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.

November 23, 2021

Looking back & what's ahead: NFG's November 2021 Newsletter

As we're approaching the end of the year, our team at Neighborhood Funders Group has begun reflecting on the many ways we've been organizing with funders to move more money to racial, gender, economic, and climate justice. In this month's newsletter, you'll find our highlights from 2021 and a glimpse of what to expect from each of our programs in 2022 to get you excited about continuing to co-conspire with the NFG community.


  

AMPLIFY FUND

  • In 2021, Amplify Fund distributed $3.6m in general operating grants to our 56 grantees in 8 places, including $700k in capacity building grants and collaboration grants; we hope you consider co-funding these amazing organizations with us!
  • We also worked on a more public presence this year by creating and distributing videos about our grantees and our grantmaking model, and by publishing in a major magazine.
  • Next year will be a big transition: our grantees are leading our theory of change refresh, our Steering Committee is doubling down on efforts to shift our field towards racial justice and power building, and we are fundraising (i.e., encouraging you all to join our Steering Committee) to ensure the Amplify Fund continues for years to come.

 

DEMOCRATIZING DEVELOPMENT PROGRAM

  • This year, the Democratizing Development Program (DDP) brought community and philanthropic leaders together to advance BIPOC organizing and policy solutions for land, housing, community ownership, and power.

  • ICYMI: check out our sessions on Addressing the Housing Crisis in New York and Beyond, which featured tenant leaders and advocates in New York State who are building power to address the housing crisis, and Philanthropy and the Case for Reparations in collaboration with the Decolonizing Wealth Project, featuring organizations that are advancing reparations as a strategy to heal, restore, repair, and rebuild communities.
  • In 2022, DDP will be engaging local and national-level funders interested in learning how to be more aligned with movement priorities, with a focus on power building strategies for housing justice. Our sessions will share experiences of how funders have approached partnership and power-sharing with community organizations, and outcomes that are possible through this approach.

 

FUNDERS FOR A JUST ECONOMY

  • Funders for a Just Economy (FJE) focused our efforts this year on learning from movement partners who are building a powerful movement for inclusive worker power, considering both rising fascism and the new federal administration, and sharing how funders can support multiracial, multi-gender movements toward policy wins that build community and worker power, combat austerity policies, and support transformational and longer-term strategies toward racial, gender, climate, and economic justice.
  • We did this through many programs and reports this year. Don’t forget to rewatch and re-read some highlights, including the March Policy Briefing and learning about the amazing local organizing in Nashville, Houston, Washington DC, and Southern California’s Inland Region.
  • Next year, FJE aspires to double down our efforts to organize funders to resource grassroots power building, address racial capitalism, and commit more money to movement organizations that are boldly organizing to improve the quality of life, health, and working conditions of Black, Indigenous, and people of color communities, low-income communities, and queer, trans and gender non-binary people. Stay tuned for more information about upcoming meetings with the US Department of Labor (every few months) and FJE’s annual Policy Briefing in March 2022.

 

INTEGRATED RURAL STRATEGIES GROUP

  • Integrated Rural Strategies Group (IRSG) deepened its roots in rural community-led work with the launch of our Movement Advisors Committee; launched the Resourcing Rural Organizing Infrastructure: A New York Case Study report containing analysis and funder recommendations for supporting rural communities; and continues to support funders in actualizing these recommendations and the guidance of our Movement Advisors by developing a Rural Equity Funding Toolkit that includes a funder self-assessment and set of resources.
  • IRSG will be hosting its flagship annual event — the Multiracial Rural Equity Summit — on December 9. We invite any funder interested in learning the critical role rural communities play in advancing justice and equity to join us. For a taste of what we’ll dig into at the Summit, check out this 10-minute video on how funders can support place-based rural community power.
  • In 2022, IRSG will live into its charge to mobilize philanthropy by launching a New York Rural Organizing Funding Portfolio, offering funders of all types the opportunity to resource rural community organizing across New York State in a strategic, coordinated portfolio. We will also be hosting workshops and learning communities to mobilize philanthropic resources to build rural power with our Rural Equity Funding Toolkit.

 

MIDWEST ORGANIZING INFRASTRUCTURE FUNDERS

  • In 2021, the Midwest Organizing Infrastructure Funders hosted our first events, which have already moved resources to organizing and power building work in the Midwest. We also launched our first campaign and worked to deepen our relationships with funders to better understand Midwest-specific needs around moving resources to movements for racial, gender, economic, and climate justice.
  • To connect with us, please read our November newsletter and email Amanda Hwu to learn more about opportunities for engagement.
  • In 2022, we will be launching our inaugural Coordinating Committee to guide the vision and priorities of this new program, continuing our racial justice campaign for Black farmers, and designing and hosting interactive spaces for funders to deepen their engagement with grassroots organizing infrastructure in the Midwest.

 

PHILANTHROPY FORWARD

  • In 2021, Philanthropy Forward hosted virtual sessions and peer coaching spaces for the 16 CEO Fellows in Cohort 3. We hosted Network Gatherings for 50 current and past Fellows to deepen their work and analyses on racial & gender justice and community power building to disrupt and transform the future of philanthropy.
  • To learn more about Philanthropy Forward, please see here; and get more info about Cohort 3 here. Please contact Adriana Rocha for any additional questions.
  • In 2022, we look forward to launching Cohort 4 and continuing to provide programming for Cohort 3 and the Philanthropy Forward network.

