More is required of us

by Vanessa Daniel, Groundswell Fund

August 5, 2016 - Health & Environmental Funders Network

“I think we all know, deep down, that something more is required of us now. This truth is difficult to face because it’s inconvenient and deeply unsettling. And yet silence isn’t an option. And I’m sure that many who refused to ride segregated buses in Montgomery after Rosa Parks stood her ground wished they could’ve taken the bus, rather than walk miles in protest, day after day, for a whole year. But they knew they had to walk. And so do we.” – Michelle Alexander

What more is required of those of us working in philanthropy at this moment in history?

Over the past two years the streets have swelled with unprecedented levels of protest proclaiming “Black Lives Matter” across the U.S. and around the globe. Jesse Williams stood before us, as Alice Walker pens, with “a soul made of everything,” speaking clear throated truth – a truth about the lethal poison of American racism now being voiced by a growing chorus of celebrities and athletes and everyday people at their dinner tables and on social media.

Perhaps it is because of the herculean quality of this effort, powered by the thousands of people who have found the courage to stand up and say “enough!”, that the executions of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, by the police, sank our spirits so low. The atmosphere feels thick with the question: why hasn’t any of it been enough?

Last week, my four-year-old daughter happened to open an old photo album to a picture of a rally that my friends and I organized as college students. The rally was in response to the murder of Amadou Diallo, the unarmed African immigrant who was shot 41 times in a hail of bullets by plainclothes police officers in the vestibule of his New York apartment. One of our classmates had grown up in the same building and her family still lived there. We went to her building and stood in that vestibule, in that narrow space with walls riddled with bullet holes, and grieved the loss of Diallo’s life. That was nearly 20 years ago. I’ve lost count of the number of rallies and protests against police brutality that I’ve attended in the 20 years since. Looking at that photo, I felt profound grief. I asked myself, over the past 20 years, what has changed? In the past 50 years, what has changed?

My wife and I spent an evening last week frantically looking through the mail for updated registration stickers for her car because she knows that for her, as a Black woman, a simple traffic stop for outdated tags could end in murder by the police – even when you follow orders, even when you have a four- year- old child in the backseat. Our hearts sink into our stomachs when we look into the bright and open face of our ten-year-old nephew. We know, like his grandmother and great-grandmother knew about the generations of black children before him, that until we win major societal change, there is nothing within our power that can be done to protect him from the police.

What has changed?

It is a difficult question. Difficult for those who would bury their heads in the sand of a “post-racial America” that doesn’t exist. Difficult for those of us who have worked for justice all of our lives and want to believe that the sweat and blood of so many freedom fighters has gotten us further along than we actually are. But it is a question we must ask. And, we must answer truthfully, that, in fact, not nearly enough has changed for racial justice in America. As the push for change intensifies, white supremacy roils and pushes back. Things are actually getting worse for Black people. When things get worse for Black people they get worse for a lot of other people by extension: people of color, women, queer folks and even poor white people.

We can’t stop at the question ‘What has changed?’ There is a more important question that all of us must ask ourselves: what more is required of us? What more can we do to stand up for Black lives and to dismantle the larger systems of racism that underpin not only the murder of Black people by the police, but also the taking of Black lives in less visible ways: through lack of jobs, inadequate schooling and healthcare, lack of access to reproductive justice, unsafe housing – the list goes on.

There are different answers being offered to this question from different groups. Celebrities and high profile athletes are now risking their careers and fame to speak out publicly. Black Communities are mobilizing in larger numbers to do more. More white people are trying to change hearts and minds within their own families by having tough conversations about race, that they used to avoid, at the dinner table.

Today, I raise the question for philanthropy, particularly for white and non-black people of color donors and foundation staff: what more is required of us to advance racial justice? It is a question I have been grappling with as a biracial Sri Lankan/white American working in philanthropy.

I have been fortunate to have worked shoulder to shoulder with white colleagues who have fought for racial justice in the philanthropic sector. I have seen multiracial efforts work to mobilize money for Black Lives Matter, and for women of color-led work; and to diversify foundation staff and boards. In a field like philanthropy, which is statistically whiter than corporate America and in which white people still hold the vast majority of economic and political power, the movement toward racial justice will be glacial without significant numbers of white colleagues taking concerted action to advance the effort. The hard reality is that although some white colleagues have taken action, not enough have made a commitment to work for racial justice. How do we know this? The state of giving in our field reveals it. The current overall share of philanthropic giving to Black-led organizations makes bank lending to Black families at the height of redlining look generous in comparison.

What more is required of us?

