April 10, 2019

NFG speaks with place-based funders on how they are using impact investing to further justice and equity

A newspaper page with graphs and charts for the stock market.

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

An increasing number of foundations are embracing impact investing as a powerful strategy to potentially make use of all of their assets — not just 5% — to advance their place-based and justice-oriented missions. Last month, several Neighborhood Funders Group members attended Confluence Philanthropy’s 9th Annual Practitioners Gathering to explore how the philanthropic and investment sectors can accelerate movement-building for equity. In reflection, a few folks from NFG’s funder network share their perspectives on, and experience in, mission-related investing.

Beyond grantmaking for racial equity

Soon after Confluence Philanthropy’s Gathering, NFG member Amalgamated Foundation launched the Hate Is Not Charitable Campaign. The campaign brings to light how Donor Advised Funds (“DAFs”) have been used to finance hate groups — often times anonymously — and calls on DAF providers to stop this trend that can fund in direct opposition to some of these foundations’ missions. While the campaign highlights how DAFs can be misused when they are eventually dispersed, Amalgamated is also considering how these funds are being used while they are waiting to be dispersed.

Quote by Tyler Nickerson of Amalgamated Bank: “This is an opportunity for foundations to put all of their resources towards mission alignment and supporting enterprises that center a racial justice strategy.”“DAFs provide a set of resources... that can be risk tolerant, quick moving, and significant in their scale. Utilizing current IRS tax codes, DAF holders are allowed to make program related investments with their resources,” says Tyler Nickerson, First Vice President for Philanthropy Banking at Amalgamated Bank.

By choosing not to invest in some of the market’s largest companies in the fossil fuel, gun manufacturer, and private prison industries, Amalgamated is proactively aligning all of its assets with its values of environmental and social responsibility.

Incourage Community Foundation invests all of its endowed funds, including DAFs, in the same investment pool that includes their impact investments. According to Heather McKellips, Director of Learning & Engagement, "Incourage looks for investment opportunities that advance its vision of an inclusive, adaptive, and sustainable community.” She says, “Prudently thinking through how the principal portion of an investment portfolio (the 95%) can be effectively deployed to positively impact an issue, in addition to the traditional grantmaking portion (the 5%), greatly increases the ability to impact the real issues facing our communities.”

Impact investing strategies

For Incourage, this includes an African American-led private equity fund that seeks to provide business ownership opportunities for entrepreneurs of color and regional Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) that channel capital and technical assistance to underserved populations including entrepreneurs and households of color, and nonprofit organizations serving communities of color. Heather explains, “By investing in CDFIs that do small business lending in a community, area businesses can then more readily access needed funding to start up, retain, and expand operations, meaning more families have jobs and then have less of a need for support services that are often funded by grant dollars.”

Quote by  Mark Paley of The Hyams Foundation: “Hyams does, however, have a long history of utilizing PRIs… These investments are examples of using issue-specific investment models to further Hyams’s racial equity work beyond direct grantmaking.”For foundations just starting with impact investing, it can be helpful to look at these alternatives. NFG member The Hyams Foundation considers itself to be at the beginning stages of its impact investment work and is exploring investment strategies to further its mission to increase economic, racial, and social justice and power within low-income communities in Boston and Chelsea, Massachusetts. In addition to its affordable housing PRIs, Hyams is exploring additional social, economic, and racial justice investment opportunities including social enterprise, wealth building, and solidarity economy models.

“Hyams does, however, have a long history of utilizing PRIs, including two active loans to affordable housing loan funds. These investments are examples of using issue-specific investment models to further Hyams’s racial equity work beyond direct grantmaking,” says Mark Paley, Director of Administration & Finance (and NFG board member).

Quote by Heather McKellips of Incourage Community Foundation: “We have found it to be much more effective to start with the problem or issue, and then look holistically at what the resources are that you, or someone you can collaborate with, can bring to bear.”There are many approaches to impact investing. Unlike Amalgamated Foundation, Nia Community Fund's approach is to invest directly into solutions-focused companies with diverse leaders, rather than screen out sectors. Founder and Director Kristin Hull says, “We begin with our end goal in mind, rather than with traditional investment philosophy. We think about how we can use each dollar to maximize our positive impact.” Their investment dollars go to women and people of color-led businesses working to address social justice and environmental sustainability.

Amalgamated is also exploring new models seeking to expand capital to Black, Brown, and Native communities. “This is an opportunity for foundations to put all of their resources towards mission alignment and supporting enterprises that center a racial justice strategy,” says Tyler Nickerson.

Impact investing should always be centered around core values. Evaluating how a foundation is putting its values into practice can even start with how they interface with the investment industry itself. For example, Nia Community Fund looks for companies, funds, and investment managers that use a racial justice lens, and predominantly works with women and people of color.

