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.”

September 4, 2020

Strike Watch, Labor Day: Vonda McDaniel on Workers Redefining “Nash-Vegas” and Taking on Power in Tennessee

Earlier this summer, we had the fortune to sit down with Central Labor Council (CLC) of Nashville & Middle Tennessee President Vonda McDaniel. McDaniel gave us key insights – shared in this Strike Watch interview -  into the critical organizing led by food processing workers hard-hit in unsafe meatpacking plants in the region and throughout the US as the COVID-19 pandemic worsened.  But meatpacking is not the only place workers are rising up in the Nashville area – where organizations are redefining Black and migrant-led labor organizing in new and important ways.

As we honor the many essential workers on the front lines of our economy this Labor Day, FJE presents our continued conversation with Council President McDaniel. She shares below about important new organizing across retail, urban development, healthcare and more to ensure the growing “Nash-Vegas” actually works for local communities, especailly as Tennessee sped to re-opening. In partnership with NFG’s Amplify Fund, we will be dialoguing more deeply about groundbreaking work in Nashville in our upcoming Virtual Learning to Nashville September 21-23, 2020. We encourage funders to register here and join us as we meet with Stand Up Nashville and The Equity Alliance, and of course, McDaniel and the CLC – and engage with film, music, and more to get a sense of the critical work in this changing Southern economic hub and its implications for worker power across the US.

There’s been a lot of attention to the South in regards to re-opening and the effects of COVID-19. We’ve talked a bit about the important crisis in meatpacking in central Tennessee. How have workers been responding and organizing in Nashville more broadly?

Nashville has become an East Coast entertainment hub - they call it “Nash-vegas” right?  And so hospitality is really the growth industry in the city, alongside health care.  The hospitality workers, mostly in restaurants and some in hotels, have been organizing. In fact some have started to reached out to Restaurant Opportunities Center (ROC) and have started a Nashville (Music City) chapter.  As we were reopening the economy, the press wanted to know what restaurant workers were feeling about it. What the workers saw were the dangers, and we've been working with them. [ROC Music City – a Stand Up Nashville partner - has also recently brought to light individual businesses that were hiding COVID-19 exposure, and won protections for workers in these small businesses.] It's really exciting to see the growth opportunity there in terms of organizing.

In health care, at Vanderbilt University Medical Center they didn't have enough staff when COVID hit so the company brought in temporary workers. The workers – the nurses - demanded that they get hazard pay because they saw that the temps were getting paid more. So we've seen collective action there.

In the dollar stores - both Family Dollar and Dollar General - because they cram so much cheap merchandise in the stores, there’s not a lot of room for social distancing. In many cases they're not providing the Personal Protective Equipment. When they bring their own mask we had reports that workers are told not to wear them – even when they're the homemade mask that they bring. Those workers have created a Facebook group and are really beginning to organize here and in other places. They have even reached out to those workers that have unionized In New Orleans to talk about what the differences in are in those stores and what they need to do to get a union in here, in Tennessee. [Dollar General staff in conversation with United Food and Commercial Workers Local 655 and speaking out about hazard pay were also targeted for firing by the company.]

One of the big issues in the South (and the Midwest) is the way conservative state governments have sought to stop everything from minimum wages to abortion through their power of pre-emption. How is this playing out in Nashville in this time?

Especially in this moment COVID-19 has presented a lot of challenges for our local government. Because of that there are things that they cannot do like paid sick leave, like property tax freezes. We're in a moment where our economy was based on sales tax which has gone to nothing, and so the revenue streams are just not what they need to be. In order to keep essential services running they have to raise property taxes, but all of the tools that local governments have to try to help in this moment have been stripped by state preemption. We've been preempted over and over again. We tried to pass living wage ordinance. We passed it; it was preempted. We passed on a ballot measure - local hire - so that we could hire local workers on public projects. That was passed by the voters of the county; it was preempted.