For white colleagues in particular but also non-Black colleagues of color, I challenge all of us to ask ourselves a few questions:

  •  When was the last time I spoke up to call out racial bias and racial disparities in funding during a meeting, instead of waiting for Black colleagues to do it? Do I value Black lives enough to start doing this, even when I feel afraid?
  • Have I taken the time to read, attend workshops, watch films and educate myself on what I never learned in school about what Black people experience in this country and how I can be an ally and co-conspirator in advancing racial justice?
  • Have I pushed my institution, and the funder/donor affinity groups I am a part of, to collect data on racial demographics of the leadership of our grantees? Or have I sat silently while the lack of data in philanthropy covers up persistent divestment from people of color-led work?
  • Have I set aside my own discomfort and my own fear of saying the wrong thing or making a mistake to work hard for racial justice because I know that Black lives are more important than white comfort?
  • Have I initiated conversations with white colleagues about racial justice and encouraged/supported them to advance racial justice in their work? Or have I avoided the topic because I don’t want to make anyone uncomfortable?
  •  Have I mounted a sustained challenge to grantmaking practices in my institution that have historically resulted in people of color-led organizations receiving the least amount of funding? Have I advocated for more grant funding for Black-led work, even if it means reducing grant dollars to white-led work to make this move towards equity possible?
  • Have I spoken up to demand diversity in hiring practices and board/trustee recruitment to attract and retain Black candidates into decision making positions within my institution?
  • Do I enable my white-led grantees to ignore racial injustice or do I require them to describe their work, or lack thereof, to advance racial justice in their proposals and then prioritize funding to those who demonstrate real solidarity with people of color?”
  • Have I risked anything that matters to me in order to use my proximity to the levers of money and power to stand up for Black lives and move more funding to Black-led work?

On one point I want to be clear: I am not saying white colleagues should match their colleagues of color in the intensity of the work to fight for racial justice in our field. I am saying they should exceed us. If you cannot honestly answer yes to these questions, if you have been sitting on your hands while Black people are dying, then no matter how good your intentions are, you are part of the problem. If you have been on the sidelines, break time is over. It’s your turn to be part of the solution. You are up to bat.

This may not come as welcome news to many people in our field. Philanthropy coddles and constrains those of us working within it with a culture that is famous for valuing comfort above justice, and the capitulation to the status quo over the backbone to speak up. Many people in our ranks may wish it didn’t feel so hard to stand up and do the right thing, but as Michelle Alexander so eloquently notes, “And I’m sure that many who refused to ride segregated buses in Montgomery after Rosa Parks stood her ground wished they could’ve taken the bus, rather than walk miles in protest, day after day, for a whole year. But they knew they had to walk. And so do we.”

And so do we.

Vanessa Daniel is the Executive Director of Groundswell Fund, which supports a stronger, more effective U.S. movement for reproductive justice by mobilizing new funding and capacity-building resources to grassroots organizing efforts led by low-income women, women of color and transgender people. Vanessa has 18 years of experience working in social justice movements as a union and community organizer, researcher, freelance journalist, and social justice grantmaker. She serves on the Steering Committees of the Bay Area Justice Funders Network and the Health and Environmental Funders Network.

View blog post on the Health and Environmental Funders Network site, and at it's original posting on MomsRising.org.

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July 12, 2019

Catalyzing a Movement for Health and Housing

By Lindsay Ryder, Neighborhood Funders Group; Alexandra Desautels, The California Endowment; Michael Brown, Seattle Foundations; and Chris Kabel, The Kresge Foundation.

Lindsay Ryder, Alexandra Desautels, Michael Brown, and Chris Kabel

In June 2019, Neighborhood Funders Group (NFG) gathered nearly 90 funders at Grantmakers in Health’s national conference in Seattle for a panel discussion on how philanthropy can invest in community housing solutions. Despite the large number of concurrent sessions, funders filled the room to dig deep into the urgent issue of equitable housing — and what role health funders can play in addressing this critical health determinant.

The goals of the session, which was organized by NFG’s Democratizing Development Program, were to mobilize health funders to invest in housing solutions and to get more funders to support community readiness and community-centered strategies. The session featured three leaders pushing philanthropy to take action andto expand equity via healthy, affordable housing:

  • Alexandra Desautels, Program Manager, The California Endowment and partner in the Fund for an Inclusive California

  • Michael Brown, Civic Architect, Civic Commons, Seattle Foundation and recipient of the GIH 2018 Terrance Keenan Leadership Award

  • Chris Kabel, Senior Fellow, The Kresge Foundation and National Steering Committee member of NFG’s Amplify Fund

Two people riding green bikes in front of a large colorful mural on the side of a building.

Photo by Taylor Vick on Unsplash

Why Health and Housing?

The session kicked off with several funders in the room sharing why they, as health funders, care about housing. One table of grantmakers representing Indiana, Los Angeles, and Oregon acknowledged both the critical role housing plays in the health of individuals and communities, and how the complexity of addressing housing requires health funders to partner outside of their foundations to get it right and make an impact. Another table of funders from Ohio and Texas identified the intersection of safe housing and healthy birth outcomes as the driving force behind their interest in housing. One needs to look no further than the 2019 Annual Message released by the President of Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, titled “Our Homes Are Key to Our Health,” to see how housing impacts health equity. Ultimately, as Alex Desautels of The California Endowment put it, “If you can’t get housing right, there’s not much else you can layer on to get communities healthy.”