Quote by Kristin Hull of Nia Community Fund: “Our investment dollars far outweigh our grant dollars and so we are really strategic with both buckets and do as much to leverage what we have and have every dollar be as effective as possible.”Incourage Community Foundation takes their role as an investor even further by being “active owners who vote proxies and practice other forms of shareholder engagement to encourage inclusive and fair labor practices, strong governance, and responsible environmental practices by corporations doing business in our state,” according to Heather McKellips.

Amalgamated’s Tyler Nickerson suggests that investors and grantmakers “listen to the communities in which they seek to support. They know what the community needs and the type of businesses it can support. Community members also know who is a fair employer and a good steward.” He notes that centering those voices and racial justice is key in developing solutions like a fair and equitable business strategy, whether it involves grocery stores or clean energy or manufacturing jobs.

Takeaways and lessons learned

1. Much like a healthy business model, communities need diverse forms of investment.

“Communities need multiple types of capital to become inclusive, thriving places. Charitable grants can’t be the only the tool to build greater equity within community,” says Tyler Nickerson. “Grants coupled with investment capital will create an integrated stream of resources to build communities where all people can succeed.”

2. For some funders, the grant-to-investment ratio can be strengthened, even while preserving an endowment’s lifespan.

Nia Community Fund’s Kristin Hull points out, “Our investment dollars by far outweigh our grant dollars and so we are really strategic with both buckets and do as much to leverage what we have and have every dollar be as effective as possible.” Nia Community Fund focuses on working beyond the status quo and investing into a just, sustainable, and inclusive economy, which means having an investment policy statement and investment practices that keep equity and justice as the core principles.

3. Focus on community needs first, and develop your investment model accordingly.

While foundations often start with an investment product that they then try to figure out how to use to address their focus issues, Heather McKellips of Incourage Community Foundation says, “We have found it to be much more effective to start with the problem or issue, and then look holistically at what the resources are that you, or someone you can collaborate with, can bring to bear."

4. Spread the risk and enhance the impact through collaboration.

This collaboration is key to moving the philanthropic and investment sectors to a more integrated and effective model. Confluence Philanthropy and NFG are creating spaces to explore ideas around impact investing, such as the Hyams Foundation’s interest in engaging with other organizations on what racial justice investment metrics could look like.

Amalgamated’s Tyler Nickerson advises, “Find your allies and ask them to join in community-based solutions. Doing so spreads the risk, expands the capital stack, and helps move other institutions in their learning journey.”

January 22, 2020

NFG Member Spotlight: The Libra Foundation

Logo of The Libra FoundationThe Libra Foundation staff: Angie Chen (Senior Program Officer), Crystal Hayling (Executive Director), Ashley Clark (Knowledge & Grants Manager), Jennifer Agmi (Senior Program Officer)

(L-R): Angie Chen (Senior Program Officer), Crystal Hayling (Executive Director), Ashley Clark (Knowledge & Grants Manager), Jennifer Agmi (Senior Program Officer)

NFG's network is composed of 120+ members that work in every part of the nation, in both urban and rural settings, and includes private and public foundations, community foundations, family foundations, corporate foundations, faith-based funders, and other grantmaking institutions. 

We recently connected with Crystal Hayling and The Libra Foundation team about their growth and vision for 2020, which organizations are giving them inspiration in this moment, and why they continue to invest in NFG with their renewed and increased membership.

We love to connect with our members! Share your experiences as part of the NFG network by getting in touch with Lindsay Ryder, Senior Membership Manager, at lindsay@nfg.org.


 
  1. How do notions of people, power, and place fit in with Libra’s grantmaking approach?

The organizations Libra supports are building a world where low-income communities of color have the power to determine their own freedom, define safety, and thrive in healthy environments. Families that are separated by mass incarceration, communities whose voting rights are suppressed, and neighborhoods suffering from contamination are among the many ways people, power, and place are at the foundation of structural oppression, and, therefore, the heart of Libra’s grantmaking approach. We are centering organizations building power through grassroots community organizing, deep network and coalition building, and progressive advocacy for lasting solutions that work for all.
 

  1. Libra has gone through a bit of a transformation over the past few years, including a new ED and larger staff, a larger public profile, and a refined grantmaking strategy. How has being a part of NFG’s network informed or served Libra along the way?

Transformation is a daily practice - a collection of intentions and ideals - with no clear point of arrival. I knew when I joined Libra as Executive Director I wanted to help guide a team of passionate, heart-driven individuals who are committed to doing philanthropy differently and moving resources to frontline communities. We are so grateful to the NFG network for guiding and supporting the changes we continue to undergo. NFG’s community of funders and activists have a rigorous and thorough analysis that not only informs our community’s understanding and actions, but pushes us all to do better. The network brings together social movement leaders and funders that drive our field to be accountable and unified in our vision for justice.
 