Those in state power have been using preemption to prevent cities from being able to do the things that they consider important to help their citizens. So we have a coalition across the state that has come together, that has been trying to run a campaign to put pressure on the governor to use his emergency powers to take action and make sure that at least in this moment that preemption is not an issue. The campaign gives us an opportunity to talk about what preemption is and how it's impacted our ability to help the residents of Nashville. I know it will continue beyond this pandemic and will only become more important to confront.

How do workers fit in the bigger picture of a changing Nashville, and the unprecedented development the city has been experiencing?

Every time you turn on the TV, they say Nashville is a city on the rise. But those in charge have been building it on the cheap. [In a telling incident this June, a 16 year old Latinx worker died falling off a scaffolding, building a new development in Nashville, with no safety harness and questionable safety practices by the company.]

"Every time you turn on the TV, they say Nashville is a city on the rise. But those in charge have been building it on the cheap. "

We have been able to work with our building trades affiliates to create an apprenticeship readiness program to recruit folks out of what they call the “promise zones” and give them the skills necessary to be successful in the federally registered apprenticeship programs and the union apprenticeship programs.  Our Central Labor Council has been a partner with that, and it's been interesting because in building that work, we've created a table that has faith partners working with us. The ecosystem is really coming together, and most of the recruits for our last class came from our faith partners. We've been able to develop relationships with the Interdenominational Ministers Fellowship which is the African-American ministers fellowship at Vanderbilt Divinity School. They recruited them out of the churches: the ministers knew they had returning citizens in their congregation that really needed a path to a different life. In reaching the immigrant community we had the Catholic Labor Network which was also really instrumental in helping us to really build a very diverse class also in our Multi-Craft Core Curriculum (MC3) program.

Stand Up Nashville, with the CLC is part of, along with a few of our unions and Nashville Organized for Action and Hope (NOAH), have been able to really move on the policy side to increase their presence and power for working families.

How have you resourced this significant growth in labor and community organizing?

You know, it's constant.  We are really trying to organize and build, and we really feel like that in Nashville we have set the table for growth for workers. We're excited about it - we have been trying to build infrastructure here for at least the last six to eight years.

But we find ourselves trying to having to chase funding in order to continue to do the work. The folks that oppose us, they don't have those barriers.  They have sustained funding for long periods of time - it really doesn't even matter whether they're successful and accomplish the benchmarks. We really have not had that kind of investment on our side, so we have to spend a great deal of your capacity right now on that.  Our CLC is in fundraising cycle; the reason is we have staffed up a level. We went from an all-volunteer organization to one with three staff. I mean, that's not a lot, but in order to be able to do and work with the community partners, keep up with what's happening in our local government, cultivate partnerships and organize you know that takes resources – the kind that it is very difficult to find funding for. We continue to look for ways to get investment in the work because we feel like that that, over time, there is definitely a return on that investment. You can see the growth in terms of all of the varied projects that people are working on that are part of our network, particularly in this moment.

Why is it important for those interested in economic justice to pay attention to Nashville at this moment?

You know there's a saying that however the South goes so goes the nation. Whatever is really bad in the South - if we cannot improve it here then eventually, it's going to trickle to the rest of the country. History has shown us that. Folks really should understand that what we do in the South, in terms of organizing, in terms of politics, in terms of all the things that we need to change in the economy - if we can't make change on the issues that matter in the South, then how will me make national change? This is a test ground for what happens across the country. But we are movinig to make that change.

*Photo Credit: Nashville CLC.

FJE’s Strike Watch is a regular blog and media series dedicated to providing insight on the ways in which grassroots movements build worker power through direct action. Our ultimate goal: inform philanthropic action to support worker-led power building and organizing and help bridge conversations among funders, community and research partners. We are grateful and acknowledge the many journalists and organizations that produce the content we link to regularly, and to all our participants in first-hand interviews. Questions on the content or ideas for future content? Reach out to robert@nfg.org

August 4, 2020

A Letter from IRSG Members in Honor of Isabel Arrollo

Dear Friends,

Isabel smiling and reaching up to a fruit tree in an orchard.On May 16, 2020, we lost a fierce, beloved leader in California’s Central Valley, Isabel Arrollo. Isabel was the Executive Director of El Quinto Sol de America, an organization founded by her mother, Irma Medellin, based in Lindsay, California. Isabel’s passion and strong strategic lens helped grow El Quinto Sol into a driving force for change in the Central Valley. From her early teenage years, Isabel worked at her mother’s side, lifting up community voices in local and state decision-making, and supporting residents across Tulare County’s unincorporated communities by connecting youth to arts and cultural work, and uplifting the tools to build civic participation and political power in the community. In recent years, her passion and vision to create an Agroecology Center in the Central Valley has lit a flame — one that we need to keep aglow.

