December 4, 2018

How NFG is Disrupting Funder-Grantee Dynamics

Helen Chin has just led the Surdna Foundation’s Sustainable Environments Program through a strategy refinement process. “Now,” she says, with satisfaction, “We are able to connect more robustly with what’s bubbling from the ground up in the field, as well as center racial equity in our work!”  The outcome of this effort was a commitment to actively partner directly with the communities most vulnerable and impacted by climate change in order to build their capacity and power to self-determine the ownership, control and stewardship of land and infrastructure. This refinement distills the Program’s previous five lines of work into two integrated grantmaking and investment strategies: Environmental and Climate Justice, and Land Use through Community Power.

As the Program Director, and as someone who comes from a background in urban planning and environmental justice organizing, Helen is delighted by this opportunity to build community resilience and power in partnership with grantees working at the frontlines in communities of color — communities hardest hit by climate change, disinvestment and racist planning practices:

Communities isolated along the lines of race and class have been made vulnerable and are under threat from decades of disinvestment. And while, everyone is under threat from climate change and its impact, some communities are less resilient than others. Here in New York, communities of color and low-wealth communities who are hardest hit by environmental injustice, house all the City’s waste, and are cut off from the infrastructure that would support resiliency. They don’t have access to transit or quality, affordable housing, and are not able to withstand the stresses of environmental conditions that already exist. Add climate change and storms, and the community can be decimated — left without a home to go to nor a means to move around or away from harm. This coupled with living paycheck to paycheck in the best-case scenario or even worse, living financially underwater, creates further challenges. These are the conditions real people are living with that challenge their resilience and ability to prosper. It‘s not just the one-off incident, it’s the culmination of all the things that life is throwing at people.

We need a sustained bottom up approach. How can we help position folks to affect what is happening to them, instead of having solutions rained down on them from external architects that don’t address the complexities of experiences that stem from a tapestry of inequitable policies and practices? How can we support communities as the world around them is evolving, using infrastructure and the development of infrastructure in a way that simultaneously builds economic justice, designs for racial equity and solves environmental problems? We want to put forward an alternative vision, one that positions those communities to be able to take a proactive stand and say, ‘How do I create something that builds resiliency for me?’ We are able now to bring forward a strong lens around how we build power in communities that have been invisible and devalued.

The Surdna Foundation is a long-standing member and collaborator of Neighborhood Funders Group; last year, to mark its centennial with a signature expression of its values, Surdna partnered with NFG, Ford Foundation, Open Society Foundations, Jessie Smith Noyes Foundation, The Kresge Foundation, The Moriah Fund, and The JPB Foundation to seed NFG’s Amplify Fund, a new, multimillion-dollar pooled fund focused on investing in equitable, community-led development. Helen sits on the Advisory Committee that forms criteria and provides oversight for the Fund. Of NFG, she says, “Because racial equity is so squarely centered at NFG, we knew we would have a great partner and home for this work, one that would help us advance the expression of our own values and the legacy of our work in the development and planning arena.”

Sharing her perspective on how Neighborhood Funders Group makes a difference in philanthropy, Helen cites NFG’s role in shifting culture and practice. She lifts up the ways that NFG disrupts traditional funder-grantee dynamics:

NFG is causing funders to re-evaluate what it means to partner. The funder relationship is usually very paternalistic — ‘I have money, I give you money. Because I have money, I have power to set the agenda, and you don’t.’ Funders usually position themselves as experts and foster relationships where the field reacts to funder ideas rather than partnering and co-producing with those touching and experiencing the work.  NFG is changing that dynamic by questioning who is expert in the room, and who has voice and power. The new framing is — community is expert. How do we support a space where community is co-creating with philanthropy for impact? Funder to funder, within the sector, the way that NFG works is causing funders to re-evaluate how they think about being partners.

Helen values how NFG supports her to reach beyond her specific issue area and build broadly with other funders — specifically the ways that NFG connects the dots and creates a vessel to carry cross-cutting racial and economic justice work:

One thing NFG has helped me think about is, ‘How do you authentically create space to co-create with a community of people that is not necessarily from your sector or your genre?’ As an environmental funder, I am surrounded by others that are myopically focused on the environment and climate. NFG fosters a learning culture for a lot of people working on a diversity of issues to think holistically and work on solutions that intentionality lift up people and strive for racial justice outcomes.

We are creating something much greater, in support of the health and vitality of neighborhoods and communities, creating an ecosystem that threads the needle for funders who might not be able to see that. This is valuable, because I am in other spaces where there may be five working groups and one doesn’t know what is going on in the other four. There is a false assumption that they are different issues. NFG has more fluidity between working groups. They holistically organize and hold funders accountable to being in service of communities of color and low-wealth communities.

NFG convenings, she says, do the legwork for her, helping to build relationships and alliances with other funders to move racial and economic justice work in the field.

I already connect with NFG in terms of values, but NFG has helped me in the sense of being able to strategize and co-create. Their frame is not new for me, but they have given me the space. They create the relationships. I used to have to build and broker the relationships myself, but they create the space to do that. It’s easier to do that through their convenings, their learning forums, and the Amplify Fund.