  1. Libra recently renewed its membership with NFG, opting to increase its membership level for 2020. As we enter NFG’s 40th Anniversary year, what are your hopes and plans for engaging with the NFG network?

We are intentionally investing more in NFG because of our shared belief in organizing institutional funders to mobilize more resources for grassroots power building. Too often in philanthropy we are siloed by issue areas. Meanwhile, the same folks who are most impacted by criminal justice are disproportionately affected by gender and environmental justice as well. Although it’s vital to develop and focus on expertise in each of these areas, it’s critical that we as funders take an intersectional approach that recognizes these truths. NFG is leading in this regard, especially in its prioritization of people of color, and Libra aims to do the same.

Our team is planning to engage more in Funders for Justice this year. Lorraine Ramirez helped orient us to all the avenues for collaboration, and we’re excited to learn more from the field advisors and members. And we are really looking forward to this summer’s national convening! A lot has happened since the NFG community got together last in 2018 and we’re hoping that the entire Libra staff will be in attendance.
 

  1. Of NFG’s 125 member organizations, are there any funders you would like to give a shout out to for inspiring or partnering with Libra?

What an inspiring group! We are motivated and encouraged by so many of our peer members at NFG. We are fortunate to be in community with lots of NFG members and look forward to deepening relationships. 

To name a few that are a part of the Libra grantee community, Groundswell Fund is doing incredible work in the reproductive justice field protecting women, nonbinary, and trans folks of color across the country. Proteus Fund houses essential donor collaborative funds (like Rise Together Fund) and fiscally sponsors many of Libra’s grantees. And of course Common Counsel, which among many other philanthropic services houses Native Voices Rising, a fund that supports Native-led community driven projects across Turtle Island.

When we began refining our strategies here at Libra, we leaned on many of our friends in the NFG network. Specifically in environmental and climate justice, we are learning from close colleagues like Mertz Gilmore Foundation and Surdna Foundation that have shifted their strategies to uplift frontline leadership and people centered solutions to the climate crisis. And we continue to be inspired by colleagues that have led the charge to do philanthropy differently, like Marguerite Casey Foundation and Chorus Foundation (among many others!).

  1. And most importantly, are there any community leaders or organizations that you’ve been connected to through NFG’s network that Libra is supporting or that you are inspired by?

Specifically in 2019, members of our program team attended the Funders for a Just Economy Racial Capitalism convening. We were blown away by presentations from Trans United, which supports visionary trans leadership, and ACRE Institute, which organizes campaigns working at the intersection of racial justice and Wall Street accountability. Following that convening and based on recommendations from partners in the field, Libra funded both in our latest docket.

 

January 15, 2020

Racial Capitalism, Power & Resistance: Keynote Videos & Highlights for 2020

In October 2019, NFG's Funders for a Just Economy (FJE) held a breakthrough Racial Capitalism, Power and Resistance Convening, an unprecedented conversation with more than 70 funder participants on the racial and gendered inequality defining US and global capitalism — and the role of philanthropy within these structures. FJE is moving this conversation into action in 2020. Towards that goal, we are recapping the convening and providing video from the seminal keynote talks by Dr. Ananya Roy and Dr. Barbara Ransby that grounded our meeting.  

Nine speakers who were at the convening.

Top (L-R): Dr. Barbara Ransby, Mónica Ramírez, Dr. Ananya Roy
Middle (L-R): Cindy Weisner, Alicia Garza, Aaron Tanaka
Bottom (L-R): Dimple Abichandani, Farhad Ebrahimi, Pamela Shifman

FJE’s Racial Capitalism, Power and Resistance Convening was about asking hard questions and opening a conversation about the underlying history of the US economy and the origins of philanthropy as a way to ground us in how to support powerful resistance movements. Through this piece, we wanted to bring you some of the critical questions that stuck with us — and ways to move forward the themes and ideas generously offered by our activist-academic, movement, and philanthropic speakers and participants.

Who are we in alliance with? And how does that shape the real choices funders make?

Dr. Ananya Roy started off our conversation with a powerful question: Can we decolonize philanthropy in a real way? She also offered a proposition: We can’t do so without facing the way foundations are based in “twice-stolen wealth” — profit extracted via exploitative racialized capitalist means and through evading public taxation. [1]

Dr. Roy offered the example of her work with the Institute on Inequality and Democracy at UCLA, working to “turn the university inside out” through co-creation of knowledge alongside movement leaders; simplifying funding opportunities for community organizations; and paid, unfettered residency programs for activists. She pushed us to reflect on “what additional work we create for communities” through our grantmaking practices and the “difficult choices we must make on who we are in alliance with” — including standing up when foundations undermine community-led liberation movements.

