December 17, 2020

I cried like a baby, I swore like a sailor: NFG's December 2020 Newsletter

At Neighborhood Funders Group’s final board meeting of 2020, the toll of the year hit me — suddenly. While saying farewell to Mary Sobecki (Executive Director of the Needmor Fund) as she ended her term on NFG’s Board of Directors, I found myself crying like a baby. I have known Mary since NFG’s National Convening in Cleveland in 2007: the conference I went to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with Kevin Ryan (my fellow New York Foundation colleague at the time), Frank Sanchez (then at Needmor Fund) and my adopted tio Victor Quintana (then at the Unitarian Universalist Veatch Program at Shelter Rock). Mary has been a mentor, a long-time NFG leader and, most recently, our ‘Homecoming Queen’ for NFG’s 40th Anniversary and our 40 Years Strong virtual convening series (alongside our co-queen Shona Chakravartty of the Hill-Snowdon Foundation). Mary’s departure, combined with the year-end memo I wrote for the board, took an immediate effect on me and I began bawling.
To make up for it, I then proceeded to swear like a sailor proclaiming my pride in NFG’s work this year and admiration for our staff and members who faced the year with courage and grace. It was not my finest leadership moment of the year, but it was my realest.

NFG President Adriana Rocha posing in a selfie with Mary Sobecki, Executive Director of the Needmor Fund and outgoing NFG Board Member
Strong selfie game with Mary Sobecki, Executive Director of the Needmor Fund and outgoing NFG Board Member

I am thankful for having a team of board members with whom I felt safe enough to do this and would not see this display as a questionable move by NFG’s new President. After the meeting, I almost apologized to one of my board co-chairs, but quickly stopped myself when I realized that I am not sorry for displaying emotion. I am not sorry for allowing myself to feel and show the toll of this year. (I am sorry for swearing like a sailor though.)

This board meeting, coupled with time with NFG’s staff to pause and reflect, helped shape this letter to the NFG community. As we approach the end of 2020, I wanted to share what is clearer to me now (one of my favorite questions when checking in with staff):

This was always possible. COVID-19 showed us that foundations could always do away with stringent and onerous practices. Grantmakers let go of deadlines, shifted program support to general operating support, granted out more than the all-too-typical 5% payout, and asked about and funded organizers’ safety and security, staff wellness, and healing (including NFG’s Amplify Fund moving $150,000 in wellness grants to their grantees!). Philanthropy has a long way to go to ensure that these practices become the standard in this sector, but many funders pivoted this year to show us what is possible.

The toll & trauma of the twin pandemics of COVID-19 and state violence against Black, Indigenous, and people of color bodies will be with us for years. Black, Indigenous, people of color, immigrant, queer, transgender, rural and unhoused communities, and essential and unemployed workers continue to bear the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic, white nationalism and terror, a financial recession, and the intergenerational trauma of the United States’ deep racial inequities.

We must continue to tend to these traumas and their impact on us as individuals and communities. And philanthropy must show up for us and not disassociate from this work. Philanthropy has a stake in ensuring that people can continue to organize, build power, and transform their lives and communities — in this current moment where we continue to grapple with these twin pandemics and for the road ahead. We must hold philanthropy accountable by dismantling white supremacy and outdated, patriarchal norms in this sector and by taking the risks that are worthy of the courage of our people (appreciations to Mary Hooks, Co-Director of Southerners on New Ground, who issued this call to action to our sector at NFG’s People, Place and Power virtual plenary). 

We need each other and all of us in this fight. It is our collective work to organize philanthropy, move our visions and agendas forward, demand our dignity, and resource power-building led by Black, Indigenous, and people of color communities at the level that is necessary for all of us to thrive. We need each other to fortify, show the way, and give & receive help.

I am proud of the way NFG pivoted like champions to deliver our work virtually. We maximized our existing use of technology as a remote organization, incorporated live captioning and music (shoutout to DJ Carmen Spindiego!), pre-recorded videos with our members and movement leaders, held virtual happy hours, initiated member connection calls, and continued our commitment and practice to center the expertise and leadership of Black, Indigenous, and people of color organizers throughout all of our programming.

I am proud that NFG continues to hold ourselves accountable to our ultimate aim to move money to racial, economic, gender, and climate justice. Examples include moving money to organizers in Nashville, including Stand Up Nashville and The Equity Alliance, as part of NFG’s Amplify Fund and Funders for a Just Economy virtual learning visit and the CAPACES Leadership Institute, Oregon Food Bank, Political Research Associates, Black Belt Citizens Fighting for Health and Justice, and the Hmong American Farmers Association following our Integrated Rural Strategies Group's Multiracial Rural Equity Summit — to name a few.

Organizational leaders can support staff as whole people. We can close our offices to support staff as they adjust to shelter in place orders, to become their children’s home teachers, as they take to the streets in support of uprisings for Black lives and liberation, as they take care of loved ones and neighbors, and face their own grief and loss. We can ask ‘how are you?’ and ‘what do you need?’ and then provide the space and resources to nourish our staff. Accordingly, NFG is closing our offices for three weeks between December and January so that staff can rest and rest and rest. 

NFG President Adriana Rocha's husband, Ivan, holding their son, Emiliano, as they celebrated in the streets of Brooklyn after the 2020 elections
My husband, Ivan, and our son, Emiliano, celebrating in the streets of Brooklyn
after the 2020 elections

We can continue to move money and organize as individuals. Here is my year-end giving list — what is yours?

As we approach the end of 2020, I wish for you the opportunity to rest, find some joy, cry, do virtual karaoke (not as satisfying as in person, but cathartic), watch the panda cam, and do what nourishes you. I look forward to continuing to be in community and solidarity with you in 2021.

Un abrazote!
Adriana Rocha

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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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