Philanthropic models for supporting Health and Housing

Acknowledging the complexities surrounding health funders and housing, the session presenters shared their foundations’ approach to this issue. 

Michael Brown of the Seattle Foundation discussed the concentration of poverty, lack of services, increased isolation, and limited cultural/community centers that result from market-driven housing displacement. Using an approach of people, place, policy, and power, Seattle Foundation partnered with local government on a data-driven approach to identify communities in the greatest need of support. Working in South Seattle, the Foundation engaged with community members and advocates to create an investment strategy designed to build capacity for coalition work and community power, positioning these communities to engage at a policy- and systems change-level for sustained impact.

Meanwhile, The California Endowment found itself grappling with how to move capital to communities when it launched its Building Healthy Communities initiative in 2009 in the middle of the foreclosure crisis. Fast forward to the current day, and the Endowment is now also tackling compounding issues of supporting communities facing gentrification and displacement. Taking a similar power-building approach as the Seattle Foundation, the Endowment has focused is focusing on building capacity of community-based organizations via a place-based approach, recognizing that the history of segregation in this country has led to limited opportunities for people of color to live in communities where they can be healthy and that “place-based initiatives are designed to address that legacy,” as described by the Endowment’s Alex Desautels. 

Chris Kabel shared The Kresge Foundation’s complementary approach: funder collaboratives. Kresge’s mission is to expand opportunity for people with low incomes in America’s cities, a mission to which housing is fundamental. Kresge has been able to lean into housing by partnering with funder collaboratives such as Funders for Housing Opportunity, SPARCC, and NFG’s own Amplify Fund. Not only does this approach enable the foundation to pool and leverage other funders’ grants, it also allows them to fund place-based work in a way that’s fair and equitable — a common challenge for national foundations seeking to invest at the community level. In addition to participating in funder collaboratives, the Kresge Health program has made two rounds of grants to place-based practitioners through a national call for proposals titled Advancing Health Equity through Housing

What about the other 90 funders in the room?

There is no single model for health funders seeking to invest in housing. Nor are the approaches taken by Seattle Foundation, The California Endowment, or The Kresge Foundation — all of which are relatively large, well-resourced funding institutions — necessarily realistic for other funders. So, what other options are there? The individual contexts and experiences of the nearly 90 funders in the room was tapped to generate some collective wisdom:

  1. Whether through funder collaboratives or less formalized partnerships, team up with other funders, including individual donors in your region.

  2. Embrace the public sector as a key player. While philanthropy has historically shied away from housing with the underlying belief that it was “government’s responsibility,” private philanthropy has a critical role to play, regardless of what extent local/state/federal government is stepping up. Invest in the capacity of communities to build coalitions and yield power in decision-making that affects how and where they are able to live — and therefore how healthy they are able to be.

  3. Explore impact investing as a complement to grantmaking. Some of the most well-developed mission related investing work has been built around housing — whether it be investing directly to organizations to develop affordable housing units or by participating in larger funds managed by CDFIs that leverage additional public and private resources for housing. .

  4. Help shift the narrative around equitable housing. The dominant narrative of housing as a commodity has sidelined efforts around other models of affordable, safe, healthy housing that is not based on individual ownership. Similarly, the pejorative narrative around “trailer parks” has restricted an otherwise highly viable effort to utilize manufactured homes to get people into safe and healthy housing.

  5. Finally, don’t await crisis before acting! Funders should face the housing crisis head on as early as possible, bringing community representation to the table with public sector as well as private (market-based developers) at the earliest stage as possible to lay the groundwork for shared power and equitable solutions.

The role of Neighborhood Funders Group, and what next?

The work of NFG’s Democratizing Development Program is at the core of NFG’s nearly 40-year history of organizing philanthropy to support equitable, community-based change. Recognizing the history of segregation in this country, and centering communities of color and low-income communities, NFG works with funders at a national scale to develop and actualize effective funding strategies. As was acknowledged at several points throughout the session, no one foundation can do this alone. By helping funders come together to develop relationships, identify successful models, and actually move resources — NFG is moving philanthropy’s needle in finding solutions to equitable housing and community development. For example, over the past couple of years, NFG’s Democratizing Development Program was instrumental in the initial planning, staffing, and convening of funders in the development of the Amplify Fund and the Fund for Inclusive California

This 60-minute session at the GIH conference was only the tip of the iceberg for funders to further share, learn, and strategize with their peers on how to be effective grantmakers working on the intersections of health and housing. Building on this session discussion and other previous offerings, the Democratizing Development Program will continue to organize, partner, and host programming, and work towards convening funders to further the conversation around building a movement for health and housing. If you are interested in how your foundation can get involved, contact DDP’s Senior Program Manager, Nile Malloy, at nile@nfg.org

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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