You can hear Dr. Roy's keynote, Decolonizing Philanthropy? A View from The Public University, in the video below.

How do we define and confront the deep histories of racialized capitalism?

FJE presented a portion of the Action Center on Race & the Economy and Grassroots Collaborative’s popular education workshop on racial capitalism. The material examined how core institutions of US capitalism — like banking — built wealth directly off the slave economy and indigenous genocide. Grappling with the inextricable connection between racism, patriarchy, and capitalism raised the fact that Black women and other people of color also face these traumas every day in philanthropy. How can funders collectively support healing among philanthropic staff as they find ways to fund movements genuinely addressing the genocidal histories of greed?

“What happens when we put life [and sustaining it] at the center of our work?” — Cindy Wiesner

To bring us into how contemporary movements are confronting racial and gendered capitalism, Alicia Garza of the Black Futures Lab led a conversation with Mónica Ramírez of Justice for Migrant Women, Aaron Tanaka of the Center for Economic Democracy and Cindy Wiesner of Grassroots Global Justice. These leaders shared that grassroots, collaborative, feminist, and anti-capitalist social justice movements serve as “kryptonite” (in Cindy Wiesner’s words) to racial capitalism and neo-fascism. These movements range from organizing for a Green New Deal to local democratic investment structures, to migrant women-led sexual harassment activism. Speakers challenged funders to work alongside communities to resource experimentation and “freedom dreaming” — and to understand the solutions won’t come quickly or easily. They also asked foundations to use their own power — as investors and public figures — to take on racial capitalism.

What power do we have in our institutions? And how do we shift power with communities?

Pamela Shifman, formerly of Novo Foundation; Dimple Abichandani of General Service Foundation; and Farhad Ebrahimi of Chorus Foundation shared how as Executive Directors and alumni of NFG's Philanthropy Forward: Leadership for Change Fellowship, they recognized and acted on their power to shift their institutions and the sector. As Dimple Abichandani noted, “These rules and practices that we work in come out of racial capitalism and corporate compliance frameworks. We can decide to change those.”

The speakers raised the fact that while education programs are plenty, actively organizing foundations towards collective goals through leadership development — like Philanthropy Forward — is rarer but necessary. Foundation staff also rarely hold other funders publicly accountable – perhaps because feel that they cannot tell others what to do with their money. Yet recent campaigns to discourage the Gates Foundation in awarding the fascist, Hindu-nationalist aligned Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi suggest insurgent philanthropy is percolating.

What are the projects we fund to undo racial capitalism, and what logics are the projects based on?

On Day 2 of the Racial Capitalism, Power and Resistance Convening, Dr. Barbara Ransby offered three key elements to understand racial capitalism today: First, the irreconcilable relationship between capitalism's “infinite growth model on a finite planet;” second, financialization and the global “ponzi scheme;” and third, automation’s influence on worker's lives and consumption. She urged us to hold these contemporary capitalist crises with their roots in slavery and empire.

Dr. Ransby offered that dealing with this past and present means actively confronting white supremacy and nationalism; “building as we undo” through solidarity economies and other alternatives; and thoughtfully advancing abolition and reparations. Such ongoing processes require reckoning with anti-Blackness and asking: “How do you relinquish some of the power [that you have over organizations] and see yourself with a greater sense of humility?”

You can watch Dr. Ransby's keynote, Racial Capitalism, Power and Black Radical Tradition, in the video below.

“How do we show up, use our collective assets, and stand behind our grantees?” — Marjona Jones

Marjona Jones of the Unitarian Universalist Veatch Program at Shelter Rock, José García of the Ford Foundation, Emma Oppenhiem of Open Society Foundations, and Shona Chakravartty of the Hill-Snowdon Foundation, in conversation with Anna Quinn of NoVo Foundation, brought the meeting home with a dialogue on how we could take tangible action, including through the Funders for a Just Economy.

Participants then honed in on key work areas to follow-up on after the event including: building accountability mechanisms in philanthropy; transforming partnerships with our grantees; healing and strategizing together as co-conspirators; remaking tax structures and philanthropic asset management.

Stay tuned for more from FJE as we work together to provide the space and tools for philanthropy to take these ideas into action into 2020 — and into a more just tomorrow.

 

[1] Roy was quoting Dr. Ruth Wilson Gilmore (2009). “In the Shadow of the Shadow State” in The Revolution Will Not be Funded (edited by INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence. Boston: South End Press, 2009). http://sfonline.barnard.edu/navigating-neoliberalism-in-the-academy-nonp...