In closing, Helen warmly validates NFG staff, as strategic thought partners and allies in her work:

I get to connect to them all the time and they know how much I admire them for how they work. NFG’s superpower: they are truly strategic partners. They organize around strategy and a sense of purpose — actualizing justice. They are strategic thinkers. One of the few philanthropic groups that are not just about learning and convening, NFG is about strategizing with philanthropy to have meaningful impact.

June 12, 2019

NFG Announces Transition of President Dennis Quirin

For Immediate Release
June 12, 2019

OAKLAND, CA — On July 19, Dennis Quirin will step down as President of Neighborhood Funders Group (NFG) to accept a new position as Executive Director of the Raikes Foundation in September. NFG’s Vice President of Programs, Adriana Rocha, and Vice President of Operations, Sarita Ahuja, will serve as Interim Co-Directors to shepherd the organization through the executive transition. A search for NFG’s next President will begin in late 2019.

“The courageous and bold leadership that Dennis exhibits is exactly what this moment requires. Today, NFG stands strong and in solidarity with the movements we are all in service of advancing. It has been an honor to work with someone who aligns their values with their actions as consistently as Dennis does. On behalf of the board, I am excited to welcome the next leader who will carry on NFG’s mission supporting grassroots power building so that communities of color and low-income communities thrive,” said Alison Corwin, Chair of the NFG board.

In his six-year tenure as President, Dennis has overseen tremendous expansion in NFG’s membership, operations, and programming. NFG's institutional membership has more than doubled, with now over 115 foundations around the country participating as members in programs focused on shifting power and money in philanthropy towards justice. NFG’s team has also grown to 15 staff members located in six states across the US. Dennis has launched the Amplify Fund, a multimillion-dollar collaborative fund for equitable development, and Philanthropy Forward, a foundation CEO fellowship. He has also fostered new directions in programming addressing issues such as gentrification and displacement, racial justice and police accountability, just transition to a new economy, rural organizing, and the changing landscape of workers’ rights.

“It has been a great privilege to lead this organization as it activates philanthropy to support social justice and power building,” said Dennis. “Nearing its 40th year, NFG is now in the strongest position it has ever been, and will no doubt continue to grow and build upon what we have accomplished together during my time here. I am excited to take what I’ve learned and apply these lessons in my new role at the Raikes Foundation.” 

“Dennis’s visionary leadership over the past six years has strengthened NFG as a community where funders gain relationships and tools to move more resources to organizing and powerbuilding,” said Sarita. “We are grateful to Dennis for building NFG into the thriving organization it is today,” added Adriana, “and look forward to welcoming a new leader in 2020.”

NFG’s executive search will be announced later in 2019 and will be open nationally to candidates. More immediate questions about the search can be sent to Shannon Lin, Communications Manager, at shannon@nfg.org

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Read more: "A New Chapter — for Me and for NFG"

 

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May 9, 2019

Building Power in the Sunshine State: Lessons from FJE’s Florida Learning Tour

In April 2019, NFG's Funders for a Just Economy and Florida Philanthropic Network brought together funders from across the country and community organizing leaders in Florida to explore how diverse communities in the state are building power and political infrastructure for workers’ rights, migrant justice, women’s rights, and more.

Sienna BaskinSienna Baskin, Director of the Anti-Trafficking Fund at NEO Philanthropy, shares her experience from the learning tour. You can follow Sienna at @SiennaBaskin and NEO at@NEOPhilanthropy

Would you be able to come from the frozen Northeast to a resort in Ft. Myers without relishing the feeling of your toes in sandals or the warm bay breezes? I know these were my first impressions as I landed for the Funders for a Just Economy Florida Funder Tour. But as we left the sunshine to enter a darkened conference room, our eyes adjusted to read the first slide: “Racial Capitalism and Resistance in the Sunshine State.” As funders, many of us tourists and outsiders, we were invited in to learn the real story of Florida.

During this introduction to the tour, we learned that the inequities Floridians are suffering were sown in the earliest days of European colonization, and the roots of revolt stretch just as far back. By the 1800’s, Native Seminole communities were a haven for escaped slaves, and some of the largest anti-slavery uprisings were launched from these enclaves. Post-reconstruction, this blossoming of freedom was repressed with an especially brutal reign of the KKK – Florida had the highest number of lynchings per capita of any southern state. Florida also passed the first “Right to Work” law in the nation, disenfranchising African American communities to maintain the status quo, and built the tourism sector with leased convict labor. Considering these challenges, Cuban, Spanish and Italian workers built strong unions and mounted many strikes at cigar-rolling factories. In 1968 it was out of a failed sanitation strike in St. Petersburg that one of the fastest growing multiracial unions in the south — SEIU Florida Public Service Union – was born. And just this week, Florida passed one of the harshest anti-immigrant bills in the country, banning sanctuary cities and requiring local government agencies to cooperate with ICE.

Learning tour participants sit at tables to listen to local community organizers in a colorful room surrounded by posters.

