places move out of poverty and achieve greater social and economic justice, is a member of NFG.


 

Justin MaxsonWe are issuing a clarion call to Southern philanthropic organizations to respond to the manic drumbeat of anti-immigrant rhetoric and cruelty coming from the White House. This month began with a mass shooting targeting the Latinx community. Days later, massive raids tore apart hundreds of families and destabilized Mississippi communities but levied no consequences for the corporate leadership that lures vulnerable people to work in grueling, dangerous conditions. It is astounding that since those events, with the resulting fear and trauma still reverberating through immigrant communities across America, the administration has: 

  • repeated its intention to end birthright citizenship, a 14th Amendment guarantee that babies born on American soil are citizens. 
  • attempted to terminate the Flores Agreement, which sets standards for the care of children in custody. This would allow the administration to detain migrant families indefinitely in facilities where children are dying of influenza, yet flu shots are not administrated, where children are sexually assaulted, where soap, toothbrushes, human contact and play are not standard, and where breastfeeding babies are taken from their mothers. Child separation is known to cause permanent psychological trauma and brain damage.
  • announced changes to the so-called “public charge rule” to make it harder for legal immigrants to secure citizenship if they use public assistance. As our partners at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities argue, this change would cause many to “forgo assistance altogether, resulting in more economic insecurity and hardship, with long-term negative consequences, particularly for children.” Further, the decision “rests on the erroneous assumption that immigrants currently of modest means are harmful to our nation and our economy, devaluing their work and contributions and discounting the upward mobility immigrant families demonstrate.”

There was also a recent effort to effectively end asylum altogether at the southern border. And despite the Supreme Court ruling blocking the citizenship question from the 2020 census, advocates believe the debate will depress response rates. As we wrote earlier this month, this administration’s animus against immigrants and increasingly aggressive ICE actions are compounding the devastating effects on communities across the country. 

Why Southern philanthropy? 

An analysis of recent grantmaking by the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy found our region has deportation rates five times higher than the rest of the country, yet Southern pro-immigrant organizations receive paltry philanthropic funding. Barely one percent of all money granted by the 1,000 largest foundations benefits immigrants and refugees, and even that money doesn’t go to state and local groups that are accountable to grassroots and immigrant communities. Organizations in Southern states receive less than half of the state and local funding of California, New York and Illinois. 

Where to begin? 

Speak up. As Desmund Tutu taught us, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” Use your institutional voice to influence decisionmakers.

Examine your foundation’s policies. Find out if your endowment is invested in private detention centers. Consider how supporting organizing, power building and policy advocacy could advance your mission. NCRP has more recommendations in its report.

Give generously. Our partners at Hispanics in Philanthropy have curated a list of organizations helping the families affected by the raids across Mississippi. Our partners at Grantmakers Concerned with Immigrants and Refugees have compiled a list of ways to help, from rapid response grants to long-term strategies. 

Many of the Babcock Foundation’s grantee partners are doing more and more immediate protection work, stretching themselves thin and often putting themselves at risk. They are keeping families intact in the short term while building power for the long term, so history will stop repeating: 

If you know of more resources, please share them. If you’d like to learn more about the organizations on the ground across the South – or think about ways we can do more together – contact us. We are always looking to learn and act in alignment with our fellow funders toward a shared vision of a strong, safe, welcoming and equitable region. 

Activist Jane Addams said, “The good we secure for ourselves is precarious and uncertain until it is secured for all of us.” Regardless of a foundation’s mission, abject cruelty surely undermines it. It also undermines the most basic tenet of philanthropy, which literally means “love for humankind.” We see no love in this administration. It’s up to all of us to spread it.