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.

March 17, 2021

How Philanthropy Can Move from Crisis to Transformation

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 by the Trust-Based Philanthropy Project.

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 AbichandaniIt was just a year ago, and yet it feels like a lifetime.

Last March, I was dreading a hectic month packed with too much work travel. Long before we had heard of Covid-19, many of us had been preparing for 2020 to be a consequential year, one in which our democracy was on the line.

My mother had generously traveled from Houston to help with childcare during my travels. Her two-week visit turned into three months, and our worlds as we knew them changed.

Covid happened.  

Then the racial justice uprisings happened.

The wildfires happened.

The election happened. 

And then an armed insurrection to overturn the democratic election results happened.

Every turn in this tumultuous year reaffirmed the reality that justice is a matter of life and death. 

Our democracy survived, though barely. But more than half a million Americans did not, and this unfathomable loss, borne disproportionately by communities of color, is still growing.

Across the philanthropic sector, funders stepped up to meet the moment. We saw payouts increase, the removal of unnecessary bureaucracy, and commitments to flexible support from not only public and private foundations but also individual philanthropists who gave unrestricted billions.

A year ago, we all faced a rapidly changing reality — one that it made it hard to know what the next month, or next year might hold.  Now, we have turned a corner in a most consequential time in American democracy, a time that has been defined by the leadership of Black women and grassroots movements for social justice that are building the power of people — and these movements are just getting started. There is momentum for change, leadership that is solidly poised to make that change, and broad-based support for the bold solutions that will move us towards a more just and equitable society.  We are in a dramatically different time that continues to call for a dramatically different kind of philanthropy.

As we look back on this year of crisis, and see the opportunities before us now more clearly, how are funders being called to contribute to the change we know is needed?  To answer these questions, I point to the truths that remained when everything else fell away.

We have the power to change the rules.

In the early days of the pandemic, close to 800 foundations came together and pledged to provide their grantees with flexible funding and to remove burdens and barriers that divert them from their work. Restrictions on funding were waived, and additional funds were released. These changes were not the result of years-long strategic planning; instead, this was a rare example of strategic action. These quick shifts allowed movement leaders to be responsive to rapidly shifting needs. Grantees were more free to act holistically, to mobilize collectively, make shared demands, and achieve staggering change.

Today, our grantees are coping with the exhaustion, burnout, and trauma from this last year, the last four years, and even the last four hundred years. Recently, many of us have begun to invest more intentionally in the healing, sustainability, and wellness of our grantees. Systemic injustice takes a toll on a very individual human level, and as funders, we can and should resource our grantees to thrive.

Ash-Lee Woodard Henderson, Co-Executive Director of the Highlander Research and Education Center, has urged philanthropy to, “Fund us like you want us to win.” Last year, we learned that we are capable of doing just that — and doing it without delay. Let’s build on funding practices that center relationships and shift power to our grantees.

White supremacy got us into this mess; racial justice will get us out.

Racial justice went mainstream in 2020 as the multiple crises exposed deep inequities and injustices in our midst. In the months after the world witnessed a police officer brutally murder George Floyd, many funders responded with explicit new commitments to fund Black-led racial justice work. These standalone funding commitments have been hailed as a turning point in philanthropy — a recognition of the importance of resourcing racial justice movements.

As we move forward, we must ensure that these newly made commitments are durable and not just crisis-driven. Movements should not have to rely on heartbreaking headlines to drive the flow of future resources. We can build on new funding commitments by centering racial justice in all our grantmaking. As resources begin to flow, let’s ensure that our frameworks are intersectional and include a gender analysis. To demonstrate a true desire to repair, heal, and build a multiracial democracy, philanthropy must do meaningful work in our institutions so that, at all levels, there is an understanding of the root causes of inequality and the importance of investing in racial justice.  Rashad Robinson, President of Color of Change, captured the centrality of this when he said, “We don’t get racial justice out of a true democracy. We get a true democracy out of racial justice.”

We know how to be “all in” when it's important. In this next period, it’s important.

With crisis as the rationalization, many endowed foundations were inspired to suspend a practice that our sector has long taken for granted: the 5% minimum distribution rule. In the face of compounding threats to our lives and our democracy, 64 individuals and foundations pledged to increase spending to 10% of the value of their endowment in 2020. And for the first time in years, the philanthropic sector is giving meaningful attention to the topic of spending decisions and the problem of treating the payout floor as though it is the ceiling.

To take full advantage of this once-in-a-generation opening for transformation, funders must put all the tools in our toolbox behind our ambitious missions. Social justice philanthropy can build new spending models that are not only more responsive to the moment, but also set our institutions up to better fulfill our missions — today and in the long-term.

This past summer, 26 million people marched in the streets of their small and large cities to proclaim that Black lives matter. It was the largest mobilization in our country’s history. Last fall, despite numerous efforts to suppress voters, social justice organizers mobilized the largest voter turnout we’ve ever seen. Now, as a result, we are in a moment that holds immense possibility. 

In big and small ways, we are all changed by this year. 

Our sector and our practice of philanthropy has changed too.  Let’s claim the opportunity that is before us by reimagining our norms and adopting practices that will continue to catalyze transformation.  The old philanthropy has been exposed as unfit. The new philanthropy is ours to create.

March 25, 2021

Philanthropy must be accountable: NFG's March 2021 Newsletter

We need each other and all of us in the fight for racial, gender, economic, and climate justice. The latest incidents of hate against AAPI women, elders, and our communities have left us grieving, angry, tired, and steadfast in our commitment to make philanthropy more accountable to AAPI, Black, Indigenous, and people of color communities and low-income communities. See our full statement calling on all of us to Stop Asian Hate.

As Dimple Abichandani, Executive Director of General Service Foundation, said in Neighborhood Funders Group’s 40 Years Strong convening series, "We must create cultures of accountability. How are we meeting this moment? A lot of what we need to do could be called organizing, but I think of it as meaning making." It is our collective work to make meaning of systemic injustices and resource power-building led by AAPI, Black, Indigenous, and people of color communities at the level that is necessary for all of us to thrive.

NFG is holding philanthropy accountable by urging funders to utilize all of their institution’s assets to pursue social justice, center worker justice movements and strategies, strengthen organizing infrastructure built by Black women to shift political and economic power, support reparations and drive wealth back to Black and Indigenous communities, and reimagine public safety and community care to ensure everyone has a place to call home.

In the next few weeks, we'll be announcing more opportunities to connect with the NFG community, sharing Funders for a Just Economy's next Building Power in Place report featuring organizers in Texas, and releasing a new report on rural organizing in New York state commissioned by Engage New York and NFG's Integrated Rural Strategies Group.


In solidarity,
The NFG team

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