Photos by Arista Collective

This sense of a violent swing from liberation to repression and back again permeated our time in Florida. We met many of the brilliant leaders riding these waves. They had much to teach us. Like the country at large, Florida is almost perfectly balanced between progressive possibility and conservative ideology. Every election is won or lost by 1%, but a Republican stronghold has held onto power. This means organizers must find ways to engage conservatives around shared values, build an alternate narrative powerful enough to contest for governing power and move the apolitical (30% of voters are unaffiliated), or create new systems of accountability and power outside of government.

We heard examples of all of these strategies. The Florida Rights Restoration Coalition recently won a ballot initiative to restore voting rights to people with criminal records by connecting with returning citizens, their families, and the wider community around a sense of justice, not by arguing politics. Alliance for Safety and Justice organizes crime victims around criminal justice reform by talking about failures in public safety. The Statewide Alignment Group, an alliance of 7 organizations including Florida Immigration Coalition, Central Florida Jobs with Justice, and Faith in Florida, are building a new electorate through leadership development, community-based popular education, and ballot initiatives, with Medicaid expansion, automatic voter registration and $15 minimum wage in their sights. The Miami Workers Center organizes victims of domestic violence and domestic workers to fight the feminization of poverty with a shared agenda. All aspire to a new definition of civic engagement, where working people are authors of the laws that affect them, an audacious goal in a state that has long repressed workers. This requires not being “prisoners of the moment” as Alphonso Mayfield of the SEIU called it, but seeing where even failure leads to future change, if there is deep collaboration and engagement over years.

Nelly Rodriguez of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers speaks to learning tour participants sitting at a table with her.We also visited Immokalee, a town of migrant workers, small bodegas and vast tomato and citrus farms. Around bright oilcloth-covered tables we heard about the Coalition of Immokalee Workers' famous human rights program, built to change the slavery-like conditions on industrial farms. By holding the brands at the top of the supply chain accountable for enforcing worker protections and threatening the loss of sales for farm owners if they did not sign up, workers were able to institute higher pay and standards than even the law requires. Surrounded by hand-painted signs from their marches against Wendy’s, Taco Bell and other corporate giants, we saw the potential of this program, born of necessity in one of the most oppressive regions and industries in the country for low-wage workers.

Unfortunately, philanthropy is not always walking with these activists. While Florida is perceived as a wealthy state, we learned that there are almost no social justice funders in Florida, especially for workers or immigrant rights. Many holders of wealth hail from outside of Florida, and think of the state as their vacation or retirement spot, not where they should be giving back. And national funders aren’t always investing in the most impactful ways. Money pours into Florida for disaster response or to swing the state during election years, focused on numbers, not depth or long-term engagement. These kinds of resources may lead to the problem of “burnt turf,” when voters don’t trust that organizers are really working in their best interest. For long term grassroots investment, Florida often falls through the cracks.

Two people on the learning tour sit in a bus looking out onto farm fields.

Photos by Arista Collective

The Contigo Fund showed us one example of how to do things differently. After the massacre of 49 LGBTQ Latinx young people at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, a combined effort through crowdfunding and traditional philanthropy raised 30 million for the families and survivors, and 3 million more was raised for longer term efforts. The Contigo Fund carried out an assessment to learn how the community identified the conditions they were facing, the gaps in resources, and their hopes and dreams for change. The resulting grants promoted 37 new LGBTQ leaders of color into positions of power, launched new programs for LGBTQ communities in existing organizations, and helped found 11 new organizations led by LGBTQ people of color in central Florida.

Tarell McCraney, writer of the Academy Award-winning “Moonlight,” called Miami “a beautiful nightmare.”  My sense, after soaking in Florida sunsets and hearing from these activists, is that this moniker could apply to the entire state. Florida has suffered many traumas: historical, environmental, collective and individual. It is top in the nation for poverty-wage jobs, has the highest rate of ICE arrests in the country, and was home to half of all US murders of trans people in 2018. But it also has enormous potential, potential Florida activists and organizers can feel. Some of the most brilliant organizing strategies in the country are emerging from this state, out of the urgency of the moment and the creativity of activists overcoming high barriers. These are the strategies we need to turn this whole country around. Marcia Olivo of the Miami Workers Center shared her belief that out of healing can come collective action, and without this action, healing is incomplete. Philanthropy has an opportunity to help move this, and all the other exciting ideas in Florida, to a place of flourishing.

More about the tour: Tour Agenda | Speaker Bios | Attendees List

We are so grateful to the organizations that worked with us on this tour: Alliance for Safety and Justice, Alianza for Progress, Central Florida Jobs with Justice, Coalition of Immokalee Workers, Community Justice ProjectContigo Fund, Dream Defenders, Faith in Florida, Fair Food Standards Council, Family Action Network Movement, Farmworkers Association of Florida, Florida Immigrant Coalition, Florida New Majority, Florida Philanthropic Network, Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, Miami Workers Center, Organize Florida, QLatinx, SEIU Public Services Union of Florida, VIDA Legal Assistance, WeCount!