 

NFG is offering a few more opportunities this year to co-conspire with us! Keep reading to find out more about IRSG's Multiracial Rural Equity Summit, and funders — don't miss our final Member Connection Call of the year on December 1.

At this Member Connection Call, we'll ask you to share how you've centered care in your grantmaking and/or what you've shifted at your foundation to fund BIPOC communities to build power. Share what support you may need as a grantmaker to fund racial, gender, economic, and climate justice with even more resources so that BIPOC communities, low-income communities, workers, migrants, rural communities, people with disabilities, queer, trans, and gender non-conforming people, women, and all of our communities thrive in a liberated world where we are all well, where we are all cared for, and where there is abundance for all.

In solidarity,

— the NFG team

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October 28, 2021

Philanthropy’s horoscope for care + liberation: NFG's October 2021 Newsletter

I’ve been on NFG’s staff team since July 2019 — popping into your inbox (whether you knew it was me or not) as one of the behind-the-scenes creators/writers/editors of our monthly newsletters and other communications pieces.

In addition to being NFG’s Director of Membership and Communications, I’m a puppy parent, an avid car camper, a chaser of sunrises & sunsets, and one of many queer folx who leans on astrologer Chani Nicholas to help me ‘discover and live out my life’s purpose.’

For those of you who are not astrology aficionados, we’re now in Scorpio season (I’m an Aquarius sun, Gemini rising, and Cancer moon). And Chani’s horoscope for me this season really struck a chord; here’s a snippet:

“In astrology, the house we associate with physical ailments is also the place where we toil. This Scorpio season, you’re called to investigate how the two interweave. How do your work habits and expectations impact you physically? Where does stress live in your body? How does it let you know?

By gathering the morse code of your heart beats, your nerves as they rustle, or the needling heat of a back ache, you transfigure these inconveniences into valuable data: into information you can pivot from. By heeding the complaints of your body, you leave an offering at the steps of your most precious temple — you.”

This invitation to collect the data from my body, locate where I feel stress, and explore the interconnectedness between my work habits & expectations and my body’s aches, pains, fatigue, satisfaction, etc. is a welcome and timely one.


Over the past year + some change, the NFG team has begun to explore what it means to create & steward our culture of care. We are still in the nascent stage of defining NFG’s culture of care and how it will & can evolve. So far, this has looked like the following:

  • Annual self-care stipends for staff
  • Flexibility with annual professional development funds and the ability to repurpose some of those funds for our individual wellness
  • More administrative closures at the end of the year and at other times of the year (NFG closed for 3 weeks at the end of 2020 and will be closed from December 15, 2021 - January 4, 2022)

We’re continuing to imagine what kind of world is possible — and what role philanthropy plays in moving all of us toward liberation — when we honor the data from our bodies, dismantle the oppressive structures that aren’t serving us at work or in any parts of our lives, and truly center care for ourselves as individuals, in our teams, with our movement leaders & grantees, and in our communities.

I’m ruminating on questions like:

  • How do we center care in our work as we all grapple with white supremacy culture characteristics of urgency, quantity vs. quality, and perfectionism?
  • How and where do we incorporate care into schedules that have many folx in 4, 5, or 6+ zoom meetings a day? What is the toll of the way we work on our bodies, minds, and spirit?
  • How is care reflected in our organizational policies, in our theory of change, and in our values and work culture? Where can care be more deeply rooted in these aspects of our organizations?
  • How do we fully resource our team as humans to show up as their full selves and feel fully supported to do their best work (which also means taking breaks and pausing and resting and honoring whatever data our bodies tell us)?
  • How does care, wellness, and the ability to be well show up in philanthropy (or not)? And what does that mean for NFG as we strive to fulfill our mission to organize philanthropy to support grassroots power building so that Black, Indigenous, and people of color communities and low-income communities thrive?
  • How can our practices of care at NFG and across the philanthropic sector ripple out so that Black, Indigenous, and people of color communities, low-income communities, workers, migrants, rural communities, queer, trans, and gender non-conforming people, women, and all of our communities thrive in a liberated world where we are all well, where we are all cared for, and where there is abundance for all?

Last week, NFG’s President, Adriana Rocha, and I hosted our October Member Connection Call, where we asked grantmakers who joined us from Georgia, Florida, Illinois, Louisiana, New Jersey, and New York: how you are caring for yourself, your team, and the movement leaders & grantees that you're supporting as we move through Scorpio season to the end of the year? Members shared ideas and practices including: creating care packages for team members; organization-wide pauses & sabbaticals as a call to rest (see this article from Headwaters Foundation on sabbatical, shifting culture, and systems change); starting the day with a walk outside instead of emails; centering healing justice in our work; and extending care into grantmaking by providing wellness grants (shoutout to NFG’s Amplify Fund!).

I pose this same set of questions to you: 

  • How are you caring for yourself?
  • How are you caring for your team?
  • How are you caring for movement leaders and grantees as a grantmaker?

Send me a note to let me know; we’ll keep sharing these strategies for care in NFG’s communications.

And funders: please join us on December 1 for NFG’s final Member Connection Call of the year, where we’ll continue this conversation on care + liberation, as well as reflect on what you’ve done/learned in 2021 to shift your grantmaking to move more money to racial, gender, economic, and climate justice.

Sending all the good & nourishing vibes your way,

Courtney Banayad
she/her
Director of Membership and Communications
 

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