In addition to the collective deep grief and sadness at this time, we are also angry and frustrated by the accumulated conditions of environmental, economic, and racial injustices that facilitated the process of her passing. We understand that extractive systems like industrial agriculture, subsidies that perpetuate land tenureship rooted in the forced migration of peoples and Beings, the exploitation of workers, and the polluting of the water she bathed in and the air she gasped onto holding onto the hope of survival and thriving of her people and their knowledge, are responsible for her illness of Valley fever, her death, and for the displacement of life of her future lineages. This racially targeting phenomenon is a form of prolonged violence, and as allies and co-conspirators in the struggle for justice, we need to show up to defend our neighbors and human relations.

We honor the life labor Isabel held as an organizer and community member, which went far beyond her role as Director at El Quinto Sol. She supported her community every day, and also invited folks outside of the community to witness and learn about the issues that are often invisibilized via the dust of pesticides and toxins, and the shadows of the fields. This included hosting funder tours for our philanthropic community during which she generously extended her energy to educate visitors and allies on the intersection of issue areas, and with great skill found multiple ways to illuminate the work for a wider audience, and moved us toward a tangible transition of wealth and power. She did this even while her health was failing; she did it for the livelihood and wellness of her people and her community.

Losing Isabel is heartbreaking, and our hearts are with her family, her co-workers at EQS, her wide and diverse network of friends and co-conspirators, and the many folks she mentored and stood beside every day, including youth and mixed documentation status farmworker communities. She dedicated her life to protecting the health of our air, water, soil, and peoples. Isabel was a brilliant visionary who helped lead the Community Alliance for Agroecology, and held such beautiful, powerful dreams for transforming the Central Valley’s food and farming systems from the ground up. Isabel will be forever remembered as a fierce advocate and as our caring and thoughtful friend who always made time to listen and offer words of encouragement, joy, and laughter. In this global moment of so much pain, loss and fear, we are called to action to uplift the voice and vision of leaders like Isabel, and carry them forward.

We ask that you seriously and thoughtfully consider these two requests:

  1. Isabel speaking to a group in front of a neighborhood bus stop.Make a contribution at this moment, at whatever level, to the environmental health and justice — and agroecological — organization, El Quinto Sol. The contact there is Olga Marquez, olga@elquintosoldeamerica.org.
  2. Become a funder accomplice in achieving Isabel’s and others’ dreams in the San Joaquin Valley — join us in support of the creation of an Agroecology Training Center, by and for a collective of Latinx and Indigenous farmworking families, Indigenous people from the region, and other family farmers. El Quinto Sol, as well as other groups like the Community Alliance for Agroecology, Central California Environmental Justice Network (CCEJN), Foodlink Tulare County, Quaker Oaks Farm, and Central Valley Partnership are moving forward in their visioning and planning, and seek collaboration with funding partners, especially in this moment.

If you would like to learn more about El Quinto Sol and the Agroecology Training Center, or if you are interested in collaborating with us as we move forward, please reach out to one of us (contacts below).

In the meantime, read inspiring coverage of the work of El Quinto Sol here: https://civileats.com/2019/08/12/this-mother-daughter-team-is-building-new-leaders-in-californias-farm-country/
 

Thank you, and be well,

Paola Diaz (paola@11thhourproject.org)

Marni Rosen (marni@colibrigiving.com)

Sarah Bell (sarah@11thhourproject.org)

Kat Gilje (gilje@cerestrust.org)

Kassandra Hishida (kassandrahishida@allianceforagroecology.org)